Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Trail Journals and Black Vultures

If you’re interested in hiking, here’s a neat site where people who are long-distance hiking post their trail journals and pictures of their hikes (www.trailjournals.com ).

Many of these hikers are using a device called pocketmail, which has a miniature keyboard and allows them to post reports about their hiking day from the trail as long as they are in cell phone range. Most of the hikers are on the Appalachian Trail, but a few are on other trails, mostly the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s really neat to read the trail journals in nearly real time. I’ve found a few favorites (like Bluebird, Flat Rocks. Stumpknocker and Overflow) and look for their journals regularly. Sometimes they’re out of posting range, but many are updated several times a week.

Years ago when I was long-distance backpacking, the only time anyone knew where I was was when they got a phone call from me every 7-10 days. My family had a map showing my planned route along the North Country Trail but that was it. Boy, have things changed! So now, in addition to a digital camera, I’ve added pocketmail to my wish list!

This morning I had a great, up close visit with a black vulture. I find these vultures so much prettier and more interesting than turkey vultures. They even fly nicely, unlike turkey vultures who fly as though they are only minimally airborne and are constantly in danger of falling out of the sky.

Since I live about half a mile off the public road system, I don’t have garbage pickup. Ski Roundtop doesn’t want me leaving my garbage at their front gate—the closest public road—so they asked me to put my garbage in their dumpster. Naturally, this is fine with me. The dumpster is also about half a mile from the cabin, so I have to drive my garbage over there. They’ve placed their dumpster at the bottom of their maintenance area with a little driveway that goes up and alongside it that’s even with the top of the dumpster. So I drive up and back around but before I open the car door, I see a black vulture in my side view mirror. It’s just sitting on the edge of the dumpster. Carefully, I open the car door so I can see the real bird, not just its reflection in my mirror. It just sits there. I don’t move. By now the bird is eyeing me warily. Eventually, it gets antsy and takes off, flashing its white wing patches as it glides over the maintenance lot and into the air.

The photo was taken by Bob Fisher, a young guy I knew years ago at Hawk Mountain. He was really more of a friend of a friend but was always a good photographer. Another of his photos is currently on the cover of the latest issue of Hawk Migration Studies, the journal of the Hawk Migration Association of North America. You can see more of his photos at http://www.pbase.com/rjfisher/texas_photo_safari

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