|Shadows cruising across the Wind River foothills.|
As I was ascending a steep ridge, a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) soared overhead in it's teeter-totter fashion and turned it's bald red head to look down at me quizzically. Turkey vultures seem curious to me, I suppose because of the way that they fly low and slow to sniff out the dead stuff. As a scavenger, the "TV" (a.k.a. turkey buzzard) feeds almost exclusively on carrion and unlike other birds, has a keen sense of smell. It is reported that they can smell a dead mouse under a layer of leaves from a height of 200 feet. (Raptor Rehab of Kentucky).
Vultures in general get a bad rap but not every one sees them as the as the creepy bad guy. Many cultures regard vultures (as well as condors) as a conduit to heaven or as the precious animal that releases the soul from the body. Tibetan Buddhists practice “sky burials,” where animals, usually vultures, consume their dead. Similarly, Zoroastrians offer their dead to be consumed by vultures on a raised platform, called a dakhma. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology). They also serve an important role in preventing the spread of deadly diseases - they can consume the meat of animals that died of disease and not get sick themselves, because of special enzymes in their stomachs.
I like turkey vultures - they endeared themselves to me years ago when I volunteered at a raptor rehabiliation center. They were generally shy and usually retreated to the corner of the flight cage when we fed them. But if they feel threatened they will puke up a blob of nasty-smelling half-digested meat. (Ralphing-on-demand also comes in handy when they are too heavy to fly.) If the smell doesn’t drive predators away, the vomit will sting if it comes in contact with the animals' face or eyes. The ultimate predator defense: projectile vomit aimed right between the eyes.
My vulture was joined by four others that were soaring next to the ridge below me. It was a treat to watch them with the beautiful Wind River Valley far below and the badlands stretching out in the distance.
This ranch is in the Dubois Valley (in Wyoming we pronounce it Do-Boys). The Dubois Valley is also called the "Valley of the Warm Winds" and it stays snow-free all winter, which is a huge benefit to the elk, mule deer, pronghorn and bighorn sheep that use this area as winter range. There are a number of conservation easements in the valley, held by The Nature Conservancy and other organizations that form a critical network of protected properties for wildlife that migrates from the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park area.
|The haze on the right is from California wildfires.|
|View towards the Wind River Mountains and the Whiskey Peak area. Not a bad place to spend your lunch break (ice-cold watermelon, grilled asparagus and a peanut butter/honey sandwich).|