What You Can See on March 18
Submitted by Ted Williams on Sat, 03/18/2006 - 09:23.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. The Vulture Test Poets commonly celebrate the first robin and bluebird of the year. Not the first black vulture -- cousin to the stork but also an “anti-stork” symbolizing death instead of procreation. We are talking about a bald-headed scavenger drawn fly-like to filth, that gorges on rotting offal, that cools and possibly disinfects its legs by hosing them down with acidic excreta, that hisses and grunts if you startle it on the ground, then projectile vomits into your face. So if your heart soars at the sight of the first black vulture of spring, you have arrived as a naturalist. You may spy a black vulture almost anywhere in the United States, but most likely in the Southeast. Black vultures will roust larger turkey vultures from carrion. They flap more than turkey vultures, lack their red heads, and are aloft later in the day and on straighter wings. One poet who *did* celebrate the black vulture was George Sterling: “Aloof upon the day's immeasured dome/ He holds unshared the silence of the sky./ Far down his bleak, relentless eyes descry/ The eagle's empire and the falcon's home.” Fierce, Playful Predator Mink watching is a sport you can pursue year round, but there is no better time than spring. From the Canadian tree line south across the entire United States, save the driest portions of our Southwest, these efficient predators are on the move. They fear nothing, including you. A mink may chase a muskrat into its burrow, devour it along with its young, then take over the quarters. Or perfectly aware of your presence, it may run across your feet in pursuit of newly emerged turtles, frogs and crayfish. Confront a mink up close, however, and you may find yourself wearing vile-smelling musk similar to *eau de skunk.* In fact, the name “mink” derives from the Swedish *menk,* meaning “that stinking animal from Finland.” Keep watching and you’ll see another side to the mink’s personality -- playfulness. Like its larger cousin, the otter, it will slide down rocks and slippery banks or, if there’s still snow on the ground, it will dive and tunnel.