Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wild turkeys

photo by Roland Jordahl

7:32 a.m. Wednesday
From the kitchen sink, I watch a wild turkey skid to a snowy landing in the clearing behind the house. And then another, and another and another.

7:45 a.m. Thursday
I sit in a plastic lawn chair dressed in a white camouflage suit I made for Dave, with the long neck ribbing pulled up over my head. The only color is my face, my gloves and my camera. I hope that I look enough like a snow drift to fool the turkeys.

Several chickadees flit from branch to branch in the lilac hedge. Chickadee dee dee. I recognize their distinctive call. I can hear the turkeys waking. First a single voice, then another. As the sky lightens I see the large black mass of a turkey high up in the trees to the west of the house.

The day is crisp, with very little wind here, sheltered by the woods and the house. Wood smoke drifts languidly above me, scenting the winter air. My butt and my fingers are cooling, but the wait was worth it. Lots of turkeys are talking in the trees. Deep voices, shrill voices, complex calls, simple squawks. They drown out the chickadees.

A black shape lifts from a tree, spreads wings and tail and soars across the barnyard and onto the driveway. Another. Another. A few birds land out of sight, north of the house. The mass of the flock lower their feet and settle onto the driveway just beyond the pickup – well out of camera range. Each bird lands in front of and just beyond the previous bird, so they work their way from the pickup toward the spot where my camera is focused. Finally, two birds skid to a stop in front of me –still to far away for a good photo, but definitely not bothered by my presence.

They ruffle their feathers, the long tuft of feathers on the chest of the male birds stands out as a display. They move on the ground with a clunky, bobbing walk, as if the deep snow has broken their normal gait. Two turkeys explore the woods for a few minutes and then move back toward the rest of the birds and out of my camera range.

I stand and walk slowly toward the bulk of the flock. I am dressed in camouflage, but don’t walk in camouflage. The snow squeaks under every step. Walking turkeys can be completely silent. The crunch of my feet in the snow is distressingly loud. I round the corner of the house in time to see the turkeys flow up the driveway and into the woods, not at all clunky in their movements.

My half hour sitting outside on a winter morning has produced a crappy photograph taken from too far away of a pair of small black turkey shapes. But the process was much more important than the product. I don’t often take the time to sit outside on a winter morning and watch the sunrise fill the sky with gold. I should do it more often; watching wild turkeys, watching the sunrise, or just watching.

8:00 a.m. Saturday
The winds whipped through our yard. I want to get closer to the turkeys, but not enough to sit outside in a -9˚ wind chill. I sit down in front of my computer instead to email a friend, Roland Jordahl, asking for permission to use one of his wonderful wild turkey photos. I can hear the wind. But I also hear a scratching just outside my second story study. I look out the window. Nothing. The scratching comes again, from above me. I look up. Two large bird feet scratch at the snow on the window, struggling for balance. A crab apple falls onto the glass. A yellow turkey beak stabs through the snow and gobbles the apple. The clawed feet scratch at the window again and then disappear as the bird steps onto the roof and out of sight.

This bird was certainly close enough for a picture, but two large feet, viewed from the underside are not what I wanted either. My photos just didn’t do the wild turkey justice. I called my friend Jordy.

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