As I set out on Saturday morning, the sun is up, and the sky is a pure and heartrending blue.

This annual transition from the summer to autumn is one of my favorite times of the year, and I try to make the most of it by being outside as much as I possibly can.

As I pull into the Rincon Del Diablo, I notice groups of Turkey Vultures on some of the trees, six here, five there, four in another tree. I get out of the car, and some of them shift nervously on their perches, watching me closely for nefarious intentions.

The vultures settle down, and I take some photos.

I’ve always thought vultures are among the most misunderstood of birds. True, they have a face only a mother could love, but they provide a vital service to the ecosystem.

An intimation of this lies in the Turkey Vulture’s scientific name, Cathartes aura, which means “purifier of the air,” and as a carrion eater, that is what the Turkey Vulture, and its cousin, the Black Vulture, do.

There is nothing dead in the Rincon as far as I can see (or smell); the vultures just happened to roost here overnight and now waited for the morning thermals to fire up so they could take to the sky.

In doing some research about vultures after I get home, I learn that a group of vultures is called a committee, a kettle, a venue, a volt or a wake. A wake is a group of feeding vultures, while groups of perched vultures can be called committees, venues or volts. A group of vultures flying is called a kettle, a word that is also used to refer to any group of soaring raptors.

I’ve always thought the proper plural noun for a group of soaring vultures should be called a “vortex,” for the way they often soar in ever-widening gyres.

I’m always happy to see these enigmatic and important birds along the creek, and I’m grateful for the cleanup work they do for all of us.

Also along the creek on Saturday, I saw a young Zone-tailed Hawk flying low over the cane hedge, hunting a meal.

The hawk scanned the ground below, turning its head from side to side as it looked for possible prey.

At one point, it must have seen something on the ground beyond me, as it tucked its wings and swooped past me in a rush.

Both Zone-tailed Hawks and Turkey Vultures, as well as the other raptors that live along the creek, are signs of an ecosystem in balance.

Karen Gleason is the senior staff writer for the Del Rio News-Herald. She loves nature and the outdoors and has been an avid bird watcher since childhood.

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