Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
On the drive to Lutsen last Friday evening we picked up fog at the Silver Cliff tunnels on Highway 61. It thinned the thickened along the shore, sometimes creating twilight, at other times opening a hole so the sun highlighted a spot of road ahead of us. We saw a handful of crows and one raven. At the cabin, no sounds – no bird calls, no wind, no slush of the lake swells against the rocks. Just before dark, when I went out to pee, one Red-eyed Vireo called lazily from behind us. Inside again, in front of the wide window facing the lake, three Herring Gulls came from the spruce trees at my left, wings starched in glide position, 15-degree angle of attack, three focal plane shutters crossing my window lens, gone when they found the shoreline fog. Next morning, the vireo again, and a distant raven. When we lived in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin several years ago ravens were my favorite birds. We didn’t see them often; they prefer privacy to an extreme, and I suppose we’ve taught them that lesson. We heard them daily, croaks and squawks from back in the woods or across the lake. We had a pair of resident human neighbors, and a dozen weekend families who shared the lake. We were half a mile off the township road that served us. Vehicles were of another world. Airplanes were rare. We had birdsong and the wind. It was lovely. I walked to the mailbox at driveway’s end each day, from late spring into summer counting on an Eastern Wood Pewee to sing me along. The raven and the pewee and the distinctive rap of courting Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, rap starting fast, quickly slowing to an irregular beat that dribbled off to its end. People sometimes ask me if we miss the lake and the woods. Yes, the sounds of things mostly – the birds and the ice. The ice snapped and cracked as it formed or on cold cold nights when it pushed against itself. In the spring, when it went out, it hummed and sang like a musical saw. It was nice to be back in the woods for a few days, to hear the ravens again.
Below, a shy raven.
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