Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nor for the Faint of Heart: Part II

Note:  Be sure to read Part I before Part II
The wariness of the vultures reminds me of a day years ago when we hoped to photograph turkey vultures on a dead sheep.  We got permission from the farmer to enter his pasture.  Of course we spooked the vultures when we hiked out to the carcass.  We came prepared.  We both lay down under the cover of some camouflage netting and waited for their return. ... and waited. .... and waited.  The ground was damp.  Flies found us.  We tried not to move.  Our wait definitely didn’t qualify as a sunny nap amongst the buttercups.  Two hours later we gave up.  By the time we got our stuff back to the car, the vultures were back on the carcass.  

I get our biggest tripod and by standing on a chair can I push my camera almost to the top of the doorway -- and can photograph right over the deck railing.  Half of the vultures are soon back, five adults and one immature.  An immature is easy to tell from an adult.  Their heads are charcoal grey, whereas the adults have bright red heads with just a few black feathers.  From the looks of things it would be a good idea if half their body was naked too.  This really is quite a gory process.  
The immature bird stays close, but close enough to eat is too close.  He immediately gets chased off.  At the rate the adults are inhaling food, I suspect he’ll soon get a chance.  I switch to sketching for a while.  
After a couple of hours of watching I’m learning a lot about turkey vultures.  The vultures seem to have a definite pecking order with young birds on the bottom rung.  The older birds have a pecking order too.  Some new arrivals are immediately chased off; others fly in and take over the carcass without much fuss.  Once full, a bird flies off.  I suspect if I walked out on my deck again, I’d flush a bunch out of the tall trees above our house.  My deck roof hides my view.  
I must be a little nuts to take such an interest in these goings on.  We had planned to leave on a camping trip today, but I’m almost glad my back is bothering me and we decided to delay another day.
11.45AM  I sat down to type some more notes and now all my vultures are gone.  Don’t know what spooked them.  Last I looked I had three immatures and two adults.  The adults were pretty much keeping the immatures away.  I’m sure the youngsters didn’t have their fill.  

About 12:00 one adult came in and fed until full -- about 20 minutes.  I’ve looked several times during the past hour.  Yard empty.  I finally went outside at 1:20.  No birds in the trees either.  Plenty of meat on the fawn although they could use some assistance breaking more of the skin open ... which I didn’t do. 
Off and on during the afternoon a bird or two flew in for a snack.  Much quieter than this morning.  Late in the day I walked out to the carcass again.  The vultures have cleaned out the body cavity and most of the hind quarters.  The shoulder skin appears too tough to break into.  The good news is the fawn is now considerable lighter, probably less than half of its original weight.  Already it is getting very stinky.  We manage to stuff in into a garbage bag and slip it into our garbage can.  

Day 3
It is barely light when I watch a vulture soar low over our yard.  I feel a little guilty.  No bonanza in my yard today.  I’m also thankful.  Thanks to the vultures, our problem was reduced to a manageable size.  

*   *   *   *   *

A friend, Stan Moore, recently sent me a poem he wrote.  With his permission I’m including it here.  Its a little off subject, but since I doubt I’ll ever get to see a condor, I decided to end my vulture experience with his words.....

I saw the condor
The condor saw me
I was more impressed than he.

I asked the condor
What is eternity?
He said I should wait and see.

I died
and the condor fed on me
Our tissues commingling.

I am the condor
The condor is me
We are one eternally.


  1. Nice the events unfolded right in your back yard to provide incite into vulture culture, but alas, at some point it became too close, ha! Funny how you lay in that meadow to see the vultures and then later atop a chair in your kitchen capture great photos. Your vulture painting has personality like a talking parrot. Appropriate poem, too.

    1. It's kinda nice. I walk out in my backyard now and I have this marvelous memory of all the vultures.

  2. So very interesting... Vultures have only begun to appear in our part of the world (New Brunswick, Canada)in the last 3-4 years.. I really think they are exciting birds to watch. each year there clans grow larger. It is amazing to watch them soar with rarely ever flapping their wings!

  3. I like your vulture witnessing and really like the poem you selected to go with it. Thank you for your info.

  4. Finally got to read this Elva! Reminded me of when we hacked a young broken-winged vulture out from our front field (after it was healed of course)! We simply left a road-killed deer in the field and not only did the fellow have a place to perch and eat, he also ended up with a flock of his fellows to pal around with. 4 years later, we were still finding deer bones in the field and I always see one vulture checking out our yard every spring. I wonder if it's the same one?

  5. I finally got the courage to read this. lol what an interesting post. They do help clean up the world and make it easier on us. Sad about the loss but they have to eat too. You got some wonderful photos of them. Love your camera. The poem is perfect.

  6. :) what a beautiful poem! Elva

    Very touching and meaningful! Getting to be one with Nature

    rajesh s