Saturday, October 04, 2008

Following Vultures

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I hit the brakes and bumped a curb. Ok, I drove over the curb. Zoomed in on them through the windshield. Got out of the car in slow motion and approached three Black Vultures resting after they feasted on a squirrel that met its fate on a residential road.

Dang! Don’t want a silhouette. The sun was all wrong. Tip-toed back to the car. Slowly drove by their resting place to have the sun behind me and parked again, just scraping the curb this time.


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Stalking these vultures was easy in comparison to my first vulture photo shoot. I didn’t have a construction crew to entertain and didn’t lose a shoe.


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Black vultures are constant in our area but I rarely see the Turkey variety. There’s a probable reason, seen at the end of this post.

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Handsome is not an adjective for a Black Vulture but I do gasp when I see its wing span.

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Bald patrol officers,

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sporting their black velvet capes and always obliged to keep our roads and sidewalks clean.


I worry about their safety in traffic. They must be wise enough to avoid many mishaps because I haven’t seen a Vulture casualty on the road yet.

When I see a Vulture, I think of Lynne. Not that she looks like Vulture, by any means! Lynne’s cute. She’s intrigued by them, especially the larger red-headed Turkeys. They're very ugly. Sorry it’s not a red-head, Lynne! I’ll keep looking.

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My birds in flight photos are so bad. Perhaps it’s because I don’t get out enough to watch them during take-off and landing, or I get too excited and lose footing when my neck is cranked way back. And what’s worse, I have some weak toes after an accident. Need to work on toe exercises for better balancing, I guess.

I received a new field guide this week for young birders. I’m not a youngster but I’m a beginner birder and I love this guide! You can never have too many field guides.

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From southeast Ohio, Bill Thompson III, editor of the Bird Watcher’s Digest wrote this guide for children with the help of his own children, Phoebe and Liam. Bill’s a gifted writer, musician, photographer, and expert bird watcher. His poetry rocks, too. I always enjoy the humor he delivers in his books and on his blog.

If you’re an adult gardener who wonders what bird is pecking at your berries, or if you’re paying attention to birds for the first time, this guide’s for you. Perhaps you know a young naturalist who would enjoy The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. In this guide, every species is entitled to a “WOW!” fact.

And remember, birding is very cool. In Bill’s words, quoted for kids, “Birding is no longer considered a hobby for little old ladies and absent-minded professors in funny hats.” Yeah. Those who watch birds and crave a hike in the woods are the best. Even if you're a little old lady like me ;-)


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Thanks, Bill!

41 comments:

A New England Life said...

Love the Turkey Vultures! I see them all the time here in NH, but never am I able to get as close as you did. They tend to be skittish of people. I've only seen the Black Vultures when I've been in Florida.

Great pictures Mary! Easy does it though. I can just hear you telling the Insurance Adjuster how you wrecked your car. lol!

Lynne said...

LOL!! May, I'm glad you're not telling all of your bazillions of readers that I look like a vulture! (or smell like one either for that matter...)
I stand by my lovely turkey vultures. They're WAY prettier than your dopey black vultures.

Your photography is fabulous May.

I'm gonna send you some teeny tiny weights to help you exercise your weak toes. Maybe we'll hire you a personal trainer. Your toes need to be in tip-top shape for WV in April!

beckie said...

Mary, wonderful pictures! They literally jump off the page at you. How considerate of these birds to keep the highways clean. Did you know Bill is the husband of Julie Zickefoose at 'http://www.juliezickefoose.com/blog/index.php' ? You probably did-anyway he has a blog too, something like bill of a thousand birds-I can't remember exactly. Both he and Julie have excellent birding blogs.

Thanks for sharing the Vultures, a sight to behold.

Jayne said...

I think I need Bill's book too Mary! Love your photos of the vultures. :c)

KGMom said...

I am working on several visions here--Mary hitting the curb, Mary getting new tires because she hit the curb. . .I know, you didn't say that. Mary avoiding vulture puke because she startled them when she sneaked up on them. . .

beth said...

Hi Mary - remember me???

Great post. I'm still here, keeping up with your every move...

be blessed and thanks for the daily lift....

Mary said...

Sharon, you're right on. I'm very careful behind the wheel but I do worry about those in-flight distractions!

Linne, I have three numb toes and four weak ones. I'll get the weak ones in shape before April. Promise.

