Freeze, thaw, snow, rain, repeat. March weather in Southcentral Alaska is predictably unpredictable. Today, I trek with my hiking group along Campbell Creek, a wild corridor within Anchorage’s city limits. We’re looking for ravens. Not that we need to look far to find them in the winter. They commute from their roosts in the Chugach Mountains into town every morning to take advantage of what we careless humans leave behind in parking lots, dumpsters, roadsides, and school grounds. Ravens are highly intelligent and learn quickly from us and from each other. A gang even hangs out in the Costco parking lot where they steal steaks and fruit from shopping carts and fly off with their booty. At sunset, they turn around and head back to home to their homes in the spruce and hemlock forests above the city.

Our destination today is a wide arc in the creek where we’ve witnessed dozens of ravens gathering in past years. With the snow still deep, it’s not a likely place to hunt small creatures. The creek ripples here all winter, though, and the bare cottonwood and birch make excellent perches to view the open terrain. One more thing: sound carries all manner of raven-speak— shrieking, chortling, barking like dogs, and catcalling. Aerobatics, too. Swoops and dives, twirls, tumbles, and plunges—in singles and pairs. It’s a bar scene with loud music and rowdy dancing. We think the gathering is all to show off their beauty, agility, and speed for the opposite sex. But no one can be sure.

We reach the wooden bridge at the usual gathering spot, but find only one pair of ravens soaring above us. In the distance, squawks and screeches of more ravens. Maybe they moved the party to a more private location.

A skier stops to chat. We share raven sightings. and trade stories of where they might go at night. Finally, we carry on. Maybe we can catch sight of a dipper, a remarkable fist-sized gray bird that also stays here all winter, making a living by plunging into the frigid open water, plucking insect larvae at the bottom, building a nest beneath the bridge.

But, before we reach the haunts of the dipper beneath the steel bridge, our progress is thwarted by a cow and calf moose who are too busy eating birch branches to allow us passage. We’re forced to make a “U” turn and head back to the trailhead.  Though we’ve come up short on birds, we’ve had this fine day together, celebrating spring, friendship, and surviving two years of the pandemic.