FLASH! Dateline Gettysburg: 4 p.m. on June 22. Two Black Vulture siblings fledged in the backyard of one of the founders of South Mountain Audubon Society. News? This is the fourth year adult Black Vultures have nested in her old garage — within the borough of Gettysburg. Usually our Vulture species — Black and Turkey — do not build nests but lay and incubate their eggs on the ground, in a log, or maybe on a cliff. So, a garage may be convenient and clever safekeeping.
Nancy invited me to watch the birds’ first and fast milestones minutes after they fledged. After standing like winged statues for “sunning” under the brilliant rays, they preened and shook out the last hatchling feathers. Next came their first drink of water at a birdbath. Quietly, the smaller sibling walked back to the garage. The other tried to figure out what happens when flapping wings during a hop-skip-and a jump. Take off! And a quick drop onto the house roof. There it jogged back and forth across the apex, learning how its wings with white “fingertips” function. Then the Black Vulture ran off the roof and into mid-air, lifting into a new stage of life.
Imagine the fledgling in its second hour, flying over fields and trees, discovering thermals and the magic of soaring with the wind beneath its wings.
Regardless of lack of beauty and color — and its life work as a scavenger — what an experience to be allowed to observe their first hour of discovering how to be a Black Vulture.
Contrast them with Eastern Bluebirds. (This time of year, watch where a Bluebird lands. It might be bringing food for nestlings inside a cavity!) Easy on the eyes and the ear, Bluebirds have been quite common in pop culture. Since the end of the 19th century, Bluebirds have been one of the most common birds of songs for parlors and Sunday concerts — and for artwork on covers of vintage sheet music.
Does the sentimental “Over the Rainbow” come to mind? This summer it is 80 years since Arlen and Harburg composed it for the “Wizard of Oz” (1939). Judy Garland memorably portrays young Dorothy Gale singing about happy Bluebirds able to fly over the rainbow, but she longs to get away to grow up — but returning home — home in her own soul. MGM big-wigs wanted to cut it. What if the world had been denied this song about birds? England, on the verge of WWII, embraced the beautiful melody and hopeful imagery of little Bluebirds able to fly over the rainbow.
How can it now be 50 years since Ms. Garland last performed “Over the Rainbow”? There is a recording of her that turned out to be her last series of concerts before she passed away.
The technology of recording has moved far beyond musical performances pressed into vinyl albums. Now avian voices are reliably identified by sonograms created from digitized recordings. In mid-May, Gettysburg College’s Andy Wilson (associate professor of Environmental Studies) and students conducted the campus’ first nocturnal flight call (NFC) recording session at the height of spring migration.
They recorded 45 species migrating over the campus. Among them is Adams County’s first known Whimbrel — a large shorebird with a long, curved bill — plus a dozen other bird species reported here for the first time. That brings Gettysburg College’s list to 176 kinds of birds seen or heard at the campus. Highlights from the NFC session: Short-billed Dowitcher, Barn Owl, Common Nighthawk, and various warblers. See the checklist and hear the audio at https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56409006.
Coming Audubon Field Trips:
* July 5 — Big Spring Creek near Newville. Meet 7:30 a.m. in parking area at Springfield and Big Spring Creek Roads. Easy walk!
* July 26 — Old Gettysburg Country Club. Meet 7:30 a.m. in lot of restaurant Sidney at Willoughby Run — 730 Chambersburg Road.
For info and carpooling to Newville, contact Linette: 717-495-8137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those Black Vulture fledglings got me thinking. From first to last breaths, we, of the humankind, also must keep flapping and hopping and figuring out how we are meant to fly.