We See Two Angling Maines in May!
In Maine’s bottom quarter to bottom third, May produces consistent caddis and mayfly hatches in rivers, ponds and streams. Lakes and brooks also give up salmonids, too, but trout fishing and insect hatches are more prevalent in the first three waters. The upper three-quarters to two-thirds of the state are more like ice-out mania than insect-hatch time. Up there, surface trolling rules much of the month.
In this writer’s home river, quill Gordons (Epeorus pleuralis), red quills and Hendricksons (Ephemerella subvaria), Pale Duns, (E. rotunda), Sulfur duns (Ephemerella dorothea), March browns (Stenonema vicarium), Gray Foxes (Stenonema fuscum) and black, tan or cream caddis (bodies) hatch all month and keep the good times rolling. There are lots of aquatic hatches in Maine from Bangor to Kittery
In May in the South Country, brook fishing in small brooks is superb, where water is running cool and somewhat high, but not too high, just right for salmonids to strap on a feedbag and chow down like teenage boys at an outdoor barbecue. Brookie fishing can be really fast in small brooks now, and we often think brookies, but in waters running from or into stocked ponds and lakes, browns and even rainbows may be the target.
In the North Country, rivers, streams and brooks run high in early month as water flows over banks, but in ponds and lakes right after ice-out, some of the largest salmonids of the year come to net – brookies, landlocks and togue. Trollers do well all month as folks land wall-hangers.
May camping excites folks, even with hordes of black flies, but days are warming all the time, and nights turn cold enough to make longjohns in a sleeping bag cozy enough, all right. Before bedtime, nothing beats sitting in front of a campfire, when breaths come out in small, steaming clouds.
High water in rivers makes canoe trippers happy – the ones skilled at running white-water, anyway. Backpackers like getting out now, but a hot spell can make trails plenty muddy. A phone call to state parks with trails can give folks info on trail conditions.
Gardeners plant this month, and serious hunters and anglers are often dirt farmers, too. They love growing food for the family – a huge part of the food-gathering process.
Folks are hiking, biking and running now, trying to run off the winter fat, and this makes exercisers feel so good about themselves. It’s a grand time of year.
Tips of the Month
Each April and early May after ice-out, Mainers love to troll for landlocked salmon, brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and lake trout as ice leaves ponds and lakes. A typical setup for this endeavor begins with a fly rod and fast-sinking line. Lots of folks use 4- to 6-weight fly rods, but for dragging a line and long leader 126-feet behind the boat, I choose an 8-weight to handle the stress.
I put a 3-foot butt of 10-pound test on the fly-line’s end and then tie a 6- (my preference) to 8-pound, 30-foot leader to the heavier butt. This solves a minor problem should someone hook bottom and lose the entire 30-foot leader. It takes more effort to tie a nail knot to fasten the leader to the fly line but less of a problem to tie two pieces of mono together.
Sometimes I put split shot on the 33-foot leader near the fly to get it down, but when fish cruise the very surface, that step makes little sense.
When trolling for salmon, I like to go 4 miles per hour (mph), a fast walk, but for brookies and browns, I may go 2 1/2-mph and slowly speed it up to four miles an hour until a certain speed gets results.
Early in the month, salmonids chase rainbow smelts close to shore, where tributaries flow into the still water or where an outlet spills out. Gravel bars, other structure and springs are also great spots to troll.
If a pond has smelts, I like a Jerry’s Smelt, Red Gray Ghost or Ballou Special in that order, and also lean toward a Supervisor, Black Ghost or Nine-three. The last three do not work as well as the first three for me.
If a water has no smelts, I like to match the prevalent baitfish, such as Blacknose Dace, Common Shiner, or Muddler, for sticklebacks.
Maine gardeners leave some of their parsnip crop in the ground through winter, thinking the freezing improves flavor. Two favorite recipes from New England go back into the 1600 and 1700s and still get folks asking for seconds:
Parsnip Griddle Cakes
Gather six cooked parsnips, one beaten egg, 3/4-teaspoon salt, one tablespoon unsalted butter and two tablespoons for flour.
Next, mash the parsnips, put through a sieve and then add the egg and beat until mixture turns light and fluffy. Gently mix in the seasoning, butter and flour and make into patties. Brown on both sides on a hot griddle.
Gather six-to-eight fairly young parsnips, three tablespoons of unsalted butter, one teaspoon salt, 1/2-teaspoon pepper, 1/2-teaspoon nutmeg and chopped parsley.
