Over the Hill

Are the buzzards trying to tell us something?

Three turkey vultures perch on fence posts near a field of flowering mustard plants along Los Osos Valley Road near Foothill Boulevard in April.
Three turkey vultures perch on fence posts near a field of flowering mustard plants along Los Osos Valley Road near Foothill Boulevard in April. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

On Sunday morning, I started to turn the first corner of my usual route to church, but instead, I stopped. The way I usually go was blocked by a fallen dead tree. I guess the storm knocked it down.

To tell the truth, the street wasn’t exactly blocked. Only the tree’s rickety, spindly top limbs reached the edge of the wrong side of the street. I could have driven over them, but instead I turned in the opposite direction and took an alternate route. Why chance it? I wasn’t late.

Coming home after church, I again traveled that same alternate route. As I approached my corner, I was greeted by warning lights and a sign. A city crew with a truck had arrived and was cutting and clearing away the dead tree. The street was soon clear.

This was the most exciting thing that’s happened in our neighborhood for months, maybe years. So when I had a chance, I walked down to see what it looked like.

I guess this mostly dead pine tree blew down during the night or early morning. The city crew removed the parts of the tree that were blocking the street and sidewalk.

All that remained was the tipped-over stump in the front yard. It was only partly free from the ground. Some of its gnarled and twisted roots stuck out in every direction, and some roots were still gripping the ground as hard as they could.

The owners of that tree were lucky. It didn’t damage anybody’s house or car. It did hit a AAA flatbed tow truck that was parked on the other side of the street, but its driver told me the truck wasn’t damaged. The tree had just flopped down harmlessly in the street.

I wasn’t surprised that the tree finally toppled over. For many years, I just assumed it was dead. Its dry, bare limbs just stuck out, waiting to break off. But it never fell down. And it was tall. From my front porch, I could see its dead upper limbs sticking out above other trees.

The birds seemed to like it, especially big birds like crows and buzzards.

I hadn’t noticed the buzzards so much until the past few years. I’m not a confirmed or well-informed birdwatcher, but it seems to me I’ve been seeing a lot more buzzards lately, especially near the Salinas River. That dead tree was within a mile of the river.

As you probably know, our buzzards are also known as turkey vultures. They are scavengers. They eat dead meat. Of course, we humans also eat dead meat, but we have better manners.

Buzzards have razor-sharp eyes and a keen sense of smell. I often see them alone or in small groups gliding around in the sky, surveying the earth’s surface for their next lifeless meal or snack.

And there seem to be more buzzards these days. Is that a sign that the drought will continue? Or could they be telling people to vote “yes” on the Paso Robles groundwater basin district?

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.