Turkey vultures: The highs and the lows
Monday, October 07, 2013 4:09 AM
With all the wonders we can find in nature around us, don't forget to look in one area - UP.
When hiking I'd continually keep my eyes moving. When driving I'd often spot hawks in trees or even an owl on a fencepost.
Now that I'm riding a recumbent trike on area recreational trails, I certainly still keep scanning for birds. And while I'm not trying to tread... err, fly... on fellow columnist Al Batt's subject area, I would like to share some thoughts - even a little avian humor.
Speaking of humor, turkey vultures come to mind. I find nothing quite so funny as a bunch of them roosting somewhere, especially when drying their wings by holding them up and stretched out. OK, I'll admit that it might look a bit macabre as well, like a miniature gargoyle.
(Hmmm. Guess I've been inspecting Mayo Clinic buildings too much lately if I'm comparing things to gargoyles. But there's just nothing like a classic, gothic building, am I right?)
But I digress. Turkey vultures love to soar and circle on air updrafts. No, they're not waiting for you to keel over nor are they a harbinger of pending death. All the time they're using their keen sense of smell to seek already-dead carcasses, to be redundant, on which to feed. And they feed in groups, in some sort of, haha, pecking order.
During the last couple weeks I have ridden the Harmony-Preston Valley and Root River trails toward Fountain a little ways. I noticed the rank smell of something dead along the former railroad bed, but couldn't see what it was due to thick foliage.
So I pedaled on, later turning around to head for home. The wind must have been to my back because I didn't smell the carcass until I was nearly scared... err, startled... to death. Oh, wouldn't that have made those turkey vultures smile!
As it was, all of a sudden there was a horrible ruckus in the foliage to my right. Was a whitetail buck going to run right in front of - and hopefully not over - me? Was it a frightened cow - or herd - that had broken through a fence? Or, was Bigfoot real?!!
No. It was none of the above. All of a sudden, probably a dozen turkey vultures flapped around to take flight and evacuate the carcass area.
Imagine, if you will, I had scared them. And if you've ever been startled by an unseen grouse or wild turkey near you taking flight, you'll know just how my heart was racing.
Of course I had no time to capture the event on camera, but it certainly left a lasting impression. No camera needed.
During the spring and fall of my seven-month respite stay at Park Lane Estates in Preston, I'd watch the "TVs," as I sometimes call turkey vultures. I predicted when they migrated back in the spring, I'd soon head home. And I did. I guess you could call them my totem animal, although I find no symbolism related to me or to my predicament.
Now I see the TVs on their first roost of the evening at the former Preston elevator and grain bin complex near the Root River and the Napa store. After finding a Youtube video featuring a hissing TV, I now look up and hiss at them just to see if they'll welcome me as a long-lost sister or do something far more sinister.
When I looked up recently, the turkey vultures appeared to be conversing, even laughing. I searched for "turkey vulture jokes" online - yes, amazingly I had a few hits - and created a cartoon using my photos.
Lisa Brainard is a contributing columnist from Preston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.