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Dog Days, Raven Nights

Dog Days, Raven Nights

John M. Marzluff
Colleen Marzluff
Original Linocut Illustrations by Evon Zerbetz
Foreword by Bernd Heinrich
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Dog Days, Raven Nights
    Book Description:

    Twenty years ago, fresh out of graduate school and recently married, John and Colleen Marzluff left Arizona for a small cabin in the mountains of western Maine. Their mission: to conduct the first-ever extensive study of the winter ecology of the Common Raven under the tutelage of biologist Bernd Heinrich.

    Drawing on field notes and personal diaries, they vividly and eloquently chronicle their three-year endeavor to research a mysterious and often misunderstood bird-assembling a gigantic aviary, climbing sentry trees, building bird blinds in the forest, capturing and sustaining 300 ravens as study subjects, and enduring harsh Maine winters in pursuit of their goal. They also shared the unique challenges and joys of raising, training, and racing the sled dogs that assisted them in their work.

    Accompanied by Evon Zerbetz's lovely linocut illustrations,Dog Days, Raven Nightsis a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the adventures of field science and an insightful exploration of the nature of relationships, both animal and human.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17175-4
    Subjects: History, Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    There are few endeavors fraught with more tension, expectations, joys, and sometimes disappointments than a young researcher starting his or her career, or an older one fearing that his is petering out and suddenly finding a new direction. They generate dreams and spawn adventures that affect lifetimes and that will later be remembered, savored, and finally appreciated. You never know at the beginning what your labors will bring, but you knew back then that youhaveto go the mile or suffer the anticipated pain of possible regret. I believe John and Colleen Marzluff knew that when they left Arizona...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    John and Colleen Marzluff
  5. Cast of Characters, Lay of the Land
    (pp. xix-xxiii)
  6. one Can You Make a Living from a Love of Natural Science?
    (pp. 1-19)

    Our future was visible, if blurry, as we crossed the Lemon Fair River in the verdant forests of Vermont. With meager savings, two good dogs, and new friends, we would apply our life’s training to understand a new world. A safety net of friends and family who hosted us as we traveled east from Arizona faded to the southwest. Ahead were the Maine woods, a small cabin, and the secrets of hardy people and crafty birds. Our savings would get us through the winter, and with luck, pending grant proposals would provide support for the next three years. But presently...

  7. two Stocking the Aviary
    (pp. 21-43)

    Adrenaline choked me as I watched the ebony birds carefully enter the crude trap. I was alone just outside the trap, cramped and motionless, hiding in a dark pile of thick, snowy spruce boughs. My muscles were cocked springs, screaming from two hours of confinement. But the discomfort mattered little; my confidence was soaring. Surely I was near balancing the score with these ravens that had so far effectively eluded Colleen and me. The icy predawn of late December that bit at my face also pushed the ravens, now perched all around me. The lively, wild birds were everywhere—yelling,...

  8. three Torture in the Hut
    (pp. 45-67)

    It was still dark as we slipped from Bernd’s cabin, locked the dogs in their makeshift kennel, and snuck around the aviary to the small tarpaper observation hut. We shuffled through the snow-quiet woods. Stooping beside the elevated, frosty floor, we creaked the hatch inward and upward. Our entrance was becoming automatic: reach into the porthole and palm the inside floor of the hut, jump, flex, and wriggle to avoid the stove and piss pot, pull knees toward chest and touch down quietly inside the cramped but dry shelter. We built a fire in the woodstove and got ready for...

  9. four Raven Nights
    (pp. 69-87)

    We walked into the sun-starved, conifer forest where ravens roosted. There was little shrub growth (“puckerbrush”) under the thick canopy so the walking was easy. There was also little whitewash to suggest recent roosting. It was late September 1988, barely two weeks after Colleen and I had arrived in Maine. We had come to this pine grove just below the crest of Taylor Hill near the town of New Vineyard on the advice of Larry Wattles, who had shown Bernd a nearby roost the previous winter and now pointed us up Taylor Hill. York Hill and Taylor Hill were only...

