I spent some time in southern Florida this year. I was there for work, but one of the upsides of Florida is that there is a large supply of lovely birds to practice your photography on. If you are someone who really digs vultures, then Florida should be your vacation destination. You have ample opportunity to soak them in.
My work was at Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. I stayed in Homestead, FL and when I woke up my first morning there, I found dozens of turkey vultures already in the air, kiting on the breezes. It was one of the eeriest albeit coolest things I'd seen in awhile. The birds hung in the sky, which seemed weird to me to see large soaring birds at it so early in the morning. Where I live, they don't get thermals until about 10am so you really don't see soaring at dawn, but when you're along the coast, oceans change things. But so many birds in the air, so silent, while wind rustled leaves and palms contrasting with the watercolor pallet of dawn make for a fantastic site.
I soon discovered why there were so many vultures passing Biscayne at all hours--there was a landfill nearby. Here's some video I got with my scope and iPhone:
Those aren't just vultures, the birds swirling closed to the machinery are gulls, but man oh man that's a big ass pile of biomass in the air.
If you haven't been, Everglades is a gigantic beast of a national park. There are many units and varieties of habitat to check out. I was warned by a colleague that since I was driving a government vehicle, it was imperative while visiting Royal Palm that I should do everything I can to protect the car. The vultures are such an issue, the park has a page dedicated just to them.
Apparently it's a thing that black vultures like to chew a car and do thousands of dollars worth of damage. When I pulled into the parking lot for Royal Palm I could see that something was a afoot. Many vehicles were covered in tarps, or at least all the chewy parts were like tires, windshield wipers and the parts around windows. And if you passed all the cars and thought people were just being weird, there was this right outside the visitor center:
No one seems to know why vultures like to chew on all the rubbery pieces on a car. Is it because they're prone to ripping putrid flesh and they need to keep in shape for when that big road kill deer appears? Or is there some flavor or nutrient that attracts them? No one has the definite answer yet, but one thing is clear, black vultures seem to be the main culprit. Turkey vultures seem content to keep their distance from cars and trucks.
As I meandered the trails around Royal Palm I could see that they had a huge population of black vultures and those vultures gave no fucks about people. Before I took the above black vulture selfie, a group of about 20 people on a tour had walked past. Some paused to take photos and the vultures eyed them, but they were in no hurry to get away. We don't have black vultures where I live in Minnesota, but when I've encountered them in other states they prefer to keep a healthy distance between themselves and the average human. Not so in Florida.
I'm relieved to say that the tarps kept my government vehicle safe from the prying beaks of black vultures and mental note to you, don't trust your vehicle to vultures in south Florida. I'd love to see how rental car companies handle that kind of damage.
Meanwhile, the much more well behaved turkey vultures are a delight to experience at Everglades. Not only do they have less of an interest in chewing on your car than black vultures, they'll obligingly pose for you in good light when not soaring around looking for food.
This guy was part of a small group of turkey vultures hanging out near Flamingo at Everglades. I was out there because high tide had brought in a bunch of shorebirds and I was delightedly sitting at a picnic table loving the chance to study dunlins and western sandpipers in non-breeding plumage when a few turkey vultures landed and posed in front some daisies. I know they're not traditionally pretty, but I love the texture of the wrinkles and warts. I love that their nostrils are essentially a hole through their head, layered with sensitive tissue that can detect delicious carrion from a distance and in an appetizing way I'll never comprehend. I love the contrast of the off-white beak, the bright red head and slightly iridescent feathers. And just when I thought this bird couldn't make me love it more, it gave me this:
And then this:
So if vultures are your jam, make South Florida a priority to visit.