I have a few animal tales to tell from this weekend. I love wildlife. I love observing wildlife behavior, and I love it when wildlife notices and interacts with me. I have two such stories from the last few days. Today’s story is perhaps the more interesting of the two.
Erin and I went down to Nugent’s Corner today. We took the dog too. Nugen’ts corner is a nice little riverside park right on the Nooksack where it flows under Bakerview Highway. The river here flows pretty shallow through a gravelly bed with woods on either side. Outside of the woods on the east bank is a broad meadow.
The place holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. First, when I first came up to Washington for my job interview, this was where my then future coworkers took me. I fell in love with the spot. A few months later, when Erin and Ivan (our dog) moved up here to join me, I took them out there, and Ivan was visibly excited by the tall grasses which he went bounding through. So we went there today, as I thought it would be a good last place to visit while closing the Washington chapter of our lives. I only wish I had the camera with me so that I could have taken pictures to illustrate the story that follows.
We were walking through the meadow at the edge of the woods when we began to hear a crow caw. It sat on a branch looking at us and then it swooped in. It didn’t attack, but flew mere feet above our heads. We moved along on our merry way down the meadow and into a walking path that cuts through the woods. The crow followed us in and continued to swoop right above our heads. It would then land on the low alder branches and stare at us.
Erin was becoming nervous and wanted to pick up the pace. At this point I thought we might be near a nest or injured crow and that this fellow (or gal) was just protecting it’s own kind. Crows do that. As we emerged out of the wood and onto the rocky river bank the bird kept following us. It remained in the tree line so I though it was done with us, but as we walked up the rocky bank it kept up with us. Still cawing, still making Erin nervous. At this point, I myself began to get a little uptight.
When the bird landed on the rocks about 10 feet away from us I picked up a small stone and threw it near the bird (not at the bird) to see if I could frighten it off. It merely looked at the rock when it landed and continued to follow and swoop down above our heads.
We re-entered the woods in order to get back to our car. By now Erin was really getting nervous and began to run towards the car. I picked up a large stick to fight off the crow in case it decided to attack. Whenever it began to swoop down on us I held the stick out above me parallel to the ground. Whenever I would do this the bird seemed to slow down slightly in mid-air as if it was trying to land on the stick, but each time it flew up into the tree branches around us.
At this point I began to wonder if it was just hungry, so I began to tear off blackberries from the undergrowth on either side of the path and threw them behind me. Mister or Missis Crow, did not seem too interested in the berries, but when one landed near my small black dog, the crow began to stare at him. The dog at this point was entirely oblivious of the bird.
We continued on towards the car, and Erin who was cowering next to it. The crow was still hot on my tail and swooping. I opened up the car and Erin and Ivan got in. At this stage I began to figure that if this crow really wanted to attack us it would have done so by now. I figured maybe it wanted to be friends (scientist mode was turned way the hell off at this point). So I rummaged through the car for any food I might have and found a McDonalds bag (yeah, I’m kinda gross like that). Unfortunately the only morsel of food inside it was a single sesame seed. I placed the seed on a rock that was in front of the car and got inside.
As soon as I closed the door, my new friend jumped on the hood of my car and began to hop towards the windshield. Erin kept telling me to turn on the engine, but as I felt entirely safe at this point I wanted to see what the bird would do. I hopped up to the wiper blades, perched on one and began to shriug its wings. It was clearly staring at us, with its head turned to one side and its big brown eye scanning us behind the glass.
It was only then that our doofus dog noticed the bird and lunged at the windshield. The crow was startled and backed up onto the rock in front of the car. I took the opportunity to start the car and pulled away.
We were both stunned. Erin was not at all happy by the encounter, while I thought it was the coolest thing ever. There are a lot of superstitions about crows being bad omens, but I don’t buy into that. I feel honored that this amazing bird took notice of us and was interested in us enough to follow us through the park and back to our car.
When we got home I did some research to see if maybe we had disturbed a nesting area, but the experts claim that crow fledgelings are dependent on their parents’ protection in May and June. This is late August. Again, perhaps the bird was watching over an injured comrade. Crows are supposed to mate for life, and have been observed forming extended social networks. Defensive pacts if you will. But I had one other thought. Immediately next to Nugent’s Corner is a wildlife rehabilitation center. I can’t help but wonder if the little friend I made today is not a former patient of said center, and if he/she hasn’t picked up a few tricks during it’s tenure.
I don’t know, perhaps I should have been more concerned than I was. I’m not one to consider myself or other humans all that different from the other animals though, and so deep down I still hope that the crow just happened to find me, my wife, and my dog interesting, and worth observing. Perhaps it communicating to its crow bretheren about the bipedal weirdos it observed today.