The spooky black birds of SoHo (Part 3) – I go to the municipal tip!

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See that tiny little dot on the blue sky? That, my friends, is a Tasmanian Forest Raven!

#AnimalMOOC Field Notes, Part 3: The glamour edition – In which I go birding at the municipal tip, and buy a nice new tea cup.

Went for a walk down the fire trail today, across a couple of valleys to the local tip, to see what the ravens were doing.

Although it was a relatively sunny day, this is Tasmanian winter, and as I traipsed down into the cold-air drainage zone adjacent to the rivulet, I cursed my lack of clothing.  In my precarious, propped-up-by-cold’n’flu-tablets state, it really wouldn’t do to tip over the edge into seriously debilitating lurgy.

One of my fieldwork rules is, where possible, never to go out in weather that is distracting. If its raining hard enough to dissolve your ‘waterproof’ paper, hot enough to melt your sunglasses, or windy enough to knock trees over, chances are, you won’t be paying adequate attention to the survey you’re supposed to be undertaking.  Today was really not so bad.

As I dropped down diagonally down the ridge towards the rivulet, the numbers of ravens seemed to thin out.  When I looked up, I usually saw one or two of them flying in the general direction of the tip.

The tip is quite close to my house, as the corvid flies, but about 2km on foot, according to the inter webs.  It’s really not far for the ravens near my house to go for a bit of fetid food hunting, as can be seen in the map I have bodged up below –

The blue line is for those without wings...

At the tip, I had a chat to Colin, one of the Resource Tip Shop Co-op’s workers, who works with the rest of the team there to salvage and sell things that other people would otherwise condemn to landfill.

“What are the binoculars for?” he asks.

“Um, there’s this assignment I’m doing for an animal behaviour course I’m studying…so I’m looking at ravens.  Wonder if any of my ravens from up the hill are here?”

“Yeah, good luck working that out – there’s hundreds of them!”

Of course, if I trapped and tagged them, I could work out if any of ‘my’ corvids were dining on the tip face, but this is a little outside the scope of my current investigation.

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Shiny new tip shop! Has been recently upgraded. Although you can’t see them, there are plenty of ravens flitting about the forest edges.

Colin goes on to regale me with stories of raven mischief at the tip.  He sees them and the local seagulls as rival gangs, fighting turf wars for the best bits of garbage – the ravens will form a sort of flying wedge, landing amidst a mob of seagulls, taking that new turf as their own.

“They keep very separate,” says Colin, “and the seagulls never go into the forest.”

“That’s because they’re seagulls!” I say, feeling cleverer than I actually am, “They are no forest gulls, but there are forest ravens!”

“Mmmm,” says Colin.

We discuss their migration habits a bit, and ponder as to where they sleep.  The gulls make a daily commute from the coast to the tip for the day, before returning to the coast to roost.  The ravens, we’re not so sure about.

“They probably sleep in the forests at the edge of the tip,” says Colin.

I note this down in my mental field notes book, and go to have a quick squizz at the “animal books” section of the shop.  Anything to do with animal behaviour is for some reason interspersed with publications focussing on the British Royal Family.

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Serried rows of delightfully decomposing organic matter, Hobart Municipal Tip. 9 in 10 SoHo corvids rate this as the #1 restaurant in this suburb.

 

I buy a fetching eggshell green tea cup, and head up to the industrial composting facility to check out the corvid action.  Here, a few dozen ravens are busily picking over the tops of the steaming compost heaps, looking for tasty morsels.  They flap away like broken umbrellas as I try to take their photos.  Although this is primarily a green waste facility, other organic matter is also composted, which might provide reasonable pickings for the birds.  I spot a few skulls, probably once belonging to sheep, and a huge bone which I suspect of being dinosaurian in origin.

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Dinosaur bones! Dinosaurs that looked a lot like our modern sheep…

I’m also surprised to see a rather attractive little male flame robin (Petroica phoenicea), posing prettily on an emergent twig next to a steaming vent in the compost.  If you look very carefully in this blurry, backlit photo, you can just see him – I think he only hung around because I was wearing a red jacket – robins do seem to be rather competitive.

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I call this piece “Flame robin on compost heap”. I’m sure Australian Geographic will be after the rights to this pic any moment now.

I wonder how many of the ravens rely on this as their primary food source. Do they defend their patches against other ravens? Or do they move through freely, picking up a bite to eat wherever they fancy? And perhaps most importantly, what proportion of their diet is made up of stolen sandwiches from inattentive council workers?

I file these thoughts in my mental notebook for further examination once my head cold clears a little, and clutching my shiny new tea cup, head for home.

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