After cleaning the parsnips, split in halves. Put the skillet over low heat, melt the butter, add the parsnips and seasoning and cover during the cooking time to steam and braise the root veggies.
When done, sprinkle finely chopped parsley on the parsnips for flavor, garnish and serve.
Where the Action Is
Pleasant River in Windham Is “Pleasant”
One spring 20 years ago, I had a minor medical problem that required weekly visits to a Portland doctor, which proved fortuitous for me. I’d visit a specialist, not an unpleasant stop, and then after a short drive from downtown Portland to the Pleasant River in Windham (Maine Atlas, Map 5, D-2), I would start fishing seriously about noontime before the 1 p.m. red-quill hatch.
By very early May, trilliums were blooming on the sun-splashed banks, a beautiful, rich-red flower, a sure sign that red quills were hatching, because the water temperature was right.
What fun I had on these visits to this small stream that tumbled and slid through mixed hardwood sprinkled with stately hemlocks, a scene that looked to me like a setting from an Ernest Schwiebert story.
Red quills hatched in the afternoon, and at times, I’d catch one fish after another on a single run that stretched 40 or so yards. This is a great river, and in truth, I never drove by the Pleasant to fish the mighty Presumpscot. That’s how much small streams impress me, and occasionally, the Pleasant produced fish upwards to 15 inches. I hear about fish in the pounds-category, but never saw any myself. Bigger fish run the Presumpscot for sure.
My favorite place to fish on this entire river lies downstream of the Windham Center Road, but the area upstream and down of the Pope Road runs a close second. These sections have lots of swimming mayfly nymphs, too.
Folks who live in this area have a great resource all right, and I sometimes drive an hour or more to get there from my home. Give ’er a try. You’ll like it.
St. George Below Sennebec
In the 1970s, I hunting grouse and woodcock on Appleton Ridge, a gravel road then that paralleled the St. George River high above. At noon in those years, I often ate lunch in a parking lot down on the river at the mouth of Sennebec Pond (Map 14, D-1), a gravel parking spot for the boat launch there.
In those years, I never though much about fishing this St. George stretch, because the current was slow and it looked like a bass water. What’s more, it was right beside Route 131, with lots of traffic.
Then, The Maine Sportsman hired Gene Robbins to write a regional column, and he often covered the area’s exciting fishing for black bass, brown trout and brook trout. He highlighted trout in late April, May and early June at the Sennebec outlet, so I gave it a try.
During red-quill hatches in May, the fishing below Sennebec Pond could be excellent for fish up to 14 inches and a few even larger. It was nonstop action as vehicles roared past – an odd fishing experience.
Years later, environmentalists removed a dam well below Sennebec and added a low, rock structure upstream just below Sennebec’s outlet. To me, the structure looked more like rapids than a dam.
Folks hailed this odd “dam” as the cause for improvement in trout fishing there, but in my humble opinion, it still had good sport but no better than the years before the dam removal – not an opinion on the construction changes but rather a truth. This is one helluva spot to fish, particularly when anglers hit it right.
Expect a crowd, though, on many days. When I fished it in the old days, anglers were scarce, but the intriguing, low-rock dam attracts folks plenty.
News and Tidbits
Moose Troubles in Southern Range Habitat
In northwestern Minnesota during the 1980s, the moose population held at 4,000, but that figure has dropped to about 100 animals! In northeastern Minnesota, moose have declined by half since 2006 – to 4,300, from a little over 8,800. The decline was so steep in 2012 – a 35-percent drop – that the local Chippewa tribes closed their moose hunt, and these people had relied on the world’s largest deer for food.
Researchers in New Hampshire and Montana, two other states along the southern extreme of moose range, have also noticed moose numbers declining. Mortality rates in Minnesota rebounded slightly this year, but moose continue to die at twice the normal rate necessary to sustain a population.
Winter cold destroys pests that prey on moose – pests such as ticks and meningeal worm – but Seth Moore, a wildlife biologist in Grand Portage, thinks that recent warmer, shorter winters and hotter, longer summers have resulted in a twofold problem:
1. Changing climate stresses moose out, compromising their immune systems.
2. Warmer temperatures have allowed white-tailed deer populations to increase, and these whitetails carry brain worm – fatal to moose.
