Christopher Creek was the scene of a crash landing last Thursday afternoon. This airborne object lost the ability to remain in flight and sought a runway to set down. The site chosen was halfway down Columbine Road at the home of Alex and Irma Armenta. More specifically, the crash occurred on the metal patio roof of that residence. Photos of the scene flooded social media. OK, Irma posted two pictures. Alex reported the event at poker that evening. This prompted an investigation into the cause of the crash. Yours truly spearheaded that investigation. It was determined that the time of the crash was just before 4 p.m. That was shortly after a violent thunderstorm had passed through the area. Knowing the background of the object in question helped in the determination as to the cause of the crash.
Let us now introduce Cathartes aura meridionalis, the lowly turkey buzzard. This flying garbage truck is, in reality, a member of the condor family and can live to 40 years. Here in the Creek for the last three decades, we have observed that the local flock is consistent in having numbers from about 25 to 30. They roost in the tall pines along the creek or on the ridge, moving to a new home from year to year. Well after sunrise during the summer you can watch them stretch out the huge wings with their back to the morning sun. They spend a long time to dry the dew from their feathers before taking flight to spiral upward, rising on the thermals to soaring altitude. Somewhat later, when satisfied that their massive wings are sufficiently dried, they then go to work. Swooping down to treetop levels they rely on their superior olfactory sense to locate meals of carrion. You will quite often encounter them cleaning up the Loop from the carnage of indecisive squirrels or the occasional skunk. Squished skunk, while nearly capable of bringing tears to the eyes of a human, is just another meal to these buzzards. Dancing with wings nearly opened, wary of traffic, they can easily go airborne only to immediately return to their meal after the threat passes. They are not above reluctantly sharing, as often you will see several of his buddies enjoying lunch together with him.
Back to the crash investigation, it was determined that the turkey buzzard has a wingspan of nearly six feet, in order to keep their weight of six pounds aloft. Let’s speculate that the bird in question had spent the day gorging on a couple of pounds of fresh, dead carrion. Let’s further guess that this guy was soaring a thousand feet high in the air, riding the thermals as is their habit each afternoon before going to roost. With a full belly, riding the winds, floating effortlessly high above, perhaps this brought on a near-nap like state. It would with me. And then unnoticed by our friend, right there around him was suddenly a violent thunderstorm developing. The gentle thermals became blasts of extreme updrafts. Torrential rain begins and soon he is tossed about as if in a clothes washing machine. After many long minutes, all at once he is rushing toward the ground in a downdraft, out of control, wings saturated to the point that flight is becoming a life-or-death fight. As the treetops rapidly approach, all his remaining energy is focused on fluttering, flapping to a landing, avoiding an impact with the ground. And then there is the white metal porch roof approaching, where the flopping, rolling crash leaves our buzzard stunned, exhausted and lucky to have survived. He has little knowledge or does he care that he has just scared the crap out of those inside the house. He now thinks he can unscramble his brain, wait until sunshine returns to dry his wings, and perhaps continue that nap. Then here comes that Alex guy, climbing the ladder to poke our hapless bird friend with a broom. Findings of the crash investigation were recently announced and the determination was storm-related pilot error.
That same storm caused three snag fires in the area. Rainfall from last Thursday and the scant few other rains have thus far netted less than 25 percent of our annual monsoon average rainfall total as we near mid-August. As of Tuesday this week, fire restrictions remain in place, but that could change at any time.
This column is the obvious result of the school systems stealing summer vacation from the kids. They all have to go back to school and things get real quiet around the Creek. How that happened may require another investigation. Kids need a full three months of summer vacation!
It is difficult to soar with eagles when you write about turkey buzzards ... and that’s another week in the Creek.