Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not a partridge in a pear tree

with 39 comments

Not the Christmas song’s partridge in a pear tree, but a bunch of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) in a live oak tree (Quercus fusiformis) is what we found on January 3 while driving along Burnet County Road 330 for what I think was the first time ever. Branches blocked the line of sight to all but the highest-perched birds, so I zoomed in on a few of those. Click the thumbnail below for a closer look at the top pair from a different frame.

After I moved a little closer all the vultures flew away, leaving me to take a few more-is-more pictures of the scraggly live oak branches in their own right.


🖇         🖇         🖇


It’s heartening that people and organizations have been working to counter the onslaught of illiberalism coming from certain sectors of our society. In posts over the past year I’ve singled out some of the people and organizations that uphold free speech and due process, and that work against “wokeism” and “cancel culture,” or whatever other name you care to use.

Following is a list of people and groups working to maintain the values of a free society. Some of these consider themselves politically center-left, some center-right, and others centrist or independent or libertarian. The important thing is that all of them favor freedom, value open discussion grounded in demonstrable facts, and deplore indoctrination. Most of the links below take you to sites where material keeps getting added (as opposed to books, which could make up another list), so you can go back to each site from time to time—even daily for some—and expect new articles.

Heterodox Academy

FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression)

FAIR (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism)

Clear and Present Danger (to free speech)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Sharyl Attkisson

Bari Weiss


Jonathan Turley

Glenn Loury

The National Association of Scholars

Megyn Kelly

Jonathan Haidt

Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying


Steven Pinker

Glenn Greenwald

Pamela Paresky

Douglas Murray

Harvey Silverglate

1776 Unites

Peter Boghossian

The Epoch Times

City Journal

Victor Davis Hanson

Abigail Shrier


Zaid Jilani

Batya Ungar-Sargon

Parents Defending Education

Judicial Watch

Vivek Ramaswamy

Coleman Hughes

Jewish Institute for Liberal Values

University of Austin

Jordan Peterson

Michael Shellenberger

Matt Taibbi

James Lindsay

Tara Henley

No Left Turn in Education

Tulsi Gabbard

John McWhorter

Camille Paglia

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 15, 2022 at 4:22 AM

39 Responses

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  1. wow, that’s intense –


    January 15, 2022 at 7:30 AM

  2. Maybe it’s the lighting but the bottom two vultures look like Black Vultures – I don’t see the red head and the beak looks different. The pair atop the tree are definitely Turkey Vultures. If so, I’ve never seen both species together though I imagine it’s possible. We have both here on our place. My favorite time to observe them is early morning as the sun rises and they spread their wings for warmth before flight. They’re one of my favorite species of bird, where the message (to me) is, “Glide and soar… leave your carcass of worries behind”. The craggy tree branches you found are prime for roosting, and if one is observing vultures at dusk, they’ll see the competition for the best lookout spot in tall trees. Cell towers are also a favorite structure for roosting and catching morning sun.


    January 15, 2022 at 7:32 AM

    • It’s clear you know more about vultures and have observed them a lot more often than I. In answer to your question about two species together, I searched and at https://www.hawkmountain.org/raptors/black-vulture found this: “Turkey Vultures and Crested Caracaras often roost together with Black Vultures. That said, I wonder if there’s a stage at which turkey vultures haven’t yet developed the red coloring.

      The most common place I see vultures in Austin is on the horizontal bars of street lights, a couple of which in my neighborhood seem to be favorites.

      You’ve come up with a novel metaphor in “Glide and soar… leave your carcass of worries behind.” And speaking of soaring, overnight Austin was hit with a cold front that brought lots of wind. When I look out my window, all the trees I see are in motion.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2022 at 8:06 AM

      • I did research on both species on the link you provided – it appears that juvenile turkey vultures do have gray heads and darker beaks, so those two I pointed out could very well be juveniles.

        We experienced those high winds around 8:00 yesterday evening, and it was very gusty – to 50 mph gusts at times. The wind is still in the 20 to 35 mph range this morning, but the forecast is for that to increase again this afternoon. We have family visiting from Nebraska, who were looking forward to milder temps. Maybe Sunday will be more favorable for venturing out to the woods and Washita river area. I hope we see some vultures while we’re out!


        January 15, 2022 at 11:36 AM

        • I’m glad you checked and found that info about juvenile turkey vultures having gray heads and darker beaks. I guess that makes it more likely that the vultures lowers down were juvenile turkey vultures than black vultures.

          I figured the strong winds would have hit you before descending on Texas. As heavily overcast as it was here this morning, that’s how sunny it is here now, and the wind has abated some. I hope we don’t get the kind of second round you’re expecting up there.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 15, 2022 at 12:39 PM

  3. That is quite a treeful!

    Ann Mackay

    January 15, 2022 at 7:47 AM

  4. I love the scientific name of the birds. An aura of catharsis wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for our society. Maybe we should call in the vultures. I spent a minute pondering the possibility that you have two species hanging out together, but decided the ‘different’ ones might be juveniles. It can be hard to distinguish them, although it’s easier with adults: especially if they’re in flight. That tree certainly provided a perfect setting for them.


    January 15, 2022 at 9:07 AM

    • Oh, an aura of catharsis: we sure could use that now. Call in the vultures rather than send in the clowns.

