Glen Canyon Park and the Circle of Life

This is another of our “park visitor” series – first person accounts of our parks, published with permission.

It was the first sunny day in a while, and I climbed down into Glen Canyon from the Safeway parking lot, past the half-burned oak tree and the fallen Monterey cypress.

That used to be a beautiful tree, casting a low dense shade on the path where  people could rest and shelter from the sun. Once I saw bunch of kids maybe 8 years old or so stop there with their teacher. Sadly, lightning hit it during a storm, someone said, and it collapsed.

It’s down but not dead. It still has green leaves, and birds still find it a great place to perch and hide.

Overhead, a large bird patrolled the canyon, swooping low and turning and flying in circles. I assumed it was one of the resident red-tailed hawks I’ve seen around before. They even breed here, I believe.  Then I saw someone in the distance – rather excited, by the body language – try to get a photo of it. So I looked more closely. It wasn’t a red-tail, it was a turkey vulture.

But what was a turkey vulture doing flying like that? I was more used to seeing them soaring or sitting. I tried getting a photograph too, with my small automatic camera.  (This isn’t the quality of pictures you’re used to seeing on this site from more expert photographers, but it’s a record of the moment.)

I could see its red head, but it doesn’t really show up in the picture. (Here’s an enlarged version of the bird.)

Still wondering why it was acting more like a hawk than a vulture, I continued with my walk.

Then I saw the reason. A skunk lay beside the path. It had been dead a while; part of the skin was gone, and flies were buzzing it. That’s what the vulture wanted, but it had a problem. This is a well-used path, with joggers and hikers and dog-walkers coming by. Unlike a hawk, which is more likely to get its food to go, vultures are more likely to dine in.  So, I hypothesized, it kept coming by, and kept waiting for the people to go away. (This picture is the least gory angle. Even skunks deserve their dignity.)

Eventually, the vulture gave up, and went off to perch in the eucalyptus trees below. (Those trees are so important as habitat for birds large and small, from tiny Brown Creepers to large Turkey Vultures.)

I wonder where the dead skunk came from. Perhaps one of the resident Great Horned Owls dropped it? They’re known to hunt skunk.

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2 Responses to Glen Canyon Park and the Circle of Life

  1. KB says:

    Lovely piece – thanks!

  2. Someone else has suggested that the skunk may have been poisoned. That would be very sad; poisoned mammals convey those poisons up the food chain, killing the birds and predators that eat them. It turns the circle of life into a vicious circle.