  10. five Torment on the Trail
    (pp. 89-101)

    The many research activities at and beyond the aviary satisfied our biologists’ curiosity, but it wasn’t enough for Topper and Sitka. Hauling meat to the aviary and logs to the wood pile were surely strengthening them. They enjoyed brief bursts of speed as well. Blistering runs down York Hill and cruising up and down the many dirt and gravel roads that snaked through the woods briefly energized our canine athletes. Long days confined in a kennel or bound to a cable surely bored them. To clear our minds and their kennel fever, we began taking longer fun runs. We hitched...

  11. six Becoming Parents
    (pp. 103-123)

    As we lifted the dirty towels draped across each box, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Ten big, gray-black heads rose simultaneously toward the light and gaped. Wide open, glistening red mouths begged hoarsely; the openings to their windpipes, or tracheas, situated just beyond the thick, fleshy base of their pink tongues, pulsed rhythmically open and closed as they gulped air. The beggars from Vermont had arrived.

    Bernd was in a hurry that day, May 2 of our first spring in Maine. He had scooped up ten baby ravens from two Vermont nests a few hours earlier and...

  12. seven Dog Days
    (pp. 125-145)

    Even though most of our time was consumed by feeding and foraging for our baby ravens, we were still raising and training our young husky pups. The dog days of summer were upon us, and it was too warm to run the team, so we focused on basic obedience. Because Sitka and Topper had been reluctantly obedient dogs, we decided to start training Kenai while she was young. She and Sky shared a class at Four-K’s Golden Obedience, where Sky was the star. She was the perfect student: she sat, heeled, and came on command. Kenai, on the other hand,...

  13. eight A Second Winter of Ravens
    (pp. 147-179)

    Ernie, the master of the New Vineyard dump, had been seeing small groups of ten to fifteen ravens each summer weekend as he manned the small shack perched aside the one-acre pit of garbage. It was September 18, 1989. We were retracing familiar routes, checking on roosting and foraging activity while preparing for a second winter of research. The progress of science was often tedious because we needed to confirm our observations. Discovery was exhilarating, in part because it is rare. We were confident in understanding how ravens used attractive sounds, such as begging and yelling, to home toward large...

  14. nine Dating and Mating
    (pp. 181-205)

    Living year-round with a mob of ravens drew us into all aspects of their world. Our proposal had been to unravel the mystery of food sharing, and we felt well along toward understanding how aggression and status shaped their winter feeding habits. But as days lengthened and snows receded, our ravens revealed their softer side. February and March are winter in Maine, but the small increases in daylight these months bring are precisely sensed by special receptors in the raven’s eye, brain, and pineal gland (a small gland atop a bird’s brain that functions as a biological clock pulsing melatonin...

  15. ten Radio Waves
    (pp. 207-223)

    The raven twenty meters away was double the size of the busy crow. One-on-one, this size advantage guarantees the raven the ability to take what it wants from its lesser cousin. Today, the raven I watched was intent on stealing a red rubber ball from a dump-diving crow. He easily intimidated the crow, then pecked at the ball, rolled it, and tried to crack it like an egg. Unable to eat it, he cached it in the litter. Such antics were not uncommon in the dump, where ravens find playthings among food. This September, the raven’s game had awakened me...

  16. eleven Moving On
    (pp. 225-239)

    The roller coaster that all postdocs ride as they dream of permanent jobs and awake to rejection was slowing. An academic life in Montana, New Mexico, or North Dakota would not happen. None of my applications to colleges and universities, even those where I was invited to interview, resulted in the offer of a professorship. A bid to join an environmental firm in Alaska also fell flat. The word from Boise was more promising. During my interview with a consulting firm there, I met an energetic team of young scientists and technicians developing new ways to catch, track, and watch...

  17. twelve Twenty Years Later
    (pp. 241-244)

    A raven quorks from high above Hills Pond as we stroll Alder Brook Road. It is late August 2008. The curves of gravel are familiar, as are the camps along the way. The bridge is as we remembered. Just across it, Raymond Macomber, who built his cabin here in 1950 pokes his head out to say hello and recall the ravens. He is part of this land. The village of Weld also seems the same; the general store is tended by the same owners. The trail to Bernd’s cabin remains unimproved, and the cabin itself has aged considerably and a...

  18. Appendix 1: A Schematic Chronology of Our Aviary Research
    (pp. 247-255)
  19. Appendix 2: The Natural Histories of Dogs and Ravens
    (pp. 256-282)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 283-293)
  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 294-308)
  22. Index
    (pp. 309-323)