The Black Vulture of New Year’s Creek

I found myself, on a Saturday morning, stationed on an abandoned auto bridge in Año Nuevo State Park, not to look at the famed elephant seals, but to pick through every turkey vulture that flew over head. And there were many to pick through.

Plenty of turkey vultures. I count four.

I was here, in-between storm cells, to find the lone black vulture  (Coragyps stratus) that had been haunting the Santa Cruz and San Mateo coast.

I had seem plenty of black vultures in the Everglades and my most recent sighting was in a large kettle with turkey vultures and two impressive king vultures. This kettle was soaring above the rainforest of Costa Rica.

This lone and lost bird had first been seen on February 15 at Swanton Road in Santa Cruz County and then later above Wilder Ranch. In Late February the black had fallen in with a volt of turkey vultures (TVs). You see, the black vulture has great eyesight but their sense of smell pales in comparison to that of the turkey vulture. Black vultures soar high on thermals and look for a kettle of TVs. When the TVs locate a carcass, the black vulture make it’s appearance. It being a more aggressive bird, it will dominate the carcass, preventing the TVs from a place at the table.

After an hour and a half of searching, I was joined by three other birders on the bridge over Año Nuevo Creek. At the creek mouth, was a carcass of an elephant seal. Earlier I had seen four turkey vultures at the seal, joined by gulls and two ravens.

The clouds to the north look darkly ominous. Rain would be upon us in a short time. We saw a far off red-tailed hawk that we tried to turn into the south after scavenger. I looked up to the northeast and the bird seemed to appear out of the approaching black storm clouds. “There’s the bird!” I announced to the birders on the bridge.

12:58 PM. My first out of focus shot of the black vulture. The shape, the “flying coffee table” as Pete Dunne notes, is distinctive as well as the extremely short tail.

The vulture alighted on the top of the pine snag, a macabre Christmas Tree. It was soon joined by other turkey vultures filling in as ornaments.

We were able to enjoy the vulture for about 15 minutes before the rain started. Here the black is crowning they pine showing off it’s upright posture.

The pine snag full of vultures. The black vulture is on the near horizontal branch on the left, perched at the very end in it’s diagnostic upright posture.

The black vulture in the rain. Perching in the lone pine snag with turkey vultures.

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