Learning about Vultures at the Chapter Meeting and Beyond

by Sue Ann Kendall

The September Chapter Meeting presentation for El Camino Real Master Naturalist was by Debbi Sorenson, who has been observing vultures on her property for years and decided to do some research on these fascinating scavengers.

Debbi listens to questions and comments during her presentation

We learned how to distinguish our two resident vultures, the turkey vulture and the black vulture from each other. The easiest way is to look at their heads. Turkey vultures have red heads and black vultures have black heads. In flight, turkey vultures have white on their lower wings, while black vultures just have white “fingers” or wing-tips. The turkey vultures are also a little larger.

There you go, heads

Other interesting tidbits I gleaned were that turkey vultures are almost exclusively carrion feeders an find their food through extra-sensitive senses of smell. Black vultures both hunt and eat carrion and use sight to locate their food. They often see the red vultures eating and take over from them. I’ve seen this at my house.

These black vultures at my ranch found a dead snapping turtle that turkey vultures were eating, and took over.

Debbie also shared the ranges of both birds and told us about their breeding behavior, which is to lay two eggs in abandoned buildings or dead trees and raise them there. George Bowman, a visitor to our meeting, shared how he had a baby vulture raised on his front porch this year (which many of us had enjoyed on Facebook). He ended up with a poopy porch, but a successful fledging of the baby.

Debbi shared that their barn is a vulture nesting headquarters for a pair, and that they enjoyed watching one with just stumps for feet (Old Peg) as it grew. Debbi shares her garbage with them and gets lots of observations in return. I also enjoy watching them. They are graceful in the air but are pretty fun on the ground. I love to watch them as they hop, hop, hop around my tank behind the house.

I guess Debbi isn’t alone in enjoying vultures and their behavior. She had lots of questions to answer, and she also explained that our other resident carrion eater, the crested caracara, is not a vulture at all, but is a falcon, also known as the Mexican eagle.

Here’s what you call a group of vultures, depending on what they are doing.

Our meeting concluded with the recognition of two of our members. Congratulations to Alan Rudd and Scott Berger for getting their annual recertification for forty volunteer hours and eight advanced training hours. And Scott received a milestone recognition for 250 hours contributing to the Master Naturalist organization. We appreciate our members!

A Non-native Vine Beloved by Bees: Sweet Autumn Clematis

by Donna Lewis

Today it is cloudy and looks like rain. But in the secret garden there is a vine that is beautiful and blooming like crazy. When I get close to it, I can hear and almost feel the honeybees doing their thing on it. It’s a beautiful vine.

I cannot remember how I came to have it, because it is not a Texas native vine.

I try to buy native as much as I can.  I also try to plant things for the pollinators. This plant is common in India and other Asian countries. So, I guess you could call it naturalized because it does great here.

I have seen it in many magazines covering arbors and fences. It is lovely and the tiny white flowers blend well with any other colors. It climbs well.

It blooms at the end of the summer when normally you don’t have much going on. That is refreshing. 

It can get invasive, but the little beginner plants are easily removed.

I have this vine in a half-shaded area. When wet, the birds love to wiggle around in it getting a bath.  The tree frogs also like it because it is moist. The garden’s inhabitants really like it.

As you can see, it really has some good qualities, and it is very pretty.  No thorns. I like that.

You will have to decide for yourself if it’s for you.

As I always say…who are you gardening for?