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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Feb 16, 2010

Turkey vulture in the Caribbean

Turkey Vulture wings spread wide

My Mom and I went on a cruise to the Caribbean for vacation last October.  We met at the Toronto airport and from there flew to Miami to board the cruise ship. It was a seven day cruise which included the visitation of four islands.  The trip was a real adventure for me, in many ways an eye opening experience and surprising to say the least.  I expected to see, and eagerly anticipated seeing new birds and wildlife, and therefore came prepared.

Our first stop was a Dominican island called Samana.  As the cruise ship approached the island early in the morning, I broke out my binoculars immediately, since the very first thing I noticed on the island was some very large birds soaring over and around the peak of it.  At this point the birds were still well out of range of clear sight, even through my binoculars, but I knew they had to be huge.

Turkey Vulture above the tree tops
Mom and I were scheduled for a bus tour of the island, and it wasn't long before we were transferred from the ship to the bus.  On the tour itself I kept getting teasing glimpses of  these birds, therefore I still could not identify them, which was a little frustrating to say the least. This despite the fact that I had already anticipated an inability to identify some of the birds I might see.

Samana is not a very large island, and its inhabitants are very poor.  As it happens the driver of the tour bus extended our tour somewhat, in order  to include for us a visit to a tourist market where local artists displayed  their wares for this very reason.  Some of our fellow passengers were somewhat upset by this, but his actions were clearly understandable. He was obviously helping his community, and I for one was grateful.  That is a story with another issue in and of  itself, however.  On the return trip our bus, although new, broke down, and we all piled out to stand on the side of the road.  Everyone was concerned about getting back to the ship on time, though for some reason I was less concerned, being more interested in taking pictures of  the beauty all around me.  It was a golden opportunity for me as it turned out, allowing me to shoot these pictures.

Turkey Vulture wings held in V
The very birds I had been getting brief views of began to circle directly overhead of the motionless bus, almost immediately after we disembarked. Of all the birds I might have expected to see on this vacation, the Turkey Vulture was not one of them. Turkey Vultures, by the way are very graceful in the air and amazing to watch. They are not a very pretty bird, but I was fascinated nevertheless.  I wanted to know what they were hunting for, although off course I never found out.  My time on the island was simply too short.

For fifteen to twenty minutes, the whole time we waited for the means to continue on to the waiting ship to arrive, I'm delighted to say I managed to get several dozen good pictures of these birds soaring high above and around us, and many other pictures of the local vegetation and flowers besides. Turkey Vultures apparently migrate a very long distance, as I know that they ride the thermals of the forest and lake district in my Mom's home town in Ontario, and I have seen them in Alberta once very briefly at a great distance.

Turkey Vulture close
If  I could have stayed any  longer I would have been most interested in observing them further, to learn as much as I can about them.  The opportunity to do so isn't lost to me however, because the next time I visit my mom in Ontario I will plan for just that.

Since I knew nothing at all about Turkey Vultures , I did some research when I arrived home only to discover that these birds do not  hunt, at least not in the same terms as raptors do, as their "prey"  is carrion and vultures are not related to raptors at all. These particular vultures are in fact completely non-aggressive birds and do not ever kill.  Their feet and beak are simply too weak to do the job.

In one of the pictures above you will notice that the Turkey Vulture is not holding its wings completely spread during flight and  this is a good means to identify them in the air.  They typically hold their wings in a V, unlike raptors.  To learn more about this incredibly graceful bird just follow the links:



1 comment:

  1. Wow, I read this page and your 'about me' page. This stuff is really interesting and wonderful to find out. That little dragon too, makes me wonder if there aren't the real big ones around somewhere as well, at least at one time or another.