October 19, 2013
“Oh, there you are. They’ve been looking all over for you.”
That’s a little joke I pull on my friends from time to time, especially if they seem a little downcast. It’s designed to provoke a smile and perhaps make them feel alive and thankful that they’re not buzzard bait. Not yet.
Buzzards, of course, congregate and circle in the air above road kill, such as a deer, or some dead animal in the forest, and eventually settle down for a feast, provided the body isn’t too far disposed. They will not partake of carrion that’s gone too far on the spoiled side.
We all become buzzard bait sooner or later. But they put our bodies underground, or our ashes in an urn, so that the buzzards can’t feast on us. (This column is fast becoming a bit gruesome. Sorry.)
Buzzards are more properly called vultures. There are two kinds of vultures in the United States – the turkey vulture (some refer to them as turkey buzzards, or just plain buzzards) and the black vulture.
The turkey vulture – so called because its bald red head and dark plumage remind us of the wild turkey – relies on both sight and smell to locate its food, while the black buzzard must rely solely on sight.
The black vulture lives chiefly in the southeastern United States and Mexico. The turkey vulture can be spotted from southern Canada all the way to the southern tip of South America.
Although not on the threatened species list, being convicted of killing a turkey vulture in the U.S. can result in a fine of up to $15,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months.
ABOVE RALLY POINT
Bill Secrest, a retired commercial airplane pilot with more than 30 years service flying all over the world, built his home on a flat halfway up a high hill overlooking the Tygarts Creek Valley and the 150-year-old Bennett’s Mill Covered Bridge, located off Ky. 7 about eight miles south of South Shore.
On Tuesday of this past week he was astonished to look out and see what he estimated was a hundred vultures circling effortlessly in the sky above his place. They were an imposing sight with their wingspans of six feet.
Although they was a road kill on Route 7, the birds did not seem interested. Bill theorizes they may have been traveling on a thermal updraft, a column of warm air rising from the earth’s surface to high in the sky.
The earth generates these updrafts, and Secrest said the big bends in Tygarts Creek and the way the AA Highway slices through a mile south of the covered bridge, and the surrounding hills all would seem to be a favorable spot for creating a thermal column of rising air.
“These birds would never move their wings unless they hit the outer edge of the column. Then they would barely move their wing tips to guide them back into the updraft and continue gliding.”
Sometimes they would drop down almost to treetop level by pulling their wings in a bit, then spread them and start their rise again – never flapping a wing.
“They seemed to be having a grand old time,” Bill said.
After posing for a photo or two, the vultures over Rally Point soon moved on, leaving the road kill for the crows.
According to those who study bird migration, several species of birds take advantage of these thermal columns to aid them on their far journeys south for the winter and back in the spring.
Even the tiny hummingbird, which must cross part of the Gulf of Mexico on their migration route, will depend in large part on these thermal columns of air to keep them airborne.
CHICKENS AND RACCOONS
Living on a hill overlooking the valley has advantages for enjoyable living, but it also has its drawbacks. The deep woods surrounding the Secrest home are alive with masked bandits. And these raccoons took a liking to Bill’s rather costly collection of chickens.
He wasn’t sure at first what it was that was stealing into the pen and making off with a chicken or two almost every evening or night. He first suspected owls or chicken hawks.
Then he set a box trap. He caught three raccoons and six possums, then later caught three more raccoons and a couple more possums.
He was so angry at losing some “pretty expensive chickens” that he drowned the first raccoon he caught. The others he caged and released them in some deep woods four or five miles from his chicken pens.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.