Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Monday, December 22, 2014

Where Are the Vultures?

Gloomy days bring gloomy thoughts, especially around the time of the year-end holidays. Where did the months go?

In recent weeks many of my friends have lost loved ones. As I write the first day of winter officially begins around 6 pm ET. It's dark and cold at 5 pm. For a variety of reasons we can't visit our families for the holidays, although we will be dining with a good friend nearby. It has been weeks since we've had a day that started sunny and stayed that way. A huge mid-week storm is expected, which will test our new roof and deer fencing.

Holiday card montage by Margo D. Beller
Last year around this time I wrote a post for another blog about how many of my friends contact me, and I them, once a year through holiday cards. This year I notice we didn't get cards from some of those friends, and I wonder if all this time they've been sending us cards only because we sent them cards first. We only had 20 cards on hand to send out this year. One friend sent us an ecard and three sent us cards before we sent out ours. The vast majority have not bothered but we have sent the cards to them.

Why is that? Do they dislike us now? Are they too used to putting all their news on Facebook? Have they reached that age where they want to simplify, simplify? Or are they just waiting to hear from us to see if we are worth the effort to go out, buy a card, write a note, sign it, address an envelope, seal it and put on a stamp?

One gloomy thought among many.

Here's another: Where are the roosting vultures?

From 2012 into 2013, on my early morning walks, I would see them in a small, sunny meadow on the old Greystone property trying to warm up before flying off to seek a meal. Then came last winter's heavy and almost continual snows. It was hard and sometimes dangerous to walk from my house to this part of the property (thank goodness sidewalks have been put in along the main road within the last year) and so I avoided this area all winter.

Turkey vulture (R.E. Berg-Andersson)
Now I wonder if the vultures did, too.

When the grass grows long the vultures don't hang out in the field. They want to see what's coming. (Canada geese do that, too, which may be why the grass is not mowed.) I would find a few turkey or black vultures in trees along the road, soaking up the sun on a dewy, cool morning. I was expecting the vultures to come back to the field once the grass was mowed but that hasn't happened.

Why? I have my theories, all of which involve  distruction of habitat.

1. There are fewer dead deer to feed them.

2. The state of New Jersey (which holds this parcel while my home county holds most of the now-parkland around it) waited too long to mow.

3. Last year's snow forced the vultures to other areas they like better.

4. The many people using what was once a mental institution and is now a county park made it too noisy (there is a playground, ball fields and cross-country track) and uncomfortable for the raptors to hang around.

5. Nearby residents who didn't want vultures warming themselves on their roofs on cold mornings took measures - either on their own or with state help - to force them off.

Black vulture (R.E. Berg-Andersson)
Vultures are far from endangered and even at Greystone they aren't completely gone. Every so often a couple of black vultures or a turkey vulture will suddenly rise from the Greystone property beyond my neighbors' houses. It's possible they are just roosting in other sunny areas, rising from the still-green hemlocks where they sleep to get a little protection from the elements. Or I'm not looking around at the right times.

But I miss seeing all those vultures running around the field in the sun like chickens, or sitting in trees in groups, their wings spread to dry and warm in the rising sun. Vultures are ugly up close and their need for dead animals to eat and survive disgusts many.

But aloft these big birds soar majestically and I enjoy watching them. Their absence adds to my winter gloom.