Late in March, the trees began to leaf out, bringing a fresh look to the landscape of our ten-acre ranch. The grays, browns, and muted neutrals of winter began to fade. Bermuda grass started to show signs of life, and all sorts of weeds began popping up as the sun warmed the red Oklahoma soil. Daisy deer was still sporting her thick winter coat but, as the days of April approached, she began to look shaggy and unkempt. Her winter hair shed in clumps, and was slowly replaced by patches of glorious red summer hair, giving her a shaggy, somewhat comical calico look! Spring was definitely on the horizon, and with that, the pace of life in the woodlands would change.
With the change of season from winter to spring, and on through the summer and fall, FD and I can be found on our back porch most mornings and evenings, enjoying the warmer days and taking in the activity of wildlife in the canyon. Our porch sits atop a slope that gently makes its way to the canyon below and woodlands just beyond. Various species of birds frequent and make homes in this area of the woodland edge. Along with the birds, squirrels, raccoons, and other small wildlife often provide us quite a show, so we try to keep our binoculars handy for a closer inspection or look at something.
One particular Saturday morning this spring, while having coffee on the porch and enjoying the chirping birds, FD spotted a wild turkey hen at the foot of the slope. For a couple of weeks, we had been hearing turkey calls in the distance each morning, but had not seen one of the elusive birds yet. Somehow avoiding the turkey’s keen vision, FD managed to sneak in the house and back outside with the camera and zoom lens to snap a few photographs of the wandering hen. She was not particularly interested in finding food, though she did take a peck at something every now and then, but rather seemed to be looking for something else. Given the season, we suspected this hen was looking for a place to nest and lay her eggs. After all, it was that time of year for breeding of turkeys, along with many of the other bird and animal species of the woodland.
Not an hour later, FD noticed Daisy deer in the pasture just south of the house. She seemed to be acting a bit silly. She was giving chase, dancing and bucking like a bronco! On closer inspection, FD noticed the hen turkey ahead of Daisy. She still appeared to be scouting around for just the right location to make her nest, but Daisy had other ideas about her presence. She thought this strange, new friend might make a fine play companion. With her rump in the air, Daisy would splay out her front legs and give her head a playful swing sideways, as if to say, “Come on sister!! Let’s PLAY!”. But alas, the hen had no desire for joining in this nonsense with Daisy and just stalked off into the woods, apparently annoyed. As the hen dashed under a fence and into the woods to make her escape from that crazy deer, Daisy looked on in dismay, but then trailed after her, undaunted.
Later, FD came up with a name for our new “hen” friend – Henrietta. It was a fitting name, since FD’s Grandmother, who had a tremendous love of birds and lived on this place at one time, was also named Henrietta.
We saw very little of Henrietta over the next month. I wondered if she had made a nest in the canyon where she may be sitting on eggs. We had many piles of branches and downed trees from storms where she might find shelter and hiding for a place to nest. There were plenty of food sources in the area as well.
A few times, I took a walk through the canyon in hopes of discovering Henrietta’s nest, or following her to it. But the couple of times that I did see her on the trail through the woods, she immediately spotted me following her and outwitted me by cleverly escaping. I never could discover where she disappeared to or where her nest might be.
Just last week, FD was having his coffee on the back porch around 6:30 in the morning and spotted Henrietta down below with three little poults, tagging along behind her. Henrietta had become a mother! There was no opportunity for FD to get to the camera and, being just after daybreak, the light was dim anyway. Recognizing this, FD just observed the group from his place on the porch, quietly watching the little troop move back into the woods – each chick imitating mother Henrietta as she pecked away at whatever turkeys peck away at.
This morning, I was up getting breakfast ready for FD before he headed to work when I glanced out back and noticed Henrietta and her three chicks moving just out of sight, heading into our part of the woods. I was hopeful that by getting myself positioned ahead of them, I might find her in another area just beyond, where I could watch, and possibly photograph them from closer range. FD had warned me that I would not likely have much luck, considering the wild turkey’s keen eyesight and excellent hearing, which makes them extremely difficult to track. Not being discouraged, I readied my camera with the zoom lens and took off on a path to the south to set up at a spot where I thought I might intercept the little troupe. I kept vigil for a long while but, finally admitting defeat, I gave up. As I walked down the path where I expected to run across the little family, I found no sign of them anywhere. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Henrietta in the pecan orchard just beyond our fence, moving at a slow but deliberate pace away from me. That sly girl managed to fool me once again! She must have seen me (just as FD predicted – grrr!) and back-tracked the other direction.
Later that morning, I spotted her and her little poults down at the feed trays below the slope. At one point, they appeared to be sunning themselves, then dusting in the powder-dry, Oklahoma red dirt. I noticed one of the chicks seemed more adventurous than the others, occasionally straying away to check out the nearby grasses. Another of the chicks stayed close to Henrietta. This one reminded me of myself as a young girl. I loved being with my mom and enjoyed learning what she had to teach me. Even as they walked, this particular youngster stayed at Henrietta’s side, mimicking her every move. The third chick tagged along close behind, just happy to be out with mom and siblings. Thanks to the noise created by the dependable, stiff Oklahoma wind that kept Henrietta from hearing the click of my camera’s shutter, I was able to snap several photos of this little family flock without being detected!
After capturing some nice shots, I lowered my camera and looked away for only a moment. When I looked back, Henrietta and her little poults had disappeared! I walked to the edge of the slope to see if I could discover where they had taken off to. There, in the weeds just beyond the feeders at the base of a cluster of trees, I saw the slightest movement. Henrietta and her brood were crouched in the weeds, virtually motionless except for an occasional turn of a head. She watched me from her camouflaged setting, her chicks doing the same.
Once again, the importance of being alert in nature came to mind. I had witnessed this many times with Daisy deer, observing her being watchful and cautious, being either still or quick-footed, and knowing when to take flight, high-tailing away from danger. Henrietta will teach her young the cautious and secretive ways of the wild turkey. As they grow, their lives will depend on instinct and Henrietta’s training of having a watchful eye, listening for danger, and making use of special adaptations to avoid being eaten.
I suppose I will always be intrigued by the mysterious ways of nature. I will probably continue to try to get that amazing photo of Henrietta from a closer range. I will likely spend hours sitting behind brush and shrubs, in the sweltering heat down in the bottom, wondering if that clever girl spotted me from a distance and changed direction. I will never know of course. But I do know that I can always learn a thing or two from the animals and birds that frequent this little piece of land. I have learned that sitting still, observing, and being respectful of nature often reward me with spectacular moments. Some of these are captured with my camera, and some only in memory. But with all, I remember the feeling of elation at witnessing something special, something secretive, something beautiful…
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…