Content & Photos © Bill Schmoker unless noted otherwise. Thanks for visiting- drop me a comment!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Dances with Vultures

As mentioned in a recent post, I spent last weekend on the east side of Colorado, so close to Kansas that an unladen swallow sent east could make the crossing within minutes at the most. Prior to our mid-day CFO board meeting, some pals of mine & I spent the morning birding around Bonny Lake State Park. I'd say that the birding was slow, but not uninteresting (is it ever?) One nice thing about spending time out there is getting into a different mix of birds. For example, the woods and glades around the park are reliable locales for Red-headed and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Eastern Bluebirds, species that are rare or absent in most of the state. We were also hoping for some warbler migration but the woods were pretty quiet on that front- in fact, at least one sub-group went warbler-less all morning. I had a little group of Willy Warblers (think yellow with a black cap on the males) but that was about it on the warbler front during the am hours.

We did find a "good" migrant, though. Just a few minutes after leaving the bunkhouse we stopped to study a group of kingbirds, hoping for a Cassin's. They proved to be Western Kingbirds, but while stopped I noticed the dark-looking back of a small buteo perched in pretty thick woods- already suspicious since the locals (Red-tailed, Swainson's, & Ferrugionous Hawks) generally like more open country. The bird flew to a new perch but was still in view, now facing us, and when I scoped it I surmised that it was a youngster Broad-winged.

More migrants turned up in the open grounds north of the lake in the form of a venue of Turkey Vultures roosting around a cottonwood graveyard. TUVUs were apparent all day, and as thermals built we saw kettles on the move both near and far.

After more looking hard to see little (bird-wise), we crossed the long dam heading south to complete our revolution around the lake. By now the day was quite windy, signaling an approaching cold front. Ever oppurtunistic, Turkey Vultures were using the massive artificial structure to get a free boost, riding the upward kick created as the wind rose over the dam. I've seen this phenomenon a few times before, notably at Pueblo and John Martin Reservoirs. This led to some neat photo opps, as the vultures quartered along at eye level (or even below) with sunlight at my back. I find that Turkey Vultures are usually pretty shy critters, and many would veer off their path instead of coming by within ideal range of my telephoto. Youngsters like this bird (note the blackish head) have less good judgment, though, and would even hover right above me to see what was going on.

Numbers were on my side, though, and some of the adults eventually came by nice and close. I even got a few shots of birds below me, offering a less commonly seen perspective of a flying Turkey Vulture.

I'll end with this shot of an adult who let its curiosity get the better of it. This is the full, uncropped frame, and I had to pull back on my zoom to fit in what I did. Crazy bird- they usually like to keep their distance but maybe this one wondered what the juvs were noticing about the guy with the big eye on the dam.

1 comment:

Camera Trap Codger said...

Neat shots. The "landing gear" show very well in that last picture. Stony Man Mountain in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is a great area for aerial shots like this, and we used to watch the ravens stunt-flying there. You're right, its just a matter of time before they cruise in for a closer look at land-bound gawkers.