The weather has been unseasonably warm here, and dry even for Utah, which has put a bit of a damper on birding in the last few weeks. Migration should be well underway, but warmer weather tends to slow the birds down as they see no need to rush toward the south. A lot of birders look for a sign that migration has well and truly begun - the appearance of a known migrant, or perhaps the disappearance of regular residents. As most of my backyard birds are not migrants at all, it's hard to see migration from my backyard.
Until this week. When refilling my feeders a few days ago, facing to the northwest, I saw a speck of movement in the sky and looked up to see a raptor - large, dark, with white under the wings - a turkey vulture. I don't see them in the skies above my urban backyard frequently, so I smiled.
That smile quickly turned to a dropped-jaw stunned look as that first speck was followed by two, three, then five more. I glanced back at the first bird, which had been soaring toward the southeast, and was even more startled to see these birds' destination: a whirling, circling kettle of vultures poised nearly right above my house. I dashed for my camera and binoculars, confirming the birds' identities and capturing a sight like I've never seen.
For the next twenty minutes, I was enraptured by roughly 100 turkey vultures wheeling and soaring in my skies, banking and turning lazily in the warm autumn sun on a thermal that had the grace to know where an avid birder lives. Eventually I was privileged to see the birds reach the top of their thermal and turn, in unison, toward the southeast and the mountain ridges they will follow on their migration. I bade them goodbye and good journey, with well wishes to see them next spring.
There can be no denying that migration has begun here in Utah.