Turkey vulture feather

A trail run at Forest Glen, with vultures

Jackie’s Spinners and Weavers guild had an event at Forest Glen today. It’s an annual event called Dye Day, where they mix up half a dozen pots with natural dyes and all the members can bring in some fiber to dye with walnut husks or goldenrod or cochineal or indigo or whatever.

Because we were going to be at Forest Glen, I seized the opportunity to go for a trail run.

It was a great run. I ran a section of the same backpacking trail Jackie and I had walked back in July, beginning at the same point (near the Gannett Center). My plan was to run out on the trail for 30 minutes, then turn around and run back. That was probably a bit ambitious, given that it’s my first trail run of the year, and that I’ve only had about three runs so far this summer that hit the 60 minute mark, but I was pretty sure it was doable, and that as long as I didn’t try to hurry, I’d probably be fine.

And, in fact, I was.

I saw two deer—or very possibly the same deer twice. At any rate, he looked very annoyed when, having run off after catching sight of me, I came at him from another direction when my trail took me around behind a hill and then right up to the very spot where he’d run off to.

I also saw a stufflebeam, who galumphed at a reasonably high rate of speed back into the underbrush when I threatened to get between him and that safety.

But the best thing I saw was a large flock of turkey vultures, that were all roosting together in a big tree that overhangs the trail.

Turkey vulture feather
Turkey vulture feather

Like the deer and the stufflebeam, the vultures were not happy to have a runner come upon them suddenly. As I passed under their tree, first one and then another leapt from their branch and took off into the air, beating their wings with a power that isn’t so apparent when they’re soaring.

But there weren’t just two or three vultures. As I slowed, startled by the first birds’ explosive launches, they continued taking flight, no longer one at a time, now taking flight in groups of two or three at a time. At least twenty very large birds took off from that tree in the 5 or 10 seconds it took me to pass under it.

It was spectacular.

It was early enough in my run that I didn’t want to stop and gawk, even to see the birds climb into the air to join their fellows who were already soaring, although I enjoyed what I could see of it.

It was hard to beat that little adventure, although the deer and Mr. Stufflebeam did their best, as did the forest scenery and the trail itself.

The backpacking trail is only marked to be followed in the forward direction, so it’s easy to get off track if you try to follow it in reverse, and I did go off course for a bit as I tried to return. After a few minutes of bushwhacking I saw where I’d gone wrong and worked back just enough to get back on track.

Running the trail as an out-and-back meant that I passed once again under the vulture-roosting tree—and it turned out that quite a few vultures had decided that 9:00 AM was too early to be up soaring, and had returned to roost some more. Once again, they launched themselves into the air. This time I slowed down to watch, and finally stopped near the trunk of the tree.

One vulture, either lazier or more confident of his safety up on a branch maybe 20 feet above the trail, decided not to bother taking off, giving me a good look at his red head and vulturous posture.

Roughly under him, I found the feather pictured above, which I assume based on its location and size is a turkey vulture feather. From the shape, I’m assuming it’s a primary flight feather (although I don’t know my feather morphology as well as all that).

I picked it up and carried it a short distance to a sunny spot where I could get a good photo with my phone. (I hadn’t brought my good camera.)

From there it was less than a mile back to the trail head.

According to my GPS thingy, I ran 4.523 miles in 1:14:44, giving me a 16:39 pace. My old GPS thingy—a first generation Timex Bodylink—isn’t nearly as good as a modern GPS device, and tends to have trouble maintaining a satellite lock under a forest canopy, so it doesn’t get as many waypoints as it might. That tends to cheat me out of credit for my full mileage. (The device assumes that I’ve run a straight line between one fix and the next. When the device fails to get a lock for many seconds at a time, it treats my run as cutting a straight line, even though I was following a twisty path.) Still, 4.523 miles is the best number I’ve got, so that’s what I’m going with.

I headed back to the Spinners and Weaver’s guild event, got out my folding chair, and sat down to rehydrate. Turkey vultures—almost certainly the same ones I’d startled into the air—were circling overhead. One of Jackie’s guildmates turned to me and said, “I guess they’ve figured out we’re dying down here.”

Great to be out on the trails again. I will have to find a way to run more trails before the end of the season.

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