Winter is the best time to see ravens playing at Newborough, particularly along Penrhos Beach. Usually there will be between six and 12 pairs of them (they are always in pairs). On windy days, they love to ride the winds that sweep up the dune faces. They seem to play just for the fun of it. They will pick up sticks and pass them from their feet to their beak; or pass things between each other in flight. They drop things from a height and chase them, tumbling to the ground, only to pick the object up and do it over again. They cruise up and down the beach cronking and calling to each other – and they’ll cronk and call to you too, if you call to them.
But this year, there are fewer ravens then I’ve ever seen before. I wonder where they’ve gone. And I wonder why they’ve gone.
And it’s hard not to wonder whether it has anything to do with the increased number of ravens that are being “legally” shot* (and once some are being legally shot, more are inevitably illegally shot – they’re considered quite a prize, because of their size). And perhaps it is also to do with the shrinking of the forest and increased disturbance. Who knows?
If you Google ravens and Newborough you will often see a figure of 2,000 being cited as the number of ravens that roost here. And claims of Newborough being the largest raven roost in Europe. But by 2004 there were only 800 birds reported to roost here. And it’s very hard to find a reliable and more up to date estimate than that. I think there are far far fewer. It’s hard too, to know how credible the estimates are when people post pictures of carrion crows (beach crows) and caption them as ravens…(and it is hard to tell them apart from a distance, especially if there’s nothing to give scale just the vast expanse of sand, or sea, or sky…)
I hope the ravens aren’t abandoning Newborough: I wonder what that would foretell…
* see, for example, the BBC story about ravens being culled “in bid to protect livestock”; and NRW’s FAQ page about the licences; and the blog post by Rob Sheldon – Welsh Ravens: how many have been killed and why (and other posts he has about the killing of ravens throughout the UK)