Gunnie Moberg loved ravens, and it would seem the ravens liked her. In the Gunnie Moberg Archive is a notebook, its pages tight with the big blue and black shapes of Gunnie’s handwriting with her lively spellings. The subject of this journal is the goings on of the ravens of Black Craig, the hill beside Gunnie’s home ‘Don’ outside Stromness, Orkney.
Friendship fostered with gifts of rabbit is rewarded with a warm welcome after absence:
October 14: Today, the raven made an extrodinary flight towards me, from the Black Craig. Not only rolling and rolling but dipping from side to side very fast, like a swallow. When I got up to the feeding post, above Ling myra, he had left me a present on the post, a bone!
The hill belongs to Gunnie and the ravens, she waits for other people to leave before visiting the birds and there are dramatic entries about ‘intruders at Black Craig’, rival ravens. Over a seven year period Gunnie notes down her corvoid observations – factual nature notes and sometimes poetic response.
June 6 : In the heat, the raven young stand like down & outs, their black coats half open.
What Gunnie gets down is her admiration for the ravens and her gratitude for the relationship they built up over successive generations. A sometimes playful relationship, Gunnie, having observed one of the ravens storing food in snow, enters this for the following day:
February 13: I took them some food, on the hill. Not going to their useall feeding places, they were watching me with interest. I found a snow drift, burrowed my food, then told them ‘there you are’. I think they quite enjoyed digging the food up.
For whatever reason the journal stops in April 2004. Her appointment diary from spring that year records busy months of trips to Shetland (May, July & October) to make photographs for one of her publications, trips to Edinburgh and an August trip to her home country of Sweden. Perhaps they saw less of each other, perhaps the ravens left for a while.
Here at the archive, we have been saying goodbye and thanks to Gerry who has been volunteering on the project, scanning Gunnie Moberg’s slides, and is now off to his summer job. Gerry, as well as being a photographer, is also keenly interested in birds. And he likes ravens too. You can check out one of his handsome raven portraits here.
The Black Craig Ravens Story. Gunnnie Moberg
[written between 1997 & 2004. All Gunnie’s spellings and punctuations have been retained]
Going through my 1997 diary, the first mentioning of ravens;
April 26 Fed the ravens for the first time, pork fat.
Then the rest of the year;
April 28 Fed ravens skinned rabbit (shot by Tam).
April 30 Ravens waited for me half way up the hill.
May 7 Feeding the ravens.
May 16 The ravens moved out of their nesting place. Female came for food. 1 chick on the cliff but she was feeding others over the hill.
May 24 Raven chick screemed like a pig, being attact by a black back for no apparent reason.
May 25 Steven and I feed the ravens (left food).
May 29 Fed the family of six at the quary.
June 6 In the heat, the raven young stand like down & outs, their black coats half open.
June 8 Today, the whole family waited for me, above the quary. When I put out the food the young come to feed. The female, now unable to control them, flow over to where I was laying watching, giving me a telling off for being too close to her chicks! First day I have seen them feeding on their own.
June 9 Fed the ravens.
June 13 The young ravens know fine who I was and got excited about the food but wouldn’t feed. Both adults were away. Some of them picked at the food and two jackdaws had a good feed until the adults returned and chased them away.
June 15 Female (?) raven half killed a rabbit, then left it for the young to tackle. They circled it, walked towards it, jumped back if the rabbit came forward. Left it after 20 min. Adult raven also dropped a whole egg which the young played around with.
June 16 Ravens not on hill, 9pm.
June 23 Fed ravens.
July 19 The ravens didn’t like me feeding them in a different place.
July 20 Went to see the ravens today. Had cabbage, bananas as well as bread etc. They wouldn’t touch it, not until an hour later when a seagull settled. All of a sudden there was at least 40 seagulls and the ravens fighting for the food!
July 25 Ravens still let the seagulls check out the food.
August 20 Fed the ravens above Ling myra, just the parents, very tame. Came across an owl sleeping, flow into the fence but was ok. Higher up 4 chicks flow up! Just lovely!
August 26 Feeding ravens, parents in field above Ling myra while picking champinons.
September 9 Today I saw a fight between one of the adults and a skua*, the skua was a clear winner. The raven later sat watching and was joined by a black back. *over food
October 29 Ravens dellie!