      There could easily have been a dozen vultures in this live oak, and more nearby. Too bad so many branches intervened. You and Lori both wondered about possibly different species. That makes me wonder if turkey vultures and black vultures know they’re different from one another.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2022 at 9:22 AM

      • They might. Their feeding habits certainly differ. From the Cornell site: “Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, but Black Vultures aren’t nearly as accomplished sniffers. To find food they soar high in the sky and keep an eye on the lower-soaring Turkey Vultures. When a Turkey Vulture’s nose detects the delicious aroma of decaying flesh and descends on a carcass, the Black Vulture follows close behind.”


        January 15, 2022 at 9:27 AM

        • That’s a kind of piggy-backing I hadn’t heard of, and it does give evidence that one kind of vulture recognizes its difference from another kind.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 15, 2022 at 10:00 AM

  5. The turkey vulture, in my view, is not a beautiful bird. But that you could photograph so many on an oak tree is impressive.

    Peter Klopp

    January 15, 2022 at 9:34 AM

    • That may have been the most I’d ever seen in one tree. The fact that it was a large live oak contributed to that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2022 at 10:01 AM

  6. good list.

    sam harris? i haven’t followed him in sometime but i liked that was out spoken and often took unpopular positions

    Robert Hirsch

    January 15, 2022 at 11:15 AM

  7. A great list Steve! I have looked at several already. Thanks.


    January 15, 2022 at 4:28 PM

    • Gern geschehen. It’s heartening to see so many people speaking up in favor of free speech and free inquiry, and against illiberalism.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2022 at 5:06 PM

  8. I always admire them when I see them from afar, circling and circling. Up close, not so much
    Sometimes when I’m on a hike and I see them overhead, I think “What?? Beat it already, I feel fine, go look for dinner somewhere else.”

    Robert Parker

    January 15, 2022 at 6:22 PM

    • That’s a sound attitude to have; I’m not ready to be dinner yet.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2022 at 6:49 PM

      • I had a hunch
        You’re not ready to be lunch
        We are miscast
        as breakfast
        And they’ll have to stay thinner
        We’re not ready to be dinner

        Robert Parker

        January 15, 2022 at 9:12 PM

  9. Did you get to see what the vultures were after?

    Thanks for the list.

    Alessandra Chaves

    January 15, 2022 at 6:39 PM

    • In this case I don’t recall seeing anything that the vultures might have been after. In 2020 I photographed a black vulture feeding on an armadillo. I linked to a picture of that in this post.

      You’re welcome for the list.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2022 at 6:54 PM

      • Nice photo of vulture and armadillo.

        Alessandra Chaves

        January 15, 2022 at 7:44 PM

        • On another occasion I took even more gruesome vulture pictures but they were ghastly enough that I never included any in a post.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 15, 2022 at 7:55 PM

          • 😂

            Alessandra Chaves

            January 15, 2022 at 8:16 PM

            • I haven’t been here in a long time, so I hope I’m not breaking protocol with my comment.
              I read an interesting article on Turkey Vultures many years ago and it said (paraphrased):

              —A group of them circling in the sky doesn’t necessarily have a meal in sight. they may be simply riding the thermals for the fun of it. They are playing.—

              I see them here all the time and they seem quite content to just drift in circles for hours riding the thermals.


              January 17, 2022 at 8:38 AM

              • Hi, Lynda. No worry about breaking protocol here on this freewheeling site. I’ve read about various kinds of birds hitching easy rides on thermals, though you’re probably the first I’ve heard of who’s described them as playing. Paragliders have gotten in on the playing too.

                Steve Schwartzman

                January 17, 2022 at 8:52 AM

  10. I used to think these birds were disgusting. Then we moved to the country. After nearly 15 years here I really appreciate all their hard work to keep the country roads clear of the really disgusting stuff… “Road kill”. Love your post from beginning to end, Steve. Glad to know so many are tackling all the anti “intelligence” out there. Thanks for sharing. ~L


    January 17, 2022 at 8:42 AM

    • It’s not just country roads, either: many’s the time I’ve seen vultures clearing Austin’s streets of roadkill.

      Roughly a year ago I branched out from nature alone and began tackling the madness that has descended on some segments of our country. It has lost me at least a third of my audience, but so be it. I felt I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t speak out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2022 at 8:57 AM

      • If you understand; it is a comfort to read your thoughts. For one, it is good to know I am not the only one. It saddens me that we as a society have lost the ability to voice an opinion and have a good discussion on our various ideas. As I used to tell my little students: It is good to listen to what others think and to discuss opposing opinions. Learning what others think helps us to understand our friends and stretches our brain.

        I miss the ability to debate with others, to have an opinion, and to not be put down for having it.

        PS: I will look for that article about vultures “playing”. I think I referenced it in a post on my blog. 🙂


        January 17, 2022 at 7:47 PM

        • Unfortunately there are some very doctrinaire people who don’t believe in objectivity or logic, and with whom it’s therefore impossible to have a discussion. Many of our universities—the very places that supposedly exist to probe and find out what’s real—have become indoctrination factories. My undergraduate alma mater, Columbia, is among the worst offenders.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 17, 2022 at 9:45 PM

        • The original referenced site was gone. However, the same information was found here: https://wildbirdhabitatstore.com/uncategorized/353-turkey-vulture and scroll down to the bottom under “Fun Turkey Vulture Facts.”


          January 17, 2022 at 10:17 PM

          • Thanks for your link to that informative article, almost all of which was new to me. In particular, I didn’t know that turkey vultures are one of the only birds in North America with a sense of smell.

            Steve Schwartzman

            January 18, 2022 at 6:12 AM

  11. I bet they would rather enjoy munching on a partridge …


    January 24, 2022 at 1:31 AM

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