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January 07, 2017     Post 81
Life On The Beach

As we hit deep winter the Lake Ontario Log is going to look back on days or sunshine and warmth. We're going to the beach.

In this day and age of false facts, which, sadly, we know can and do impact human behavior, I want to set the record straight about some of our fellow beach goers who share the shore with us.

Our tideless freshwater beach lacks the varied life of salt water. But though we lack clams and fiddler crabs and tide pools, a number of non human beach goers appear regularly each summer. Geese from the nearby marshes like to lounge upon the beach with their youngsters, and a blue heron regularly takes up station in the shallows near our creek on summer evenings. Beach eagles are fairly frequent visitors as they scavenge a dead fish or pick off an unlucky water snake by the creek.

And then there are those beach goers of less savory but totally undeserved reputations- snappers snakes buzzards and spiders.

Sometimes if there's a spring die off of big carp or a number of fall salmon carcasses, we may see a few buzzards on a beach picnic. I've been fascinated more than once by the swift movement of their shadows gliding across the bluff face as they patrol the shore in search of lunch. They are amazingly good at finding it. One trick they use for spotting food is to watch each other. If one guy sees something down there, then others see the bird's descent and head on over. So they crowd source the searching process.

Despite their formidable appearance up there in the sky, I've never heard of a turkey vulture attacking anything alive. They won't bother your small dog or cat. Unlike the black vultures we saw down on the Chesapeake during our Titania trip, these birds offer no threat to the living. They also seem to be sociable sorts and appear to enjoy each other's company when they're not hunting.

When we're on our mooring in Fair Haven with a west wind late in the day we often see dozens of them late in the day soaring on the updraft over a little rise along the east side of Little Sodus Bay. It seems to be a ritual of sorts, an end of the day dance or buzzard social hour before they settle into their communal roost. They're great fun to watch in flight as they circle swoop and seemingly greet one another with close passes aloft.

I was a bit alarmed last fall, though, when I found a couple of them hanging out on Sara B. A bird that big is bound to make a pretty good amount of 'whitewash'. The Internet informs me buzzard poop is virtually sterile since their systems do such a good job of killing of bacteria and viruses they ingest from the food source. Still, I'd just as soon not have to swab it off the deck.

Sometimes in April if you visit the beach with a south wind, you may be lucky enough to see the spring flights going overhead. Two years ago I got a flight of buzzards on video- that day over 2000 birds passed by Derby Hill in an hour or so.
People don't give buzzards enough credit for their clean up work. They're quick, thorough, and I'd sure rather look at a tidy well picked skeleton than some putrid mess of protein on the beach. Ir elsewhere. There's no doubt that they do help keep us safer by preventing the spread of disease.

for more on lake life join us Jan 14 at 2 pm Rice Creek Field Station Oswego NY

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