Like a skilled artist, the sun dabbed color onto the black canvas of morning. As the darkness relented to the sunrise, we listened as all of nature awoke with sound. The grass whispered, the leaves clapped, and the birds chirped out their last few yawns.
Across the field, the woodlot resonated with the vibrato of a gobbling Tom. As if led by the director, a choir of bearded birds joined the soloist in his incessant thunder. We listened with amusement and anticipation. Poising the camera in the direction of the commotion, we crossed our fingers, waiting to see if the procession of hens and toms would appear in view.
Through the morning mist, we watched a small shadow cross the corner of the woodlot. Reaching the edge of the fencerow the black silhouette crouched to make her way under the barbed wire. It was a hen, and she was Grand Marshal in the eastern turkey parade. We adjusted the tripod and focused on a strutting tom.
Gobbling, yelping, clucking, cutting, kee-keeing and an occasional purr echoed across the field. As the noisy Nikon shutter clicked to the rhythm of the music, we smiled at this strange sounding symphony. Serenaded by the melody of jakes, hens and seasoned gobblers, we were honored to have some of the best seats in the house. The hours passed, the shutter clicked, and we hoped these wary birds would not catch glare or glint of the camera lens.
Photographing a few eastern turkey anomalies was an added bonus. With only 10-20% of hens having beards, we considered it a privilege to photograph a few of natures lesser-knowns. It was also an honor to photograph our very first silver phase hen. I have a heart for renegades, so I want to compliment her for wearing white at a black tie affair. I will definitely be watching to see if she throws this wardrobe on her offspring.
It was the warm Michigan weather who gave us the key to inner sanctum. Capturing two breeding sequences on camera was more than we could have asked for. Looks like there will be some little turkeys in a few weeks. In case you didn’t know, the hen will usually lay one egg per day for an entire two week period. After the clutch is complete she will then incubate her eggs for approx. 28 days. With a light winter and early spring it looks like 2012 will be a good year for the turkey population.
Its easy to forget that in the early 1930’s the wild turkey was almost extinct. The hundreds of birds photographed over the course of this trip made me appreciate the great organizations that have helped save this bird from near extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts, wild turkey now number in the neighborhood of 7 million. Enjoy the photos and support your local NWTF. Together we can help preserve habitat and our hunting heritage.