Still, “I’m not necessarily convinced that brain worm is the silver bullet that’s killing all of the moose,” Dr. Moore said. “There are a number of different issues.”
However, Maine moose on the southern edge of their habitat are not experiencing precipitous declines, a region where deer have dwindled to one to two animals per square mile. Perhaps Dr. Moore found his silver bullet without realizing it.
Last Winter’s Sand and Salt
In central Maine where I live, snow fell frequently and heavily through winter 2013-’14, with lots of wet snow and ice requiring heavy sanding and salt to make roads passable.
On a sunny, unseasonably warm winter day near the end of February, the 23rd to be exact, an observation caught my eye. Snowplows had pushed much of the road sand onto and into snow banks, where the dark color drew sunlight and melted the banks quite fast.
Not only did sand on top cause melting, as the snow disappeared, more dark sand appeared, drawing more rays from the sun. So, about four weeks before official spring, observant nature watchers could see that melting would be fast before spring. Let’s hope roadside creatures and nearby waters where salt eventually runs, flora and fauna survive.
Crows, Earthworms and Darwin
Until 12 years ago, I lived in a wonderful place to observe crow behavior, where these birds became accustomed to humans and let me walk past them a few feet away.
As anyone knows who has watched crows in spring and early summer, they often hop along lawns like giant, black robins and pull earthworms from the ground whenever they find them.
… Bringing up a learning experience. In spring at this place, sun began warming the earth and paved driveways, so earthworms would crawl onto the pavement. However, crows never ate them – a shocker to me.
When worms loaded the pavement sometimes, an ultra-wet, late snow would fall, and it would be easy to see the worms beneath the thin, transparent covering. For three or four years, though, the crows never ate the worms beneath the snow that looked like slightly clouded glass.
When the first crow began targeting the bonanza, I didn’t notice it right off. One week, though, every crow in the area was heading to a series of parking lots lightly covered with wet snow to eat worms.
To me, that’s an obvious beginning of an evolutionary trait that caught the eye of a man like Darwin. It wasn’t a body change in crows, but rather, a learning curve that showed animals continue changing behavior in their quest for survival.
Fish Habitat Restoration Expensive
Habitat restoration for salmonids often entails prohibitive costs, leaving recreational anglers a more effective way to make a difference – advocating for stricter regulations of bag limits, length limits and gear restrictions in waters that already have suitable habitat. That’s the future of recreational angling in a world strapped for money.
Many anglers flock to waters that are artificial lures only, fly-fishing only, catch and release and so forth because the regulations create better angling.
Sometimes, catch-and-kill crowds criticize these places, because so many anglers flock to them and salmonid mouths become poked with hook holes and leader cuts on the lips. However, by virtue of the fact that strict regulations attract crowds proves that the demand is there, so state officials should create more places to meet that want. Spreading anglers out would create less damage to fish mouths.
Common Maine Meal
I grew up at the end of an era when Maine rural folks often ate an odd meal at the end of May and beginning of June – recently smoked alewives accompanied with boiled potatoes and canned string beans.
Alewives ran Maine’s coastal rivers in May, and folks harvested them to smoke and sell to country convenience stores. Like any smoked fish, the flesh was salty, and these were really salty, so kids like me who could get over the eye sockets and gaping mouth liked eating them for that flavor.
My mother or grandmother often put smoked alewives in a brown paper bag to heat in the oven, and the paper absorbed grease. The potatoes from our last fall’s garden were always old by then with sprouts coming from the eyes, requiring peeling and removing sprouts to make them edible before boiling. Canned string beans finished the 3-course dinner.
Maple Sap Stealing?
Sap from sugar maples has a high sugar content that makes a golden syrup prized for covering pancakes, French toast or crepes and occasionally an ingredient in place of molasses for baking Saturday night beans.
Maple syrup has become so valuable that folks are stealing the sap, and often the perpetrators are amateur tree tappers. Often, the thieves steal sap from neighbors, who go south in the winter and return after mud season when maple sap stops running.
Allegedly, stealing sap isn’t an economic hardship for most landowners because of losing the main ingredient for syrup, but tapping the trees damages the wood enough to make maple lumber less valuable. Maine forest rangers have suggested landowners should use video cameras to help combat the problem.
MCHT Benefits Coastal Recreationists
Lanes Island lies at the mouth of the Royal River in Yarmouth, and it once attracted Leon L. Bean for duck hunting. Now, this 28-acre island has joined over 300 other coastal islands to be preserved for the future, thanks the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.
