The buzzards in my area are migratory. They show up in the fall, and fly home in the spring. I think they roost out in the ‘Glades, and in the morning they climb the thermals and head towards the coast, probably feasting on the road kill on Alligator Alley and the Tamiami Trail. In town, they make a big nuisance of themselves on the tall buildings downtown and on the penthouses and hotels on the beach. There’s pickings for them in town, too.
On clear days you can see them, tiny black specks lazily circling up in the dark blue sky, or silhouetted against the clouds. They go for the great heights, using updrafts to gain altitude and then coasting effortlessly from their feeding grounds to where they roost. Occasionally, you’ll see them low, usually when there is some dead thing that has attracted their attention. They fly clumsily at low altitudes, but still seem to beat their wings only when absolutely necessary, taking advantage of the invisible columns of rising air whenever possible, saving energy, like big bombers foolishly assigned strafing missions.
Yesterday, a front came through. I had watched it earlier in the day on TV weather radar, a phalanx of thunderstorms rushing from the northwest. I went out into the yard that afternoon just as it got there, and some of the neighbors and I watched it rolling down toward us like a great gray avalanche. We chatted and commented on it as it approached, the clouds low and threatening, shredded and gusty, scudding, layered, some evidence of rotary motion—these storms breed violent winds, hail, near-horizontal rain, lightning and tornadoes; microbursts and downdrafts. The surface winds picked up, coming straight from the front, cold and moist, a light sprinkle started to fall. The air crackled with electricity, and we could hear the barrage of thunder coming from behind the clouds. In a few moments we would have to run for shelter.
Way up in the clouds, almost directly above us, I saw a buzzard. Just a dark speck heading straight into the storm. Surely, a large bird like that would not be able to survive the shear and turbulence there. Was it lost, trapped, confused? Was it caught in some violent air current, being helplessly sucked into the eye of the storm? Its hard to imagine it had been surprised by this weather. These creatures are masters of our skies, and they are familiar with our weather. They fly at altitudes that allow them to see over the curvature of the earth. Surely, they would not fly into a thunderstorm by accident. They can sense the invisible rising thermals and downdrafts, surely a storm front couldn’t sneak up on one of these guys.
I watched the black speck fly straight into a cloud, and vanish. It was up there, caught in the buffeting winds and freezing updrafts that can rise eight miles, to the very edge of the stratosphere. Was it lost, confused, or simply challenging the storm, daring it to do its worst, trembling with fear, or perhaps joy and defiance? Its foolish to anthropomorphize the beasts, they are not like us. But I could imagine it up there, flying in the near blackness, buffeted by wind and rain, even hail. Trying to pick its way through the cauldron of destruction the earth had thrown into its path. Had it done this before? Was this its last flight? Did it have any idea what it was getting into?
I hope she made it home all right.