Thursday, March 24, 2011

Turkey Vulture and Mystery Critter

Doug still isn't fully recovered from his surgery of six weeks ago, and he hasn't really felt like hitting the trails on this visit to the Smokies. We did a couple of short hikes yesterday, but he wasn't really feeling the desire to walk today. It was a little too chilly to indulge in our other favorite activity, which is sitting in the woods or beside a river and reading a good book. So we went for a drive.

We thought we'd drive out to Douglas Dam, where we could park at the overlook and enjoy the view while sitting in our vehicle to read. When we reached the overlook, though, we saw that the restrooms were closed for repairs. Well, we weren't going to be able to stay there long without the availability of a restroom, so we decided to drive back to town and, from there, on into the national park.

Douglas Dam
A storm had come through the area last night, so we drove to one of the campgrounds, just to see if the river had flooded it and forced the campers out as it sometimes does in that area. The only damage we saw, though, was a couple of downed trees.

We did, however, manage to capture a photo of a turkey vulture in a tree. We had seen him enjoying a tasty snack of roadkill, but he flew into the tree when we came along. The photo lacks good detail because of the distance, but I just had to share this charming fellow with you.

Turkey Vulture
After the experience with the turkey vulture, we went to a favorite picnic area, parked the van, and enjoyed a short nap. My nap was shorter than Doug's, and I was reading when I heard a grunting noise that sounded for all the world like a pig right next to the van. I looked up from my book in time to see an animal running toward the river at top speed. It was small-to-medium size, brownish, with stripes similar to the stripes on a chipmunk.

I woke Doug, calling "Doug...a pig, a pig!" Well, he caught only a glimpse of the mystery critter before it disappeared, and that glimpse was without the aid of his glasses. Of course, being without glasses doesn't mean the same for Doug as it would for me. I need glasses to find my glasses. He, on the other hand, is naturally far sighted and can manage quite well without them.

We got out and walked around, looking for the animal itself or at least for its tracks, but we found nothing. That momentary glimpse we had of its fleeing back hadn't looked like any wild pig we had ever imagined, but the sound was so pig-like that I couldn't imagine what else it could have been.

So, when we got back to our hotel tonight, I went online and searched for information on wild pigs in the Smoky Mountains. I learned that they are usually smaller than other wild pigs, that the young have "longitudinal" stripes until they are about four months old, and that the piglets are usually weaned between the third and fourth months. Even though the piglets are then independent of the sow, they usually stay in the family group for about a year.

So I'm guessing that the one we saw, if indeed that's what we saw, was at the upper end of the stripe-sporting stage and past the weaning stage. But I'm at a loss as to why it appeared to be out there alone. Unfortunately, the whole thing happened so fast that I don't even have a blurry image to share with you.


  1. Fascinating adventure.The Vulture looks cold and unhappy.I don't know if Vultures get unhappy. :)

  2. Hi Linda, Sounds like you all are still in the Smokies. Sorry it got so cold today.. We have had lots of spring weather until today.. Oh Well--hope it warms back up for you.

    Some of our favorite places in the Smokies: Cades Cove, Rich Mountain, Tremont, Elkmont, Metcalf Bottoms, Wears Valley, Townsend, Cosby, Green Briar, Newfound Gap, Foothills Parkway near Townsend, etc. We do not like Sevierville or Pigeon Forge (too touristy) and even Gatlinburg these days. We've never been to Douglas Dam.

    Hope you are having a good time. Glad you didn't get that horrible storm last night. SCARY!!!!

    HAVE FUN...

  3. Ruth - Perhaps a better question is whether vultures ever get happy. :) I suppose they do, though. They must think they're beautiful. :)

    Betsy - Elkmont is where we saw the vulture, and Metcalf Bottoms is where we saw the pig. We stay in Pigeon Forge because it's cheap ($36). The hotel is right on Wears Valley Road so we can shoot into Wears Valley and enter the park at Metcalf Bottoms. We agree with you...Gatlinburg is a necessary evil to be passed through on the way to Greenbrier and Cosby. :)

  4. How neat. I never would have thought pigs lived out there! Did you do some driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway? That's a great drive. :)

  5. Oh, and we moved away to be closer to NY so I could do more music! Think of going back someday though.

  6. Elizabeth - We've known about the presence (and the nuisance) of wild pigs in the national park, but we'd never seen one. We once heard what we were pretty sure was the squeal of a wild pig when we were hiking. We were up on a peak, and the sound was coming from the woods across an open area. It sounded as if the animal was in trouble.

    We talked about driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway today but decided to save it for another time. I think it would be fun to drive the whole distance, but that's easy for me to say when the burden of driving would fall to Doug. :)

  7. Sometimes the mental snapshots are the best ones. But it would have been fun to have one of your expressions trying to figure out what you were seeing. ;)

  8. Nice to catch a glimpse of the little pig. They aren't what I would like to encounter on a hike.i was there 2 years ago about this time of year. I stayed in Pidgeon Ford also.

  9. Hilary - My mental snapshots are often fuzzier than my actual snapshots. :)

    Steve - I wouldn't want to encounter an adult wild pig on a hike, either. Fortunately for day hikers, the pigs are primarily nocturnal.

  10. When you're thinking of wild animals you hope to get a glimpse of, a pig isn't one that immediately comes to mind, is it? But isn't your experience a great example for good use of the internet? You can look something like your wild pig up and find out just about everything you could possibly want to know about it.

    btw, if it had been ME sleeping in a car out in the wilderness and suddenly being woke up by the squeal of a pig near-by, it would have been REALLY important that there was a restroom nearby! :)

  11. Sandra - You're right about the convenience of the internet for researching things like this. I was pretty sure it was a pig I had heard and seen, but it didn't look like any pig I'd ever seen before. The pictures I found on the internet seemed to confirm my suspicions, though.

    Funny about the restroom. :) True, too.


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