Beckie. I met Bill through Julie :o)

Jayne, you really need to read and have this guide - there are bonus facts included that you don't see in other "adult" guides.

Donna, I don't usually run over curbs. In this case, I was in a hurry, fumbling for the camera and watching those immense wings ready for take-off. Luckily, they calmed down and posed for the camera :o)

Beth, it's SO GOOD to hear from you.

Ruth said...

I will have to get this book for my young cousin Sam. But he already knows far more about birds than I do.

Mary said...

Ruth, I remember Sam and his love of birds. He'll love this guide - there's much more info included than what I've shown.

Alyssa said...

Hi Mary,

Thanks for leaving me some encouraging messages. Yes, I am enjoying my Fall and will probably return in a while. I really liked the vulture pictures. We have a family of about 9 or 10 turkey vultures living in the unused limestone quarry right near our house. Nearly every day we see them circling above it - just like in the old Westerns! They are huge and amazing. I've been checking in on you on and off and enjoy the bird and animal pictures so much. What a great new camera you have! Lovely pictures! Stay well and give those cute furry girls a hug for me.

Susan Gets Native said...

I can vouch for the smell of vulture puke. You really do have to burn your clothes.

One reason you don't see many turkey vultures in your area is that they are a "northern" species. The black vulture is expanding its northern range, but the turkey vultures are not expanding their southern range. We will get you lots of turkey vultures in West Virginia. You will have to swat the multitudes of them away with your shoe.
What are the odds that BOTH of us would do vulture posts today? And mention Lynne?
Imagine that.

Mary said...

Alyssa, I envy your break...

Susan, I remember seeing a dozen huge TVs on rooftops in Delaware. Very common - once on my own roof and I waved good-bye to them on my way to work! I'd like to see more them here in NC. Lynne must be having a good night :o)

Cheryl said...

Mary I cannot tell you how I envy you........ vultures will never win a beauty show, but I find them fascinating.........and in flight they are magnificent.......
Of course they are the 'clearer uppers' of the bird world.....

A lovely post and well done you for perservering....but then you would......

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I would probably do the same thing if I saw some black vultures in my area Mary. We usually only have Turkey Vultures. We are just a little west of Black Vulture territory. We have a big tower where TV's roost. Sometimes there are 40-50 roosting there. We look and look through them hoping to see a BV, not yet. One day we will see one here.

NatureWoman said...

I love your black vultures! The photos, oh my, you take great photos. They make me feel as though I was right there tiptoeing with you. And thanks for showing us the inside of Bill's book! It looks really cool!

Bill of the Birds said...

Mary:

Love the vulture photos! Wow!
And thanks for the kind words about the new book.--Bill

jason said...

Very nice photos, Mary, and that despite the hazardous driving conditions! That'll teach people to stay off the sidewalk when a good photo is up for grabs... ;)

Black vultures fascinate me because they're far less common than turkey vultures. Thanks for sharing these with us in such beautiful form!

Joy said...

My husband REALLY appreciated the vulture photos, Mary! He loves birds of prey.

NCmountainwoman said...

Silly me. When I saw the title of this post, I immediately thought you were following the cars stalking the gasoline tankers!

Great photos. I agree with Lynn. Turkey vultures are indeed lovely. Glad you got the shots without loss of life or limb. Be careful out there.

JeanMac said...

I love the first picture! But, Mary, these guys give me major goosebumps!

Debbie said...

Great shots, Mary. We have the turkey vulture up here in NNY. We often see them flying over the open fields. My Brian refers to them as the "medical birds", helping those poor animals off the road after they've been hit by cars. LOL

Corey said...

Nice book review . . did you get paid for it?

Don't beat yourself up over crummy pics of black birds in flight, that's a tough exposure to get right. I tried to photograph a Great Egret in a tree against a bright blue sky this morning and almost pulled my hair out! Black or white birds, in my experience, are equally as difficult to expose.

Balisha said...

I just inhaled and went huuuh! My husband (on his computer) said what's wrong??? I said Mary took the neatest picture of a vulture. Then I got one of those "are you crazy" stares.

KatDoc said...

Sweet Black Vulture photos! Here in southern Ohio, we are on the northern border of their range, and they are (relatively) new to me. The ones I saw in Fla. were much tamer than the Ohio variety, and sat still as I walked up on them. One even flew to me to pose for a close up. See this post: http://katdocsworld.blogspot.com/2008/02/lynne-this-birds-for-you.html

How come every review or interview I read or hear about "Young Birder's Guide" mentions the vulture puke info? Seems everybody is impressed by this factoid, LOL.

