Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sun, Rain, and Buzzards

After untold hours of untold days spent mostly trapped in a windowless kitchen in the back of a small restaurant, I can’t get enough of simply being outside. My vacation consisted almost entirely of rapturous hours among the trees and the birds, the sand and the squirrels, the ocean and the mist-blown sky. For two weeks, I went indoors only to sleep (and shop.) It was heaven. Funny how I can’t stop writing about that time… I guess after not having one for five years, that vacation was quite a major event in my life. Next Sunday (our 35th wedding anniversary) we leave for another seven days camping at the coast. Though this trip promises to be a little damper, a little colder, and a little darker, I’m still excited beyond words at the prospect.

At home, I take my coffee out to my greenhouse deck every morning. A few short weeks ago, if I got up too late, I couldn’t sit comfortably in that east-facing space. I would spend the entire time with a hand shading my eyes, drenched in sweat from the hot flash brought on by the warmth of the morning sun. Still, I felt I needed to be out there soaking it up; because we all know what Oregon winters are like. I hope I stored enough vitamin D to last through until next July.

The climate has returned to something approximating normal, after Nature’s parting shot of this year’s only real summer weather in September. That doesn’t mean there aren’t things to enjoy out in my yard, even when the air is heavy with Oregon pissy rain. There are still blossoms galore on my fuchsias, begonias and “black & blue” salvia, providing my over-wintering hummers with plenty of natural forage to supplement the food provided by my feeders. I have salvia blooming right outside my kitchen window, and every morning when I’m doing my breakfast dishes, a little guy buzzes in to enjoy his own breakfast, so close that I have to tilt my head back to see him through the bottoms of my bifocals. The winter population of juncos, goldfinches, sparrows and siskins are gathering at our al fresco dining facilities, and the cacophony of the thousands of water birds arriving from their far north breeding grounds floats on the wind from the wetlands just east of here. Winters in the Pacific Northwest may be soggy, but they are never lonely.

This year has been so odd. We had a long, l-o-n-g wet winter that was not inclined to go away. There was no spring in 2011 to speak of; if we had one, it started in mid-July, when it finally stopped raining and began to climb out of the 50’s for daytime highs. It seemed like this entire year was delayed, weather-wise, by about six weeks. Anything that survived the extra months of cold and wet bloomed and ripened weeks later than normal. We had blueberries in July, cherries and peaches in August, and they are still selling local sweet corn at the farm stands, alongside the pumpkins, squash and apples.

Bird-wise, the unusual weather seems to have made this “The Year of the Buzzard.” Buzzards are the robins of the northwest. Here, the robins in winter congregate in loose little associations that are not really flocks, endlessly patrolling soggy yards and parklands for half-drowned worms; but they don’t fly south. We Oregonians become aware that the hold of winter on the land is finally broken by the appearance of the first turkey buzzard wheeling lazily above the fields along I-5.

Buzzards are so common here during the summer months that I had been in Oregon several years before I learned that they were migratory. Still, though they’re everywhere in the summer, they remain rather mysterious in that, to this day, I don’t know where they roost, where they nest, or where they go in the winter. To my knowledge, I have never seen a fledgling buzzard. They seem to appear in the spring, all fully grown, then simply vaporize sometime during the fall, to reappear the next May. This year, there were just scads of buzzards. You never saw just one. Raise your eyes, and you’d spot groups of half a dozen or more birds, circling, wheeling, picking over freshly-mown fields. I wonder if the long, wet winter provided them with such a bonanza of feeding opportunities that it had an obvious effect on their numbers.

I don’t know if it was the fact that there were so many buzzards this year, or if I was blessed with a special sight, but in the past few weeks I have actually witnessed something I had never seen before: the buzzards flying south. Admittedly, I’m outdoors way more hours a day than I’ve been in, oh, about the last 1800 (days)… And my love of all winged things keeps my eyes scanning the skies much of the time I’m outside. But this is the first time I’ve seen groups of dozens of buzzards, trailing for what must be miles, circling in southward-ranging spirals, up, up, up…until they are but tiny bird-shaped specks high overhead. Wings wide, never a flap…rising to meet the thermal winds that will take them sailing to…wherever they go.

Goodbye, my ubiquitous friends! Safe sailing, and may warm, wide fields meet you at the end of your journey. See you back here next year, dark wheeling sentinels of the summer skies!


  1. Turkey vultures were common in Arizona, year round. We grew quite fond of them, and found their flight beautiful...

  2. The tomatoes, peppers and (no surprise) zukes did very well. The lemon cukes basically said FU and something really weird happened to the salad greens. I think I need to order one of those soil testing kits.

    I think the onion experiment did very well. Put them in the back between the retaining wall and the garage. They didn't get really big, but they did grow. We should be in onions until next year.

    I envy you being so close to refuge. We hear the geese, an occaisional "sqrawk" signals a great blue heron cruising over head, and there's a crow who likes to perch on the roof above the porch and harangue the neighborhood. LOL

  3. I had never thought about it until you mentioned it but I have never seen an immature vulture either. How odd. I did see the strangest thing years back re: vultures. I was driving down the highway when about eight of them flew overhead, wings flapping (weird), IN A SQUARE FORMATION (weirder!) like they were a bunch of fighter pilots. Had I not seen it my self, I would not have believed it, it was so "unnatural" for vultures.

  4. Very few buzzards on Long Island, but there were always large flocks in PA. It was not unusual for me to come outside at dawn and see an entire flock perched along the roofline of my neighbors house! There were only one or two houses in the neighborhood that they were drawn to. It was just odd to see and maybe a little creepy to the owners.

    Do I understand you correctly? Do you have hummingbirds all winter?? I would be beside myself if that were the case!

  5. Yes, Kat... We have hummingbirds who are year-round residents. Our "Anna's" hummers stay with us all through the winter. The "rufous" hummers go away and come back in the spring. Oddly enough, we do not have ruby-throated hummingbirds here--the ones that most of the rest of the northern part of the the US sees. Dunno why...maybe it doesn't get hot and humid enough for them here in the summer.