Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

October 6, 2009

Buzzards on the Beach

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:11 pm

October out on Middle Bass Island is about what you’d think. On a clear day there is no prettier place, but on a gusty cold day the place takes on a harsh edge. The island is well out into the gray choppy waters of Lake Erie. Here the prevailing winds are incessantly beating up on the west facing shore of the island even on nice days. With morning temps hovering just above 45 degrees, the setting certainly made for some brisk beachcombing.

Naturally I expected a solitary walk when I hit the beach at sunrise the other day. Certainly no-one else would be foolish enough to be out on a day like that. There should be plenty of uncontested fresh offerings in place. The wind had been blowing hard all night- sending waves rolling in at a steady pace. No sooner would one break and crawl noisily over the pebbled beach than another would break on the heels of the first. Each watery hit shuffled the loose limestone rocks as if they were marbles. The sound of a million mumbling stones clunking about for the millionth time was mesmerizing. A long rolled mat of water celery marked the high water line like a lazy emerald serpent. Perched upon that vegetative snake were bits of flotsam and jetsam cast up from Erie’s belly. There were scattered pieces of driftwood, a sizable walleye carcass, and a battered bill cap with an Interlake Steamship Co. logo on it.

I reached down to pick up the cap and noticed out of the corner of my eye that I was not alone there on the shore. Far up the beach, a pair of juvenile Turkey Vultures were also working this wind blown stretch. They were alternately picking away at a large eyeless Sheepshead and keeping their own eyes on me. Vultures are cautious creatures and don’t normally hang around when caught out in the open. I stopped to watch them while I still could. In the low light of morning, blurred by drifting clouds of wave mist,  they appeared downright prehistoric. Their wrinkled naked heads and jerky mannerisms gave them the look of  creatures that were out of the dawn of time rather than just the dawn of  day.

I couldn’t be sure if these were resident island birds or migrants from the far Ontario shore. Turkey Vultures migrate south during the month of October and the big flight was underway. Wherever they were from, these were probably nest-mates from earlier in the season. By next spring they would sport red heads and white beaks, but they both still had the pinkish gray skin head and dark-tipped beaks of youth (see here and here). The pair nervously shifted position to walk down the shore toward the carcass of another fish. After every step they looked back and occasionally ruffled their peculiar bottle brush necks. At one point the sun gleamed straight through their large nostril openings as if to highlight their extraordinary ugliness.

For just a moment, we three were the only creatures on earth in this wild place. I’ve seen thousands of vultures before and will see as many in the coming years, but my Bass Island buzzards seemed temporarily special. I tried to raise my camera one more time but the scene through my viewfinder emptied as the pair launched into the air and rose up on the high breeze. They turned eastward and glided out of sight over the treeline behind me.

1 Comment »

  1. i was recently at Grundy Provincial Park and encountered a bird I have never seen before… I have seen many turkey vultures in my life and these were close but i believe not the same species. Could I possibly send you a photo of the bird and maybe you could help me identify it… thanks. I hope to hear from you

    Comment by Michael — September 27, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

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