November 1 Tryed to feed the ravens up at the outlook but they didn’t like it. Screemed at me all the way down, had to go up again, collect the food and coming down they were sitting waiting on their useall posts. Had a very happy feed!
November 7 (Eight rather) saw ravens, a pair, at Ramna Geo (between Yesnaby and Skaill)!
November 10 Ravens dellie!
Notes: The ravens are something else. They come from no-where, greeting me by tumbling over and over. They come down in the field I am walking, sitting quite close, listening to me talking to them. Will they ever come for food in my hand I wonder?
The Black Craig Ravens in 1998
I thought, this time I have a chance to follow the ravens behavia for a whole year, a full circle, so, I must keep this diary of them.
I think they are bored, can’t waite to get busy with nest building. Spend their time flying about in the fields, often up at the farm, I think they steal eggs from the hens that doesn’t lay in the hen house. I saw four ravens at Brogar, wondered if it was their last years chicks.
January 7 Today the ravens were keeping close together, picking each other round the heads. Maiting time?
January 16 Ravens for the first time since late autumn at their high hill perch, Black Craig.
January 25 For the last week the ravens are different. Only the male come down to see me, the female comes later when I am gone. I also notice they are closer together. From Don, saw through the binoculars that the female was laying down in the grass/heather, male walking around her. Were they maiting?
February 16 Ravens wouldn’t come close, fed after I left. I walked up the hill, sat in the ‘grotto’ close to their nesting site. The female came and sat on the cliff above, shouting at me, croak-croak-croak! but soon whent away to join the fulmars.
February 17 Today they were very friendly, male sitting only 2 meters away as I was putting food on the post.
February 20 Male landed in the field beside me. Jesus, I thought, it’s not my raven! He had a light grey chest! It turned out to be a ball of sheep wool. He was on his way to line the nest but left it on the ground, fed, picked it up again and flow up the hill.
Notes: When the ravens are sitting waiting for me and I am approaching, talking to them, they will whipe their beaks in the grass. If they are on a post, they will groom themselves, pretending not to pay any attention to me but of course are very aware of my movements.
The male is more forward than the female. He will settle very close to me and one day he flow with me, as I was walking, a meter above the ground. He will also stop mid air and listning to me talking.
They are spending a lot of time on the Black Craig but I don’t think the female is sitting on eggs, yet.
March 14 Female still not sitting on eggs. Just a few days ago they were still flying around with nesting material. Around the first of March we had terrific stormy seas, sprays going up on top of ravens perch! Never seen it there before. They could essily have lost their nest.
March 17 Fed only male, female must be sitting on eggs. Yesterday it was the two of them.
April 5 Saw both ravens fly up towards Fealquoy. I was working in the garden. Had given the male something to eat earlier. I heard this funny bird noise, chip, chip, chip, chip looked up and one of the ravens was above me flying towards the Black Craig, with a black bird in his beak!! It was quite small and black as he/she. I have never seen the ravens with live prey. Could it be for their chicks? According to my calculations, the female has only been on her nest for 20 days. Would she leave the nest? (if she had newly hatched chicks?)
The ravens didn’t have more than 2 chicks this year. I saw them very late this year, could it be, like I thought that they lost their eggs/nest in the early March? Anyway, being just two, they seemed to have grown up very fast. Very little of last years display – chicks sitting on the hill (4) shouting for food all day. They also seemed to fly competently, very quick! The whole family are friendly.
August 18 Today, walked halfway up to Garth. As it was raining, Grenville came to meet me, with the car. They must have been watching me, the parents. After 1½ hour when I came out, to walk down the hill, there they were, tumbling overhead, following me home. They must have known I was at Grenville and Elizabeth’s! Even with the car ride!
September 5 Whent up the field with some lovely snacks. Got a lovely greeting. The young are now gone since 2½ weeks back. Left them to walk to mashroom field along the fence towards Museland. The ravens started to make a frightful noice. Had to turn back to see what was going on. Was met by one of them who flow overhead back to fence feeding post. I had thrown part of their food in the heather and lots of it had landed (as it useally does) in the big ditch. But because of heavy rain it was filled with water and the ravens couldn’t get at the food! Hand down, I soon got it up on dry land and they were again happy as larks.
Have been away a week in Edinburgh. The ravens were so excited to see me. Rolled and rolled in the air, making all noices they are capeble off.
