Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Buzzard Air Show
Palo Duro Canyon is famous world-wide for the spectacular summertime musical TEXAS!, but did you know that there's another show in the canyon - an air show that has drawn the interest of a group of local photographers?
Every evening while tourists are marveling at the spectacle in the Pioneer Amphitheater another spectacle is taking place this summer at the far end of the canyon.
The air show surrounds a small group of trees near "Cow Camp Cabins" in the southern end of the park. On any given night you'll find some photographers, tourists,campers and locals, pulling out lawn chairs and binoculars, long lenses and cameras,and settling in for the show that takes place every night come rain or shine, whether there is an audience or not.
Some of them bring refreshments, and even I-Pods to supply their own personal soundtrack to the aerial ballet that seems to begin sharply at 7:00PM.
It is at that time that hundreds of Turkey Vultures descend from the thermals they ride on the high canyon rim to roost for the night in two trees located on the Palo Duro Creek bed.
By sunset two trees are filled with the huge squawking arguing beasts all vying to be on the top-most limbs (seems politics does exist in the buzzard world) but no matter how ugly these winged carrion eaters look like up close, in the sky (as they circle down from the heights to their night digs in the lowly draw,) their grace rivals any of the dancers in Paul Green's play underway just up the canyon.
Its quite a show and at sunset it can be spectacular as well. It takes over two hours for all the vultures to auger down unto their night tree and it seems they come from all over the Panhandle because you can see large groups of them heading into the canyon from over the far rims.
There also seems to be some kind of unspoken communication going on between the buzzards. One can't help but imagine some kind of vulture "air traffic control" channel because their approaches to land seem very coordinated.
First the older birds, the grand-old-buzzards land. No doubt from years of experience and knowing the sooner one roosts the more prime the roosting location. one gets
Late comers sometimes end up roosting on the ground or on flimsy branches that break in high wind, and no self-respecting buzzard wants to take wing in the pitch dark searching for another place to spend the night, especially during one of the infamous gully-washers that happen down in the canyon.
Worst case scenario is they have to land on the ground, where coyotes and raccoons lurk, drawn to them by their pungent (and rather far reaching) Eau-de-road-kill natural perfume that only a mother buzzard could love.
Next seem to be (what I call) the baby-boomer buzzards who fly precision approaches and waste no time arcing down out of the sky to land gracefully on their chosen tree limb and then= just before the last light of the setting sun is gone, come the "newbie buzzards" the teenagers and tweens who seem to cruise the thermals on the southwest rim of the canyon until the very last moment, like human kids playing kick-the-can until that inevitable holler from mom telling them to get their keesters home.
Can't say I blame the teen-buzzards. Cruising the canyon walls does remind me of my ill-spent youth cruising Polk Street, but I digress.
In any event the teenagers are the more curious. It's clear to the audience they are taking their own sweet time spiraling down - with some of them actually flying low over the ground-trodding humans and probably wondering how we can stand being mired to the earth.
So if you get the chance (and soon before the buzzards begin to migrate to warmer winter climates down in Southeast Texas) grab your lawn chair and a soda, load up your I-Pod (with your favorite songs to watch buzzards by) pay the $5.00 park entry fee (or better yet get a season pass) and enjoy the buzzard air show.
Like the play TEXAS! everyone should experience it at least once.
PS: click to enlarge the photos.
Click to enlarge!
Please click on each image to enlarge them and see them in their proper color and contrast.