The Delmarva Peninsula, is a study in contrasts; its currently developed and developing northern three-quarters reflecting Delaware and Maryland’s proximity to Philadelphia and Washington, D. C.; and its relatively yet-to-be-developed southern quarter reflecting its Virginia Tidewater origins. Traveling the Delmarva from north to south, which is what Lauriane Streit and I did last Saturday, is almost like driving back in time from an “up-to-date beachside resort” replete with outlet strip malls, to antebellum mansions and the “old cotton fields back home.” Sandwiched between the two is the highest density of chicken farms I have ever seen. Both Tyson and Perdue have mega processing plants on the Delmarva, and even at temperatures hovering in the low thirties, truck loads of chickens were being hauled to their destiny.
Vultures have long been associated with chicken farms, and “modern” or not, every chicken farm we passed—except for a few that were closed and shuttered—had flocks of vultures attending them. Saturday’s route from Milford, Delaware, to the toll booth at Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel near Cape Charles, Virginia, produced a total of 268 scavengers, including 245 Turkey Vultures and 23 Black Vultures, by far the highest I have recorded in winter on any survey route in the United States. How many were overwintering in the peninsula, and how many were year-round residents, waits to be seen. I should have the answer in July when we conduct our summertime counts in the area. Whatever the percentage, the Delmarva looks to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest East Coast winter resorts for vultures our surveys have detected.
Having thought about what we saw for a week, I remain more than a little confused. You may recall that last month’s surveys in West Virginia, northeastern Tennessee, northwestern North Carolina, and western Virginia, produced counts that clearly indicated more Black than Turkey vultures in the region. That said last week’s counts in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, indicate that Turkey Vultures outnumber Black Vultures there by about ten to one. The differences, although apparent, remain enigmatic. I will be conducting the surveys in both areas next year. I hope by then to be able to explain the differences.
No new North American surveys are planned until June. That said Corinne Kendall arrived in Kenya earlier this week and should be updating us on her East African work, so please stay tuned.