January 1 Now, when I go to see them, they land very close to each other or sit very close and groom(?) each other. Also fly much closer together. Will this be them getting ready for maiting, one wonders.
February 12 When to see the ravens. One of them took some bread, whent up to a big snow drift (most of the snow had melter) and scratched with his feet and then, with his beak walked all around pushing snow over it, covering it.
February 13 I took them some food, on the hill. Not going to their useall feeding places, they were watching me with interest. I found a snow drift, burrowed my food, then told them ‘there you are’. I think they quite enjoyed digging the food up.
February 14 Whent to the hill, no sign of the ravens. Started back, on the way was going to give their food to the seagulls. Then, one of the ravens came flying along the shore, saw me, whent to the feeding post. He was on his way, with fluff (probably sheep wool) in his nip, to the nest on the cliffs. Looked at me, no food, so continued on his mission. I waited and five minutes later they both appeared at their feeding post, happy to see me.
So, lining their nest now.
February 26 Today, only the male. Took food twice to nesting site. She must be on eggs!
March 2-3 Only the male comming to see me. Going up to nesting place with food.
March 19 Both ravens came down. Took food to nesting place. (They can’t have young yet?)
Had four chicks, 1999.
January 31 Raven with twigs for nest. They seem to be hording food. As they fly off with pieces they are back too soon at feeding place to have eaten it.
February 9 The ravens have been taking twigs from the garden for the last few days. (I have been pruning willows and other things).
March 7 Today, in the afternoon, a lot of noice from one of the ravens. Turned out to be intruders at Black Craig. The male (?) spent all afternoon chasing a pair of ravens off, but somehow, not in a serious way. This I have seen before, chasing for miles before returning (at nesting time). Could these two intruders be young ones, there own last years chicks? The male (?) would chase them as far as Don, all rolling in the air, then he would go back and they would return and the same thing would happend all over again.
March 21 Something strange has been going on with my ravens ever since ‘the intruders’. First I didn’t see them for 2 weeks. Admittenly, the weather was bad and I didn’t try to see them often. Now, they are back on the cliffs but they won’t come and see me for food, sometimes they fly away.
Today one was sitting on the cliff face alone so female must be looking after eggs. She came up too, hearing me but no friendly behavior. Could they be different ravens? A new partner?
Still can’t figure out the ravens.
Definitly new ravens on cliff.
They look smarter and slimmer. They also do stupid things like flying over the nesting lapwings, who gives them a hard time. One of them could be an older chick, doesn’t seem too bothered about me coming up near nest (?) also stoped one day at Lingmura where I used to feed parents and young.
April 26 Today I noticed in my glasses, that they know fine where I hide their food but why they don’t kom and get it is that they don’t trust it. Waited for gulls to get it, then chased them. The old pair did the same in the beginning but later trusted me complitly as a provider, also being used to what I gave them. I don’t know if to start all over again.
May 5 Today, one of the ravens met me at the old Mill and escorted me back to the top of the hill. Quite friendly. Not much activity around nest sight. Looked like he (or she) was setteling by food place but I am not sure.
Been going up all summer making a fuss of them.
They have four chicks.
They are not very interested in me but not very frighten either.
The chick has left and the pair take great interest in me. One of them must be a chick from previous years as he/she knows I will feed them. They come everytime now, for food. Their voices are much lighter than the old ravens.
September 21 Only one of the ravens came for food above Lingmyra.
September 22 Again, only the one raven, I am worried.
September 24 Both ravens feeding.
September 25 Only one to see me.
October Away in Edinburgh, beginning of.
October 14 Today, the raven made an extrodinary flight towards me, from the Black Craig. Not only rolling and rolling but dipping from side to side, very fast, like a swallow. When I got up to the feeding post, above Lingmyra, he had left me a present on the post, a bone! Only one to be seen.
October 16 Only one feeding.
October 18 Didn’t want to go past Lingmyra as there are people there. Whent down the field, was met by the raven. He (?) is very friendly. Ate his bacon at quarry post, then followed me home. Flow over the house, an hour later and ‘talked’ for the first time. I saw 3 ravens yesterday, one being chaste away.
October 20 The raven met me, going to quarry post, very friendly. Partner came down from Black Craig but was chased away.
October 21 Raven met me on road going up to Lingmyra post were he fed himself.
End of month, havn’t seen the ravens a lot, they are not like the old pair who never left their territory much. Could there be less food, at the moment. Havn’t come to feeding post above Lingmyra for a while now.
