How well do you know your Corvids?
An amateur geologist friend and I had spent a few days at Acraman Bore in outback South Australia, checking out Australia's largest meteorite crater as well as the surrounding country. After Dean and I struggled off Lake Everard sheep station, we arrived at our next campsite in Woomera.
Around the campground we could hear two types of Corvids, Australian Ravens and Little Crows.
Now, you'll probably know that most Australian Corvids are very similar-looking birds. Get them in your binoculars and they're large black glossy birds with heavy black bills. Real experts like Dean's wife Marilyn can point out the subtle field marks that diagnose the bird, like beard size, wing shape and movements. I'm not that much of a gun birder, apart from knowing one field mark, which I'll get to.
The saving grace is the Corvids' calls. They're all pretty distinctive.
The Australian Raven has a very memorable wail that just says "Australia" to me. They also have a waa-waa-waa call that is similar to the Little Raven we have in Melbourne, but you don't get Little Ravens in Woomera. We could hear Australian Ravens around the place.
The Little Crow has a shorter waa-waa-waa call. I describe it as almost being a quack-quack-quack. We could also hear these in the area.
Little Crows are very rare in Victoria, so I really wanted a photo of one, but how was I going to get a shot that really identified the bird beyond doubt? The answer lay in the only useful field mark I knew. One of the critical differences between a Crow and Raven is that a Crow has a white downy base to its feathers. A Raven is black all the way to the skin.
So I found a bird that was making the right call, and waited. And waited. Eventually the bird preened, revealing white down at the base of the feathers on its nape. Snap.
To quote Kryten from Red Dwarf, "ahhh, smug mode!"