The Deer, the Vultures and the Coyotes

November 27, 2015

Written by Thom Parrish

I couldn’t sleep. I looked through the dark at the time; just after 4am. I wanted to go to Effie Yeaw early that morning to do some wandering before open, but not at 4am. For the record, I am far from being a morning person. Nevertheless I had my alarm set for 5am. For me to try falling back asleep now for less than an hour would be a futile effort, so with a groan I dragged myself out of bed and quietly in the dark I got dressed. The sky was black when I started the car. I knew rain was in the forecast for Sunday, but it wasn’t supposed to start until later that morning. Just minutes before I made it to the Nature Center a particularly heavy, hovering, lead-colored cloud could not contain itself a second longer. And rain poured down upon the American Parkway.

The windshield wipers were working double time as I pulled into the Nature Center’s empty parking lot. I shut my car off and sat in the dark, listening to the rain. It was now 5am. I stared wearily out the window in to the dark for a minute before the night’s missed sleep slowly crept over me. I leaned the seat back and closed my eyes for only a moment. I woke abruptly to the sound of my phone’s alarm. It now read 8am. I could hardly believe I had actually slept in my car for nearly 3 hours. The sound of the rain had stopped, for how long I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to waste any more time. The sky was light and gray now as I stepped out from my car and took a moment to fully wake in the refreshingly cold wet fall air. I took a look around at the rain soaked woods and from where I stood I held a clear view of the tall dead snag across the meadow on the main trail. Through the gray I could just make out the dark shapes perched ominously atop the tree’s dead limbs belonging to a “wake” of vultures.

It is not unusual to see vultures perched in this tree early in the morning, sunning their outstretched wings, but I was surprised now by how many there were, over a dozen at least. I slowly walked over so to not alarm them.

As I came near the purpose for their somber gathering became apparent. In the meadow not thirty yards from the tree I discovered the subject of their procession. I walked over to investigate what was a grisly scene. Lying in the grass were the remains of an adult doe. The vultures had already begun their work disposing of the body. It was not clear what had caused the unfortunate doe’s demise, however judging from the amount of blood still on the ground I suspect the deer may have met her end early the night before. I backed away from the scene so the vultures could continue their business undisturbed. I made my way over to the Nature Center to get it ready for open, planning to return later, all the while musing over what had befallen the doe.

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The rain soon started up again and the hours passed slowly inside the Nature Center with but few visitors undaunted by the weather. When next I stepped outside the storm had once again passed. The sky remained dark, but the sun shone bright now, casting a beautiful and colorful scene above the preserve.

I stood on the trail and watched two rainbows fade slowly away. Soon after, brighter blue found its way in through the gloom, and the preserve once again was clean and new.

I looked over to the old snag where several vultures were still perched vigilantly and it was evident that with the warming sun they had become more excited. A “kettle” of vulture’s now simmered in concentric circles in the sky above where lay the doe, while those still in the tree sat with wings outstretched welcoming the warming sun.

On the ground two vultures pecked hungrily at what was now no longer recognizable as a doe. I was immediately impressed by the speed at which they had disposed of the remains in the few hours I had been inside. The scene looked like it could have been a photo slide from a trip to Africa; a zebra kill on the savannah of Effie Yeaw.

As I stood, silently watching the vultures from my hiding place behind nearby brush, a slinking movement in the trees across the field appeared within the periphery of my view. Out from the woods and into the meadow stepped a small American Jackal. I zoomed the camera lens in closer and recognized the coyote as one of the young preserve pups. The pup had a forlorn look and I could see that mange had taken a toll on its health. Raw patches of skin showed through missing fur and its tail now almost half gone. Instantly I felt sorry for the young coyote.

A moment later a second young coyote stepped out into the meadow; this one owned a beautiful coat of thick red, brown and peppered fur.

Together the siblings slipped silently across the clearing toward the carcass of the deer. The vultures still at the remains let out a low guttural hiss at the sight of the incoming intruders, but quickly they scattered as the pups chased them away to take their place. The coyotes wasted no time cramming as much of what was left as could fit into their hungry jaws.

Then as quickly as they came they disappeared back into the cover of the woods, to the relief of the vultures waiting impatiently on the sidelines.

At this time I decided I too would leave and returned back to the Nature Center. I thought some more about what may have brought down the doe. I did not want dwell on it for too long, for I knew there was any number of natural possibilities. It did occur to me though, that in the past week the rutting activities of the bucks have escalated. I have seen more than one doe in the preserve walking with a severe limp as well as bucks bearing the battle wounds of their competitive bouts. I could not help but wonder if these activities played a supporting role. As I walked back to my car late that afternoon I witnessed a doe trying in desperation to avoid the advances of a persistent buck, in the same field where the fallen doe lay.

Later that night I lay in bed counting sheep and again I thought about the doe. Everything in nature and in life is a cycle. Thinking about that can keep you awake.