The Coastal Island Registry under the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands lists over 3,168 islands off the Maine coast. The Maine Island Trail runs 375 miles and includes 200 islands, including the recently added Lanes Island. What an impressive project that has grown big time in my lifetime.
Maine Figures to Chew On
Currently, Maine has a population of 1,329,192 people, with a median age of 43.5. Now, 85 percent of us have graduated from high school. The median household income is a little less than $48,000, an increase of about $6,000 from 1984 when compared to a demographic study of The Maine Sportsman’s readers, who had a household income of about $42,000 then.
In the true baby-boomers’ lifetime, those born in 1946 and ’47, Maine’s population has grown about 400,000 residents, which requires myriad house lots to build dwellings, acreage that once belonged to wildlife.
Fascinating Comment about Invasive Baitfish
A fisheries biologist with experience selling baitfish recently told us at The Maine Sportsman that one of the big reasons for invasive baitfish species in Maine ponds, lakes and flowing waters begins and ends with anglers throwing baitfish into waters decades ago, which established populations. Naturally, this man does not want me to use his name.
Down East Advertisement from 1956!
A Down East magazine advertisement in the February-March 1956 issue showed a “pleasant retirement home” for sale on Frenchman’s Bay, and in addition to the Cape Cod house, the buyer would get 50 acres of woods, a trout stream, private beach and deep-water anchorage – all for $25,000. How can we find this home’s exact location to fish the trout stream?
USF&W’s 2014 Hunting Expansion
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe recently announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expanding hunting and fishing opportunities throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, opening up new hunting programs on six refuges and expanding existing hunting-and-fishing programs on another 20 refuges. The rule also modifies existing refuge-specific regulations for more than 75 additional refuges and wetland management districts.
“For more than a century, hunters and anglers have been the backbone of conservation in this country and a driving force behind the expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “By providing more hunting-and-fishing opportunities on refuges, we are supporting a great recreational heritage passed down from generation to generation, creating economic growth in local communities and helping to ensure that conservation stays strong in America.”
Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service can permit hunting and fishing where they are compatible with the refuge’s purpose and mission. Folks can hunt within specified limits on more than 335 wildlife refuges and can fish on more than 271 wildlife refuges.
Other wildlife-dependent recreation on national wildlife refuges includes wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation.
The Service’s final rule opens the following Maine refuge to hunting for the first time: Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuse is open to migratory-bird hunting, upland game-hunting and big-game hunting. The refuge is also already open to sport fishing.
Acadia Birding Festival
Birders can experience Maine’s birding wonders from boreal forests to ocean habitat and can watch warblers, puffins and more in the Acadia Birding Festival – an event scheduled for the end of May and very early June.
Folks in charge at this festival offer field trips, pelagic trips, paddling adventures, workshops, social gatherings and evening presentations. Celebrity birders and experienced guides will be on hand to help birders find adventures around Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island and beyond.
Also, don’t miss the dedicated Pelagic Seabird Boat Trip on Saturday morning (June 1) out of Bar Harbor. By land or by sea, folks will find exciting birds to observe.
Please mark May 29-June 1, 2014. Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor. Telephone: 207-233-3694 or check: www.acadiabirdingfestival.com.
Bird of the Month
Male American Redstart: More Beautiful than Photos
A male American redstart’s (Setophaga ruticilla) large, bright-orange wing patches, chest sides and two triangles on the tail’s basal feathers indeed blaze bright orange and contrast sharply with this warbler’s black head, neck, back, front of chest and much of the wings, creating a striking songbird that catches the most casual observer’s eyes. The male also has a slate-colored beak and dark-gray legs.
The female redstart has softer gray where the male exhibits black, and she shows yellow patches where the male exhibits orange. Some bird guidebooks such as Peterson’s call the gray “olive-brown,” but my eyeballs see more gray than olive and brown.
The female is less flashy than the male but a fine-looking bird just the same. The female’s yellow-and-gray coloration also looks more typical of other warblers.
Redstarts measure 5 1/4-inches, sport a 7 3/4-inch wingspan and weigh nearly 1/3-ounce, and because of so much black and just maybe because it’s simply true, this species look slightly chunkier than many other warblers.
During spring migrations heading north, redstarts often flit in alders, red-osier dogwood and saplings along river, stream and brook banks – a trout angler’s bird. Fly fishers such as myself often see them along central Maine’s May streams this month as green begin in earnest.
