TV Dinner

Wow! Where does the time go?! I was thoroughly enjoying posting to my blog and was posting a couple of times a week for a while. Now I look back on my blog and my last post was on May 22nd. Yikes! So much for the blog rule of ‘post regularly….” Apologies to those who tuned in only to find the same content for the last while. It wasn’t intentional. I was just capitalizing on spring photo opportunities, being on vacation for a week, and many more ‘excuses’ have kept me away from this. But I’m ba-ack…..

One post I’ve been itching to write for a while is one relating my Easter weekend adventures. I know… it’s taken me how long to tell this story? Grab a drink, sit back and read. Here’s my adventure.

As the Easter long weekend approached, I just couldn’t wait to get out my new Nikon 600 mm VR lens. I’d bought it in December, but didn’t have much opportunity to get aquainted with it over the winter. Spring was upon us and I had my feet in the starting blocks, just waiting to dash out to the great outdoors with my new lens. Easter was my first opportunity. The snow was gone and life was just beginning to reawaken from its winter slumber. The Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles were the first to show up and announce their presence. I headed for Buck Lake, not far from where we live and the location of our old family cottage – basically, the place where I fell in love with nature. Every spring since we started going to the cottage (in about 1970) I would spend the winter pining for our cottage and when the snow was only just gone, I would begin to dream in my sleep, about getting back up there. I just couldn’t wait to get back there and spend my summer days romping around the forests, marshes and meadows. Although we sold our cottage in the early 1980’s, I still find myself dreaming about it every spring, aching to get back up there. This year was no exception. So, I packed my new gear in the car and headed for Buck Lake. There is always wildlife on the road there, so I knew I’d find something to test my new lens out on. I was not disappointed. Although the day was a bit grey at the start, there were plenty of Grackles and Red-wings perched on last year’s cattails, declaring that this was their territory and not anybody else’s.

Common Grackle on its territory (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

A male Red-winged Blackbird displaying, in defense of his territory (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

On my way to the cottage, I’d noticed something big, brown and dead on the side of the road. Hmmm… must investigate on my way home. So, after a few hours of photographing Grackles and Red-wings and missing a shot from a very fleeting encounter with a Wild Turkey, I headed home. And of course, I stopped off at the big, brown, dead thing to investigate.  Said dead thing was in fact, an adult beaver. It sadly had been hit by a car, but there were no tire tracks on it (like the last one – that’s another story I’ll have to tell later). Beave, as I named him, was in great shape – well, except for being dead. Not a mark on him! I’ve always wanted to photograph a beaver close up – to photograph the incredible adaptations that they have for their specialized way of life. So now I had my opportunity. But photographing roadkill at the side of the road is not the safest thing. I didn’t want to end up like Beave. So the only other thing to do was to stuff Beave in the back of my car and take him home. And that’s what I did. When I got him home I laid him out on the driveway and photographed his tail and feet and front paws and teeth and even his luxurious, water-proof coat.

The highly adapted, webbed feet of the beaver make it an excellent swimmer (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

The leather-like skin of the beaver's flattened tail (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

Ok, so now what? What do I do with a 30 lb dead beaver? As a biologist, there was only one thing to do… put Beave out on the front path, get the camera ready and wait for the Turkey Vultures to come in for a meal. I’d always wanted to photograph Turkey Vultures, or TV’s as I call them. They are really interesting birds. Well, at least I think so. Their fleshy, red heads are ug-ly! And they have these funky, yellow, white and black doo-dads under their eyes. I’ll have to Google it to find out what those are all about. The crowning glory of the Turkey Vulture – a bird that eats carion (aka dead things) and consequently probably has the worst smelling breath – is that it also has the most revolting of defense mechanisms. Let me just say that if I were you I wouldn’t get too close to these birds because  their defense mechanism involves projectile vomiting. And being vomited on by a bird that eats putrid things can never be a good thing. But I’m fascinated by these birds and I wanted to get some good sphotos. They are surprisingly shy animals and so hard to photograph well. But by having a carcass right outside my front door, I figured I’d have some good photo ops.

We have a short pathway at the front of our property that allows us to drive our ATV over to the dirt road beside us without going on the county road. So it isn’t travelled much. I figured it would be a good place to put the beaver carcass – off the road so that neither I nor the TV’s would be at any risk from cars. But it was also in a relatively open space, which should facilitate some good photos. So that’s where Beave went. And the next morning, clearly something had ‘gotten into him’ as there were entrails all over our pathway. Great! The vultures must be chowing down! Here comes my photo op! Only one problem. I forgot that our neighbour walks her dog past there twice a day. Doah! Of course this didn’t dawn on me until I saw her walking the dog early the next morning and stopping at the beaver carcass for quite a while. I thought, “Oooh, I’d better phone her soon as she gets home and apologize for putting a putrid beaver carcass in the path of her morning sojourn.” Just as I went to call, the phone rang. It was our neighbour – “Just calling to let you know you have a dead beaver on your pathway. Didn’t want you to be upset by it….” I responded, “Um, ya, thanks. Actually… um, I put it there…”. Silence on the other end. So I explained my photographic pursuits and ended the conversation with a promise to move the carcass and accompanying entrails to a different location. And that I did. But there were still no TV’s.

That day Ray and I had to drive into Perth for some shopping. It was a rather grey day and I figured there wouldn’t be much TV activity. But when we pulled into the driveway a few hours later, the carcass was now in the middle of our driveway and five Turkey Vultures were feasting and fighting over it. Great! They took off as we drove in, but I was hopeful they’d soon be back for dessert. Unfortunately, they didn’t return. I was disappointed in the utter lack of photographic opportunities. But my hopes were renewed when I got up the following morning, headed to the kitchen for breakfast and discovered four TV’s on the carcass at the side of the driveway. Yay! I got my tripod and 600 mm lens. But the problem was that they were at the end of the driveway and our glass front door was closed and I wasn’t sure if opening the door would scare them off. So I very, very slowly managed to crack open the door just enough to poke my lens through for a clear shot. And so I kneeled at the edge of my kitchen, in my pajamas, rattling off frame after frame of these ugly birds as they picked away at the carcass and plucked bits of flesh and sinew from its bones. A great sight to see only 5 minutes after getting out of bed. But what the heck, when opportunity knocks…. you open the door and let it in.

The morning breakfast crowd on our driveway (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

Turkey vulture social etiquette - one feeding while the other politely looks on, waiting for his opportunity (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

In addition to getting some longed-for photos, it was interesting just to watch these birds. They clearly had a pecking order. Some birds would chase others away from the carcass, while others could nonchalantly hop sideways, closer to the carcass, until they were close enough to grab a bite. Sometimes they were chased away while other times their feeding was tolerated. I’ll have to read up about their feeding habits to figure out the pecking order. The birds were fairly far away and so I managed to get some reasonable shots with my 600 mm lens. But getting closer just wasn’t going to happen. And so although I’m glad I had the opportunity to observe and photograph these birds for about 30 minutes, I’m not satisfied with my photos. And so, I have a feeling that I may need to warn my neighbour of more carcasses to come. But perhaps I’ll wait until the weather cools off a bit as gathering roadkill on a hot July day is even beyond this biologists limits….

Yum!! They're down to the stringy-bits.... (copyright Shelley L. Ball)

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1 Comment

Filed under Birds, Wildlife Photography

One response to “TV Dinner

  1. Great blog Shelley.
    Bring that big lens back downunder and capture the harrier hawks devouring roadkill possums!! John

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