The ravens only visit the Black Craig ocasunally, they surtenly are not garding territory around here.
November 28 Going to Lingmyra, two ravens came flying, very squacky voices. Waited for me on fence going up to look-out. Put scraps on post and grass. When I was nearly back on the road they both whent for the food. Can I tame this pair, don’t know if they will be the ones taking over the nesting site. They could be 2 males or 2 females.
November 29 Late afternoon, no signs of ravens.
November 30 Late afternoon, four ravens flying around. No sign of them during the day.
December 4 Like mana from heaven, the two ravens droped from the sky. Sat waiting on the fence untill I put out some food. Loved it.
December 6 Couldn’t see them , sat on the sty. When I stod up they flow into the air. Had been waiting for me in the heather.
January Ravens comming most days, above Lingmyra.
February 17 The ravens have been great this month. They sit, like parrots on the posts, waiting for me, above Lingmyra. Today, they met me at the top of my road, rolling and rolling, making clacking noices. They then sat in the field, touching beakes, must be courting before mating. After feeding, one of the ravens were flying along the fence, like a hawk, chasing something. The ‘thing’ whent into the high grass. The raven sat on the post above, flow down and poked the grass. Got fed up and flow away. First time I have seen ravens chasing something alive.
March 2 Left some food above Lingmyra. As I walked down, the raven came to check if I had left food. Delighted, he turned around in the air and flow towards the cliffs to tell his mate, rolling and squaking in the air.
March 5 Strange, only one raven came for food.
Haven’t been going up the hill because of ‘foot and mouth’ decise. Sometimes we see more than two ravens, odd as they don’t seem to be faiting.
Tam shot a rabbit, decided to take it up to above Lingmyra. Cleaned it, cut it in half. One of the ravens followed me up. Delighted with the rabbit, whent to the craig to get the other raven. They worked on a piece each, faiting off a black back. At one point the gull managed to get one of the pieces but had to drop it in the mid air when chased by the raven.
Have not seen much of ravens since back from Barcelona. They are here but don’t seem to be nesting or having youngs.
May 28 No sign of the ravens on the Black Craig.
Because of Charlie seagull I am trying to give my snacks to the ravens, on the Black Craig. That has worked a few times but Charlie now comes there too.
If the ravens are there I realise now that they watch the seagull circle (I can’t see the ravens) and as I walk further down the hill, the seagull circles lower and lower over the food and the ravens waite untill he is about to settle (i.e. Knowing I am out of the way) then they go for the food, so, I don’t need to worry that I am feeding the seagulls!
I haven’t been going every day but they are always happy to see me, roll and roll in the air, lots of ‘talking’ too.
January 19 Watched the pair corting in the field below the house! One preening the other, the male(?)
Progress with the new ravens. One, waiting on the cliff above where I give them snacks. The next will be him/her not flying away. Their territory seem to be larger then the old ones. Maybe there is less food?
January 20 Didn’t see them on the Craig, early afternoon.
January 22 Left before dusk. Not on the Craig but when I got to above Lingmyra they came calling, from Garth area. Got their snacks.
I see and hear the ravens sometimes but they are not very prominent. They should be flying back and forth with nest building material but no activity on the cliffs.
March 16 Have been going up the hill, rather than above Lingmyra, to see the ravens. Nicer walk. Today, one raven excited to see me. Left two eggs and he couldn’t wait for me to leave. Was the female laying on eggs?
March 26 The male came to see me in the garden. Came calling down from Fealquoy, then rolled and rolled overhead as I was talking to him. Truly wonderful.
May 26 Two raven chicks on cliff. Mum comed down when she know it was me. The perigrin was making a racket, must have chicks too.
May 27 Chicks on the hill today.
January 15 Not much communication with the ravens untill today. One was sitting on the cliff so I whent up to post above Lingmyra. They had seen me, one sitting ‘clunking’ in the heather. Left them some cheeze which they came and took when I was half way down the hill. Had a chat with them. I am very pleased.
March 8 Yesterday the raven pair played in the air above the house. Interesting as I thought the female would be on eggs. However today the male (?) chast a pair of young (?) ravens away from the Black Craig. After came to me alone to get some snacks. Took the first lot to his partner, so, she might be laying eggs after all.
April 7 Male came to the post to be fed, waiting for me.