~Kathi

Rose said...

Awesome photos, Mary! I never thought I would enjoy looking at vultures, but they are fascinating. We had some resting on top of our barn some time ago, and I thought they were turkey vultures, but maybe not since they didn't have red heads.
Thanks for the tip on a bird book that might be on my level:)

denapple said...

Come visit us at the Falls of the Ohio in Louisville, KY. We have both kinds that soar right past at eye level, after feasting on the dead fish washed up on the river bank. It's always great to find someone who appreciates vultures! All my friends think I'm crazy!

Wendy said...

I laughed at your adventures with the vultures, shoe and construction workers. Sounds like something I'd do. LOL!

Those vulture pics are awesome. So clear. They look rather scary.
Great post.

Wren said...

Great, great photos - especially that close up. I like vultures of all sorts, ugly or not.

Peg Silloway said...

As always, your photos have that "WOW" factor, too. Your black vultures are quite regal in their judicial robes and ruffs. For good solid ugly, though, nothing quite matches turkey vultures. Neither will win a beauty contest, but they are so elegant as they ride the wind that we really don't care.

T.R. said...

I don't know how you do it.

I know your not carrying around the big bazooka 600mm lens. You have have a magical relationship with birds. What a gift. I got the book for my nephew and then decided to keep it for myself -- all guide books should be that informative!

I am finally getting caught up -- so keep you eye out for some mail this week.

Iris said...

Love the black vulture shots! Up here in Madison, NC, we've got massive groups of vultures that kettle over town. Mostly turkey vultures, but for every 10 TVs, there's at least one black vulture.

Your vulture in flight looks like a turkey vulture. The "fringe" of silvery feathers along the wing and extended head and wings give it away. BVs' only have silvery wing tips in flight, and sort of hunch their heads into their shoulders.

Naturegirl said...

Great images interesting info wonderful.. you Rock madame!
hugs NG xo
P.S. thank for the tip on a good birding book!

Dog_geek said...

Nice shots, again! We have both black vultures and turkey vultures here, but I most often see the turkeys. (I always get a little worried when I see them circling as I am out running - surely I don't look that bad, right?)

Mary C said...

Mary, I love those close-up photos. I really don't think black vultures look as bad as turkey vultures. And they may not win any beauty contests, but they are fascinating birds to watch, especially when they ride the thermals.

T and S said...

WOW...what a series...I like the 3rd one the best. This is a rare catch...beautifully done

dguzman said...

COOL!!! Lynne's comment is cracking me up.

Great pics! I am fascinated by vultures, but not nearly to the extent that Lynne is.

Pete said...

i'm always buying field guides.

love the vultures

Q said...

Dear Mary,
Your pictures of the Black Vultures would make great Hallloween cards!!!
Bee careful... photography and driving are some what mutually exclusive...we need to get you driver....what's Johnson doing?
Thanks for the Field Guide review. I love field guides.
Sherry

Kathiesbirds said...

Mary, I have heard of this book but I don't yet have it. Thanks for shwoing it to me. I'm very interested now! Great shots of the vultures by the way! Looks like you and your new camera are becoming fast friends!

Corey said...

For some reason I missed the part where you said you don't see lots of TVs around here. I fear you just may not be looking closely enough. I'd say 70% of the vultures I see are TVs, with a BV scattered in here and there for good measure.

It's hard to tell the difference when they're flying if you're just looking for the red head. It's hard to make out without binoculars. Instead, look at the other end of the bird. Black vultures appear to have almost no tail . . it's very short and angular. TVs, on the other hand, have a longer rounded tail that juts out more proportionally to the rest of their huge body.

Also I've noticed that in flight the TVs tend to rock back and forth quite a bit while soaring, while the BVs fly more smoothly.

Last interesting fact . . Black Vultures don't have as good a sense of smell as Turkey Vultures, which is why you'll often see them in mixed groupings. The BVs rely on the TVs' sense of smell, following the TVs around until they find something to eat. If you look more closely at soaring groups of vultures, you'll almost certainly find a combination of both. Sorry, didn't mean for this to turn into a primer, it just happened that way!

A New England Life said...

Hi Mary,

I was wondering if you could tell me how you make your pictures as large as you do? I've tried pulling on the corners of mine but they just become blurry. Any tips?

Thank you!