By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
The morning sun was shining bright, and what clouds hung in the sky were fluffy and white — a happy morning scene as I drove along the blacktop on my way to work.
Suddenly, a dark shape careened into my field of vision from the left. It glided low towards the road, swooping in front of the slow-moving work truck in front of me. I watched as it rose again, now on my right.
It turned on its side and the morning light caught on its belly and limbs, highlighting the telltale cream color of underwing flight feathers. The paleness of those feathers — which fanned out like knife blades, their edges appearing that sharp — stood in stark contrast to the smaller feathers where the wings hinged as the bird flapped them against the stillness of the air. Those feathers, along with the powerful belly, breast and barest hint of a head, formed a shallow capital T the muddy red-brown color of rusted railroad ties.
Finally, I noticed a small spot of brightness that shone like on an exclamation point on this mostly earth-tone-colored creature — a splash of red-orange, fiery like the orb of the sun when it sinks near the horizon on summer evenings.
It was a lone turkey vulture, flying across the road, perhaps on the hunt for its first meal of the day. Other folks may call them buzzards, or turkey buzzards.
Its tempting of fate, flying so low over a busy highway, was ironic. How close it had come to becoming the very thing which it sought: carrion!
The raptor, so very, very large when seen this close, flapped its powerful wings once, twice, three times. It gained maybe six more feet of altitude for its efforts, but by then was soaring safely above the roadside ditch on my right.
It continued to climb, then about-faced with a surprising amount of grace for a bird built to glide on thermals with wings outstretched and held nearly still. Vultures are definitely not made for aerobatic pirouettes the way, say, hummingbirds are.
Nonetheless, it switched directions, all the while continuing to climb higher. It crossed the road again — safely above passing traffic, this time — and headed off towards a stand of trees. By that point, both he and I were well beyond each other’s field of view. The last I saw of it was its beautiful red-brown back as it dove towards a blur of green.
I rather like turkey vultures. They’re not the most graceful bird. Nor are they very handsome. Their heads are bald, rimmed by a cowl of unsightly wrinkles that make them appear aged. Their feathers are drab, the color of dirt and dust. Their bodies and wings are like block letters — blunt and not very showy.
But, everything about them is a consequence of purpose.
They are nature’s recycling program, feeding on carrion and scavenging for the scraps other animals refuse to eat. Moreover, they’re an important part of our local ecosystem. And not just in the natural world, either; they’re a part of the spirit of Texas, of the Old West.
Like I said, I rather like them.
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