During the spring months of March, April and May, I found it quite common to hear distant turkey calls in the pecan orchard. It was mating season after all, and we had spotted several flocks gathered in wheat fields and pastures, or along roadsides. Many times, the Jakes (juvenile males) and Gobblers (adult males) could be seen in full strutting mode, with their feathers fanned out, displaying magnificent prowess, and showing off for all the hens. Occasionally, FD and I were also lucky enough to spot a stray hen down below the slope, feeding on deer chow or corn that lay on the ground below the hanging corn feeder.
One morning in early May, I decided to check out the call of a gobbler that sounded like it could be very close. Wearing the new camouflage gear I had acquired the fall before, I was sure to blend in with the browns and greens of the spring woodlands. Turkeys have keen eyesight in the daylight hours, and they can run up to 25 mph and fly at speeds of 55 mph. I would have to be very skillful to track this clever bird without being discovered!
Thankfully, Mother Nature was on my side that morning. Our area of Oklahoma had received ample rain fall, which dampened the soil enough that I could move quietly through the woods. The only obstacles I needed to avoid were sticks and limbs, which might crack under my feet and spook my prey. I moved carefully from tree to tree, keeping close to the animal trail, while also staying in the cover of trees and shade. I spotted a group of gobblers and hens just ahead. They were grazing in an open area, and a couple of the males had fanned their feathers out in a magnificent display! Between 5,000 and 6,000 feathers cover the body of an adult turkey, and the colors on these two were absolutely stunning!
As I moved in stealth mode and inched closer to the group, I noticed only a couple were hens and all the rest were gobblers. I moved slowly along an old barbed-wire fence in a grove of trees just south of the opening where the hen turkeys were feeding and the gobblers were strutting. I wondered if the hens were not interested in such fanfare, or if they were just playing hard to get! Suddenly, the group scurried to the west, into a lush grassy area that leads into the woods along the river. Rats! I had been spotted!
My photo opportunity would have been over at that point, had I not known the area well. For all of the months hiking to the river in search of Daisy deer, I had learned the lay of the land fairly well. Just ahead, a slight ridge separated the fence line I had been moving along, from a wide-open grassland area that I felt the turkeys might graze through. When they spotted me earlier, they did not run, but rather scurried into the lush grasses, so I felt they had not gone far. I knew if I ran like the wind, paralleling them directly to the west, I might be able to out run the turkeys before they crossed over into the wooded area that lead to the river.
My camera and zoom lens are heavy and cumbersome, with dimensions of 5 x 13 inches and weighing in at about 4 or 5 pounds. And, at full zoom, the lens extends another 8 inches, so this little jaunt I was about to take would not be easy. I quickly tucked the camera under my right arm, holding it firmly, and began running. In places along the animal trail I had to duck low, since I did not wish for my subjects to catch my head bobbing along the top of the ridge. The thought of running like Daisy deer flashed through my mind. I could move much faster and more elegantly if I had her long legs, lithe body, and hooves instead of an upright, two-legged body with big size 9 feet! Oh well, I still had the feeling of elation at the thought of running like Daisy, but wondered if I would be able head off the turkeys at the end of the long ridge.
When I reached the end of the ridge, I dropped to my knees and slowly peeked out from behind a scrubby shrub. Sure enough, I had managed to outwit the group of turkeys! At the lead of the group were the two hens. They moved cautiously and very slow just across from me. I could feel my heart thundering, partly from having just run so hard and fast, but also from anticipating the terrific photographs I might capture from my new position. I hoped the turkeys would come closer, but there was also a chance they would go directly to the cover of trees opposite me if anything spooked them.
I took my first shot as the hens approached, hoping I could zoom in close enough to capture good detail. As the shutter began clicking, however, I realized this noise was something I had not contemplated. Both hens stopped in their tracks. For a long moment, they stood like statues. Afraid to breathe or even blink, I stayed rooted on my belly. Of course, during times like this, I tend to start thinking about how much my elbows are killing me, and how my ribs are aching and I wonder if I can last much longer! Then, as if nothing had happened, the hens proceeded, carefully. Next, came a total of eight “longbeards”. Not a single jake was to be found in the entire group! All the gobblers parading by me sported long beards, and one in particular had a 6 to 8-inch beard!
As I continued watching, I observed a couple of the gobblers seemingly in competition, parading around with their feathers fluffed, each attempting to out-strut the other. Wow! What a show! And then, all of a sudden, I realized I had been spotted. Always trying to get in closer for that award-winning shot, I had ventured out too far from behind the cover of the shrub. My subjects quickly folded their fans and took off running. The last I saw of them, they were scurrying under a barbed-wire fence and down the hill, headed into the cover of the trees, and to the river just beyond. In seconds, the whole group had disappeared entirely!
Back home, I marveled at the photographs I had produced. I felt proud mostly, that I had managed these shots simply by doing what all animals do; knowing their surroundings and using cover to make their way safely and undetected. If I had followed the same logic and stayed put behind the shrub instead of getting excited and wanting “more”, I might have managed even better shots with just a little patience. Ah well, it appears I still have much to learn from the animals, and from all of nature…
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…