Herald Outdoors Columnist
I crouched behind a headstone in the old cemetery and remained very still and quiet when the buzzard flock pitched in, settling on the ground not 15 yards distant. It was days later before it crossed my mind that I was fortunate not to have been observed by the law or the woman from Mental Health. A man who hides in graveyards and watches buzzards isn’t normally classified among the population’s more balanced individuals, I’d venture.
Be that as it may, there were 11 of the feathered scavengers; black vultures all, not one redheaded “turkey buzzard” among them. My surprise at having them set down so closely was compounded by what motivated their arrival in the first place. The object of their rapt attention was a remnant of armadillo hide; dry, brittle and long since devoid of “fragrance” or other vulture-attractive attribute. No flesh, no bones; just tough, brittle, plated skin. More astounding, the birds fought over it like so many Greeks and Trojans, as if it were the holy grail of cast-off carrion.
Initially, a rather dark-but-amusing thought occurred. It came to mind that economic times must be even direr than we think when buzzards risk life and limb over such a scant tidbit. Or, heck, I don’t know, maybe sun-dried armadillo hide just happens to be an appetizing vulture hors d’oeuvre, sorta like that last ham hock in the collards that prompted the big brawl at Cletus Monroe’s family reunion last summer. Whatever the motivation, the contest was entertaining and intriguing.
Weird ruminator that I am, other, seemingly unrelated, musings entered my head as I watched this strange culinary set-to. Foremost among them was the recollection of a lithe, sinuous mink I once observed at close range on the bank of Northeast Georgia’s Tallulah River. Then, too, I crouched (I crouch a lot) in the shadow of a rock overhang and watched the beady-eyed little furbearer enter the water and swim so close I could all but count the scales on the 4-inch rainbow trout it held in its jaws. Captivated, I watched the chocolate-brown mustelid snake its way into a natural cairn of nearby rocks and disappear to enjoy its post-dawn breakfast free from interference.
Beautiful. No other word for it. But no more beautiful than (in its own way) the battle waged by that gaggle of hulking, baldheaded, black vultures.
You see, I believe we should take Nature for what she is. One must appreciate at least on some level the “lowliest” flora and fauna to the same extent as the most highly exalted. If he does not, then his claim to the title “nature lover” is really an empty one. I also learned a long time ago that Nature’s wary creatures seldom provide an observer with impromptu close-up views. When they do, it behooves one to take full advantage of the opportunity.
We must, I think, be noticers, or “taker-inners,” as an uncle of mine once pegged me. No matter that what we take in is sometimes at the expense of counted success in some other, more traditionally accepted outdoor pursuit. It’s perfectly okay, now and then, to let that whitetail buck slip by unseen while you look at that perplexed barred owl look at you. It’s no sin to enjoy the music of a winter cardinal once in awhile, though hunter’s instinct tells you to concentrate on squirrel chatterings or the route the cottontail is taking ahead of your beagle pack. Blue heron make you miss that cast and spook that big bass? There’ll be another time. Purple asters, sunning rattlesnakes, a stayed-out-too-late ‘possum headed home at daybreak? All worth looking at. Mangy coyotes, fat frogs on waterlogged stumps, Dutchman’s pipes growing out of damp forest litter? Yep. Those, too.
And, by the way, if you ever get a chance to see a mink on a riverbank slinking toward you with a fresh-caught fish in its mouth, take it. Put down the fly rod and watch. It’s well worth it.
Likewise with 11 scraggly buzzards fighting over a worthless armadillo hide in an old graveyard. If you get caught, we can discuss it in group therapy later.
Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kornegay at firstname.lastname@example.org