The Crow and the Car

Corvids are tricksters. These ravens, crows, magpies, and jays are some of the most intelligent and miscivious birds in the animal world; Ebony iconoclasts that have been represented in myth, poetry and folktales from Aesop, to Celtic tales, to Poe.

I can watch a pair of ravens for hours, as they turn inverted on the wing and dive bomb their kin or marvel at the secret language of crows, softly cawing to their clan.

The first major birding challenge when I started off was to tell the difference between a crow and a raven, two seemingly identical big black birds. It forced me to look deeper, beyond general appearances, to peel back the layers of shape, voice, and flight pattern.

I admire corvids so much as a fellow earth beings, that I named my blog Corvidsketcher. And you’d think if a murder of crows were going to pick on anyone in the Highlands neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon, surely it would not be me. But these birds do not care about what I think and what I love. They were there and young, perhaps they were also a little bored, and they were certainly intelligent and inquisitive, and a bright new shining silver car just appeared in their haunt. Let the mischief commence!

After a few hours in the classroom, I returned to the car that had 6 miles on the a odometer when I drove it off the lot, to find whitewash streaming down the sides. I knew it was only a matter of time before the car was officially “blessed”. Then I saw the small bits of rubber covering the roof! It was part of the moonroof seal. And I thought the moonroof would be great for highway raptor viewing.

It was not until I headed down the hill to the dealership that I heard the metallic rattling coming from the dashboard. Oh no, now what?! At the dealership I found that the driver side windshield wiper blade had been completely removed. A quick search with the words “crow” and “windshield wiper” confirmed my suspicion.

Ornithologist don’t really know why ravens and crows love to pick at moonroofs and swipe windshield wiper blades. It certainly isn’t a source of food for these corvids. It is possible that bored juveniles were just looking for something to occupy their intelligent minds. And that something was my brand new 2016 Subaru.

I have replaced the wiper blades and the moonroof hasn’t leaked, yet. And I still love corvids, even a murder of crow.


My 50th Post: Maps

Maps, a way to find yourself or a way to document a passage.

Sketching has always been a journey, sometimes a physical one and other times an internal one. The byproduct of the journey results in a journal page, something that is left behind. That’s really what the sketcher tries to do: leave a record of an experience, a cityscape, a natural encounter, or a hike. In some of these leavings I have used a map to record the experience.

On my recent trip to The Sea Ranch I hiked along the coast from the Sea Ranch Lodge to the Olson Rec Center. There was nothing physically left of the journey but afterwards I memorialized the passage in a journal spread that noted the path and places names of the hike, as well as  the birds I encountered along the way. One being the Official Sea Ranch Bird (proclaimed by the sketcher): the northern flicker.

Bolinas Lagoon

This spread records a birding trip out to western Marin and  Bolinas Lagoon. This sketch was again done after the trip but it records the birds seen: great blue heron, bald eagle, Caspian tern, and Clark’s grebe. I also noted the mammalian life: harbor seal and coyote. When I look back at this page and the insert map, I am brought back to that May day in 2012.


An extremely rare bird sighting is always a subject for a spread, in this case the uncommon, common cuckoo seen at Watsonville Slough, south of San Francisco on September 29, 2012. This cuckoo was only the second record in the lower 48, a bird that brought people from all over the country to add this rarity to their North American life list. Luckily I didn’t have to go far to see this bird. I was able to get a quick sketch in the field (on the right side above my hanko) and I then added the cuckoo, both clock and bird at a later time. The map shows where the bird was first seen and where I (and many other birders) found the bird on the following day.


Another lifer and another sketch with a map. This time a pectoral sandpiper in western Marin.

RSHA Highlands

And finally a sketch that is not about a wayward rarity, lost on the west coast but a rather common raptor in the Bay Area: the red-shouldered hawk. This sketch records a series of  sightings of the resident pair of hawks that hunt my school’s playing field in the early morning before students arrive. I included a map to document the bird’s movements from hunting perch to the ground, to the soccer goal post (the “woodwork”), back across the field to the baseball backstop. On some wet mornings I have observed a red-shouldered eating worms like an American robin.

I have used this spread to teach my students how to take notes. It includes a lot of note taking strategies: writing, images and diagram, and of course a map. Ultimately it teaches students to pay attention to their environment, where the mundane is often extraordinary. But the first step is to look around you and see the wonder.