As their somewhat long, thinner beak suggests, redstarts eat insects so arrive here when bugs become active and stay until the first hard frost kills the little crawlies and flitting insects. This species spends summers in mixed growth forests, deciduous woods and saplings. They definitely show a preference for second-growth habitat.
Peterson translates the song as zee zee zee zee zwee, which sounds right to my ears. Sibley claims the call is “a high squeaky chip and the flight call sounds like tsweet. It’s fun to look at bird books to note how authors spell the sounds phonetically – sometimes so different from one another.
Redstarts build nests in saplings or against a tree trunk à la ruffed grouse, using grass to construct a well-defined cup that also includes bark shreds and plant pieces. (Ken Allen)
Do You Know?
Raven vs. Crow Size
Do you know if a casual observer can identify the difference between a large crow and small raven by just observing the size difference?
Flyfishing Northern New England’s Seasons
Flyfishing Northern New England’s Seasons by Lou Zambello (Wilderness Adventures Press, Inc., Belgrade, Montana) came across this reviewer’s desk recently, and as I expected because of knowing Zambello’s writing skills and fly-fishing knowledge, this book made a huge impression.
As the title suggests, Zambello keyed on the seasons, including five sections: 1) Spring: 2. Late Spring/Early Summer: 3) Mid-summer; 4) Autumn; and 5) Winter. He put several chapters under each season – 30 in all five sections.
This reviewer liked Zambello’s setup a lot. The last time I saw such an inventive approach was in The Hatches Made Simple by Charles R. Meck with a subtitle A Universal Guide to Selecting the Proper Fly at the Right Time. Meck’s book didn’t concentrate on learning Latin names for insects, but rather, how to match insects in size, color scheme and silhouette.
Let’s look at “Section II: Late Spring/Early Summer,” and check out the chapters. The Section begins with an introduction and goes on with Chapters 9 through 15 – Finding and Maximizing the Hatch; Stillwater Hatch Tactics; Stillwater Hatch Season Patterns; Moving Water Hatches; Moving Water Nymphing; and Hatch Season Fly Tying Pattern Summary.
Readers can see the ingenuity behind Lou’s setup, as they study this book before the season and then carry it with them through the seasons. After all, there are a jillion straight entomology books these days, and Hatches has been around since 1975! Zambello’s book gives us a different approach for sure that concentrates on presentation and fly choices for each particular season.
Flyfishing Northern New England’s Seasons also has color plates of fly patterns and recipes, and it’s not a list of old patterns that many of us already know how to tie. (How many times do we look at a book with a dressing for a Hare’s Ear? As if we didn’t know the pattern already.)
“Chapter 4: Stillwater” covers needed knowledge for fishing streamers in northern New England and of course Maine. When this reviewer started perusing this book and came across that chapter, it was time to start reading then and there. Mainers want to know how to fish stillwater, and why not? Maine is a trout-pond paradise.
Zambello’s Flyfishing Northern New England’s Seasons cost $24.95, a paperback. As the old cliché goes, “This book is a keeper.” You’ll like it.
Attractor Fly Patterns Look like Something!
In my late teens, fly fishing enraptured me like hot cars and partying enthralled other folks my age, and during this time, a tidbit in a book caught my eye, creating a huge impression.
The author might have been Joe Brooks, Preston Jennings, Vincent Marinaro or Art Flick, and the writer said something to this effect:
Many fly rodders claim that attractor patterns such as a Royal Coachman, Warden’s Worry, Wooly Worm, Zug Bug and similar flies look like nothing natural under the sun, but these flies actually do resemble a particular forage. The writer finished this fly-fishing philosophy with a comment that struck me as earth shattering at the time.
When folks think a fly looks like nothing in nature, they have failed to think the equation through to the end, and he chose a Royal Coachman as his first example. He suggested that the herl behind the red floss on the shank resembled the egg sac on a mayfly’s abdomen, a prize for salmonids instinctively wanting extra protein for their effort.
In the very early 20th century, no less of an authority than Theodore Gordon – originator of the Quill Gordon and considered the father of American fly fishing – thought a Royal Coachman looked like a flying ant, particularly one with downwings instead of upwings. Whether this fly floated or looked drowned, the body silhouette does resemble an ant.
In the 1950s, Preston Jennings postulated a Royal Coachman wet fly imitated an Isonychia nymph. This comment has merit.
