Encounter with a Juvenile Turkey Vulture, 09-23-17

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and it was 48º when I got there. Fall has fallen. I love it when it’s like this!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

Saw some deer right off the bat, and a European Starling poking its head out of its tree-cavity nest. I also got to watch an Acorn Woodpecker trying to pull green acorns off of a tree so he could stash them in his troop’s granary tree (the tree where they keep all of their nuts and acorns and winter food).

They drill new holes into their granary trees only during this time of the year, when the sap in the tree is running low, so they don’t kill the tree. Then they find acorns and other food stuff and shove them into the newly drilled holes for the winter. In the spring and summer, you may see them banging on the trees, too, but they’re not drilling new holes then (except maybe for their nesting space); instead, they are moving those nuts and acorns that have shrunk in size from one hole to another to wedge them in more tightly. They’re such ingenious little birds, and funny too. They’re a hoot to watch.

Among the deer I saw a lot of does, some does with fawns (out of their spots and growing bigger), some bucks with their full racks of antlers (no long covered in velvet) and even a young “spike buck” (only one point; so he was around 2 years old).

The highlight along my walk today, though, was coming across a fledgling Turkey Vulture. It was full size but didn’t have all of its adult feathers in yet, and it couldn’t fly very well. It’s face was still grey (not red yet) and its beak was still metallic black (instead of bone white). I spotted it first in the low branches of a tree, and tried to get photos of it through the branches. It worked its way up to a slightly high branch, flew clumsily over my head and landed on a dead skag-tree. It then walked up the naked branches of that, and parked itself on the top of the tree. I got several photos of it and then realized an adult Turkey Vulture was flying in low circles around the skag.

As I watched, the adult flew into the upper branches of a nearby tree, and the youngster flew to it, kind of crashing into a branch just below the adult. The adult then fed the youngster and flew off again. So cool! At one point while I was taking photos of the juvenile, several people came up and looked on. I explained to them that they were seeing a juvenile and what differences to look for between adults and their babies. They all pulled out their cell phones to take photos. A teaching moment. It was fun.

You can see the video here.

On the way out of the preserve, I stopped at the frog pond… and two other “old women” with cameras came up to join me in finding and taking photos of the bullfrogs there. It was obvious that the pond had recently been cleaned out: it was easier to see the bottom of it today than it has been for a long time; most of the cattails were gone; and the pond had been scraped free of a lot of duckweed. All of the full grown, large-as-your-hand bullfrogs were also gone. But the pond was full of minnows, tadpoles and small bullfrogs, so there was still a lot to look at (and all of the remaining frogs seemed to be females).

It eventually became a kind of jovial contest between us old ladies over who could find the best angle on the loveliest frog. Hah! We had more fun there than the kids who passed by did. (This is why I’d rather host nature outings for adults than for kids.)

I walked for almost four hours (phew!) and then headed home.

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.