I enjoy pretty much everything there is that has to do with the outdoors. Some of my most peaceful moments have been while walking through the forest, sitting on a beach, or boating (minus the loud engine). Accordingly I have a great respect for nature and enjoy learning about the plants and wildlife therein. My plan is to continue that learning process and hopefully enhance it by sharing what I learn. I intend for this blog to serve many purposes, but in the immediate future it will be a place for me, and hopefully others, to share ideas about reducing our individual impact on this planet, protecting wild spaces, and in general just to comment on the things we enjoy most in the great outdoors. I welcome all opinions as otherwise you cannot consider every aspect of a subject. However, I would ask that every opinion be expressed in a respectful way and considered with an open mind. Often there is no single right answer. Thanks.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Turkey Vultures at Mt. Doug

A view from the top of Mt. Doug
Summer is quickly coming to an end and today was one of the last days the four of us will be home together, at the same time, without interruptions.  We took advantage of the opportunity and hiked up Mt. Doug this afternoon.  The last half of our route was not exactly one I would have chosen and we kind of broke the general rule of staying on the path.  When I was a kid I remember pushing through tiny "trails", or just flat out smashing bushes out of my way while my brother and I tromped through the empty lot next door.  I never had a thought about damaging native plant species, or valuable habitat - it was fun and more of an adventure.

Today's episode left me feeling frustrated and guilty.  Perhaps if I had never volunteered for a work party with the dedicated crew that tries to maintain the natural beauty of the park it would not have bothered me so much.  But putting faces and personalities to those caretakers makes possibly damaging their work more difficult to dismiss.  However, once we arrived at the top, agreed we would take a main trail on the way down, and had a chance to enjoy the view, I was able to relax once again.

The view from the top of Mt. Doug is 360 degrees and amazing.  We spent some time identifying the major landmarks and favourite spots and then decided it was time to go.  As we stood up we noticed a Turkey Vulture soaring in the sky.  One of the great parts about being at the top of Mt. Doug is that instead of seeing the Turkey Vultures way above my head, usually while I am driving down the highway, you can actually look down on their backs.  From this perspective you get a much better sense of how big they actually are and can more clearly see their faces, characterized by their red colouring contrasted with the white beak.  As you can see in the picture on the right the underside of their wings is also two-tone.  This colouring is much more noticeable up close.

Photo from

I vow to one day get myself a better camera, and actually remember to take it with me, so I can take more of my own pictures, but in the meantime I pulled these two images from a google search to give you a visual. 

Photo from http://vulturesociety.homestead.com/Photos.html
taken by Sarah Croft


I think that many people, including myself for quite some time, mistake a high flying Turkey Vulture for an Eagle.  It is big, it is black, and from way down on the ground without binoculars it is hard to see what colour the head is.  Now that I know the difference I look for that white beak and I have also noticed that while you will often see a solo Eagle there is usually more than one Turkey Vulture around.  Today we saw four riding the thermals near Mt. Doug.  I found an an article about Turkey Vultures written by Nicky Fried for the Wildlife Rescue Association and I also used wikipedia to get some general information about these birds.

Turkey Vultures can have a wing span of up to six feet (183cm), and yet weigh only approximately 3 lbs (1.4kg).  They are not strong fliers and use the thermals to keep themselves airborne.  You will often see them rock from side to side while they fly, which apparently helps keep them stable.  Given the name you can probably guess that the Turkey Vulture is part of nature's clean up crew and primarily feeds on carrion, while occasionally eating plant matter, or live insects and other invertebrates.  When you see them soaring above they are generally searching for fresh carrion, which they can smell at a distance of up to one and a half kilometres.

The Turkey Vulture migrates south near the end of September or early October.  I have heard from a friend that you can watch the beginning of the Turkey Vultures migration from an area in East Sooke Park.  The sight is supposed to be most impressive with large groups of these birds soaring above waiting for the right thermal to begin their journey across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  A quick check of the website for East Sooke Park confirms this is the case and gives you directions to the best viewing area.  In the meantime, if you would like a closer look at these impressive birds, I have rarely been up Mt. Doug without seeing several of them.

A look up through the trees near the base of Mt. Doug

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