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Vulture Spring

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I'm traveling through New York and New England. Sitting in a beautiful old guest house on the campus of Audubon Greenwich, the first educational nature center in the country. A Carolina wren has just come to the cedar outside my window, attracted by the light, the life, in the normally dark house. It tip-tilts, calls, makes eye contact. I wave. Hello darling. Yes, it's Zick. If I had a mealworm I'd give you one.

 Tonight I'll give my last talk, for Potapaug Audubon Society at the Old Lyme (CT) Town Hall at 7 pm. Turkey vultures are featured in it. This talk is different. It's equal parts spirituality and avian rehab. Why not? Give 'em something different. As much as I speak, I need something different, too, so it's fresh for the audience and for me.

Last month, I looked up into the warm Costa Rican sky above La Selva Biological Reserve in the Caribbean lowlands, and saw a conveyer belt of turkey vultures headed sedately, serenely north. None of them moving a wing. Just rolling, rolling, rolling on the air currents, conserving energy, headed home.

There are 314 vultures in this photo. I cannot convey the amazement of watching so many vultures roll over for so long. I thought about passenger pigeons, the way people wrote about their limitless flocks. I stood there, open mouthed, in wonder.

They looked like fleas, so high were they in the sky. And it occurred to me that every day, birds do things that we cannot conceive of and would not survive. We have to buy a ticket and get on a jet to get from Costa Rica to Ohio. They lift off and soar there.

Not two weeks later, Phoebe and I had a girl's night out back in chilly cold McConnellsville, Ohio. And here they came. I stood jabbering in a parking lot. Wondering aloud if these were the same birds I'd watched in Central America. Marveling. And feeling so lucky to see them again, home. 

We've done our part to make sure they feel welcome. 

A deer carcass in our field proved a powerful attractant. We set up a game camera. At first it took lots of pictures of grass, with bits of TUVU.

Best count was five at once. That's the carcass, with game camera on it, at lower left. 

The first night I was awakened by the incessent, piercing screams of a gray fox. And at dawn, there he was, full-furred, magnificent, crossing the meadow. I could not photograph him in time. But oh what a beauty. I was so glad to see him, to connect the screams with the animal. That's what the fox says: YEEEEEAHHHROW!! YEEEEARRRHOW!! over and over until you want to holler back.

Maybe my favorite game cam pic. Crow with house.

Sasquatch! They often sample carrion, but not if it's too rotty.

Having a deer carcass in one's field is a fun and lucky thing. Definitely an asset, and it's nice to have it deliquesce in a place where all the animals feeding on it won't get disturbed by cars. Carcasses disappear quite quickly when the clean-up crews can work undisturbed. As you will see...

How I love my vultures. And I think they love me too.

This one's for DOD. He'd be 102 this June. Each year I try to repot my bonsai trees on April 10, the day he died in 1994. Can't do it this year, so it'll have to wait 'til I get home. But I know he's smiling to see my redhead watering the greenhouse while I'm gone. Especially the tomatoes, which are now forming fruit. He loved tomatoes.

The Carolina wren who came to spy on me before dawn just brought its mate and they both yawped at me through the window here at Audubon Greenwich. Word's out. Zick's in the house!


a new word for me!

Posted by Gayla H. April 10, 2014 at 7:11 AM

Wow, I didn't know that vultures moved en masse like that. That looks amazing.

Yes, so right to integrate spirituality with your talk. We need to feel that connection with our earth; science stands back, scrutinizing and analyzing; too often allowing us to distance US from THEM. It is WE. WE the creatures of this earth. How fortunate we are to have one another! How catastrophic when we reject that oneness.

Posted by Gail Spratley April 10, 2014 at 7:46 AM

(1) I lost my DOD in 1994, too. It doesn't seem possible that 20 years has gone by, does it?
(2) Standing open-mouthed while watching 341 big carrion-eating birds fly overhead does not seem like a good idea.


Good luck tonight, Julie. I just love your pix!

Posted by April 10, 2014 at 3:38 PM

The turkey vultures have arrived up here in upstate NY on the Canadian border this week. I never knew they migrated in droves like that. They must be very social animals.

We have around our property a lot a mature bald eagle and a juvenile. They have been a delight to watch.

Lovely post.

You know that ol' ad saying, "Everything's better with Blue Bonnet on it?" Well, I've changed it around some: "Everything's better with Julie Zickefoose's imprint on it!" Imprint = photos, your way with words, your knowledge, your love of all things natural, ... etc. Thanks for another wonderful post. Such a treat.

I don't know if vultures do migrate, it was a rare chance to see such a beautiful thing. This post is very informative, thank you!

Fucking amazing birds. We had a dead possum in front of our house (State Rt 7, 17,000 tractor trailors a day). So John is shaving in the bathroom and suddenly this giant prehistoric creature with a wingspan of at least five feet zooms by the three-window bay window on the second floor. He was electrified, as in, "What the hell just happened?" We watched it finally give up on that juicy possum. Too much traffic for a big birdie. But you could tell it was killing her to leave it!

All of your talks effuse spirituality in my opinion. Yup. Every single one. Dare you to try not to. Bet you can't.

Posted by Amy G. (NO relation to Kenny G) April 12, 2014 at 9:25 AM
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