Along that line, Zug Bugs roughly match an Isonychia bicolor nymph, A Warden’s Worry and Maple Syrup look like a Hexagenia limbata nymph. The last two really intrigue me, because they indeed imitate a Hex nymph. Myriad people miss this point and say neither looks like any aquatic bug or baitfish.
Wooly Worms and Woolly (note spelling difference) Buggers also start mouths flapping, as people claim these patterns imitate nothing:
1. But during springs in my teens and early 20s, I enjoyed fantastic fishing for wild brook trout in a large, silt-bottomed brook full of 6- to 12-inch brook trout, and I had expectations of getting a 14-incher every year or two there. Much of my spring success came on a brown-bodied, cree-palmered Wooly Worm on a size-12, 2x hook, which imitated the prevalent backswimmers in this deep brook, an aquatic insect in the Hemiptera order.
2. Woolly Buggers really imitate leeches, and they also fool fish into thinking this odd-looking fly may be a baitfish or large nymph. Thinking a Wooly Bugger looks like nothing in nature really challenges reality.
A realistic presentation of a fly pattern that looks like an active forage item in nature works for fooling the pickiest of trout, so when brookies are hitting something like a Maple Syrup with reckless abandon on a Maine brookie pond, they have put on the feedbag for Hex nymphs. (Ken Allen)
June Is June
In June, Maine anglers – particularly fly rodders – love to fish for brook trout in this state’s northern brookie ponds, particularly during aquatic-insect hatches. Folks also go bonkers across the state, while wading rivers and brooks filled with brookies.
In the sixth month, Maine’s brookie fishing may boom from the 1st to the 30th, and during this time, folks also target landlocked salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout and lake trout. A devoted group turns their attention to black bass, white perch, black crappie, hornpout, northern pike and muskellunge, but in Maine, salmonids rule.
And in the salt…. Before June ends, striped bass and mackerel arrive, and with luck, maybe bluefish show up. By next month, blue shark fishing picks up and tuna attracts a handful of serious, serious devotees. Party boats draw crowds after cod, haddock and other groundfish, and of course, party boaters occasionally get into a school of stripers or blues. This is a wicked popular sport in Maine, evidenced by all the saltwater-fishing ads in the pages of The Maine Sportsman.
Camping picks up this month, as does river tripping, backpacking and automobile camping. Kids are getting out of schools, and moms and dads take advantage of sports that keep families together.
Shooting also increases, as archers practice with bows, smoothbore enthusiasts wing-shoot clay targets and rifle hunters perfect trigger squeeze and loads for their favorite big-game cartridge.
Bicyclists, runners and hikers work hard in a month that has warm weather but enough cool air to make it all pleasant. These sports are skyrocketing in popularity in this state. I bicycle on a main highway with a breakdown lane that attracts colorful hordes of exercisers this month.
Gardeners begin harvesting radishes and leafy veggies now, and wild-food gatherers concentrate on strawberries, potherbs and young roots. Soon, mushrooms pop through the ground everywhere, a delicious freebie to eat in dishes that can match fancy foods in a Parisian restaurant.
Answer to “Do You Know?”
Three Identification Keys Besides Size
A common crow can get as big as 21-inches in length, a big crow, but a large common raven’s body can reach 27-inches long – a lotta bird. A crow averages 17 1/2-inch length and a raven 24-inches, also a sizable difference, so experienced observers can determine these size variations from quite a distance – say 30 to 40 yards.
However, a casual and even astute observer would have great difficulty in identifying the difference between a large crow and small raven by size alone, because surprisingly, the length of the bodies are quite similar – 21- vs. 22-inch measurements. Who could determine the 1-inch measurement unless the two birds perched beside one another?
When identifying the difference between a similar-sized crow or raven, birders must key on other factors. Ravens have 1) scruffy feathers on their throat; 2) a Roman-shaped beak with a noticeable bump; and 3) a decidedly wedge-shaped tail in flight, whereas a crow has 1) smooth feathers on the throat; 2) a straighter beak without the slight bump; and 3) a tail that ends with a more straight-across silhouette in flight.
Also, crows are more gregarious, and often fly in flocks, while ravens are more solitary. When flying, ravens alternate flapping, and then, they glide on flat wings. When crows flap and then sail, they hold the wings in a dihedral manner, slightly lifted upwards during the glide. (Ken Allen)