Twitterpated with Wild Turkey by Janine Donoho

Flock of wild toms

Flock of wild toms

During our nearly 200 hikes yearly, we revel in seasonal birdlife, although twitterpated spring and wildcare summer offer choicest viewing times. As avian couples woo and mate, then raise their young, you glimpse variations on parenting themes. For wild turkeys, commitment shy toms have all the fun while hens band together to raise their broods.

Full plumage tom

Full plumage tom

Treed tom

Treed tom

A slow-mo hike along an old logging road in Okanogan National Forest with our fourteen pound predator, otherwise known as Mighty Italian Greyhound (MIGgy), prompts spontaneous flushing of a Meleagris gallopavo from the underbrush. As often happens, this wild tom exceeds cartoonish expectations by being quick on the wing, cunning, and beautifully feathered in iridescent bronzes and greens with the hallmark scaled legs and wattle reminiscent of its reptilian ancestors. Its verbal complaint while flying resembles gobbled outrage rather than the silly preschool sound human throats make. Once the tom alights on a ponderosa pine branch, MIGgy takes a victory lap. Wild turkeys protecting their territory can be aggressive. Who can blame them when so many end up on dinner tables? So give the hound a nod.

Why does the turkey cross the logging road? It’s all about food, water, and shelter. Like us, turkeys appreciate the finer things in life. For our local populations that means established ponderosa forests, where turkeys feast upon seeds and fruits along with occasional insects and a chaser of grit—yum! Hens hollow out ground nests in debris at bases of trees and shrubs, but roost on higher limbs due to rapacious coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, mountain lions, raptors, and—yes, us. They’re also one of this nation’s few conservation success stories, returning from populations of 30,000 birds in the early 1900s to over 7,000,000 today. Evidently the idea of facing an empty Thanksgiving platter roused our national fervor to deal with habitat degradation and poaching.

Wild thing, I think I love ya...

Wild thing, I think I love ya…

With their dense bone structure, turkey fossil records date back to over 5,000,000 years ago. Undomesticated birds are no more like their meal-on-the-talon version than cows are like fierce and extinct aurochs. Today we incapacitate domesticated turkeys by favoring massive breasts that overbalance the poor beasties—and no, we’re talking meaty breasts versus silicon here. This trend began five hundred years ago, spreading to a global phenomenon when Spaniards made off with turkeys domesticated by Aztecs. The bird’s eponymous name may originate from early transport through Turkey on their way to Europe.

Wily tom heading for deep cover

So today, up with turkeys. Yes, call me twitterpated.

Turkey hens & brood

Turkey hens & brood

What local birds raise your spirits? How do you enhance their habitat?

Grouse Eggs & Kestrels and Seedlings & Soil (as sung to ‘My Favorite Things’) by Janine Donoho

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta)

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta)

In this remote conservation area of Washington State, vernal equinox triggers messy chasms brimming with snowmelt. Summer’s alkaline dust transforms into muck capable of entombing my 4-wheel drive eco-diesel up to its wheel wells. Days collect into weeks of treacherous roads.

Glimpsing spring in the melt

Glimpses of spring in the melt

I wait to plant seeds until after mid-May, since hard frosts shrivel tender cotyledons. After years of starting seedlings indoors, I reverted to direct sowing into compost enriched soils. The hardening process for young plants is fickle, and planting seeds works just as well. To stave off  my untimely itch? I turn to my daily writing habit and coax my Earth Elemental into bloom.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Still the promise of spring causes me to excavate lighter clothing and bury the thick layers of winter. I begin to wake earlier with a curious lift to my spirits. Fragrant springtime starts me along this path.

When wild grasses poke through the drying crust of alkaline silt in this high desert, I move into the bliss zone. Yes, these are the same grasses that require vigorous slashing to maintain defensible space around our home as fire season roars into being. Yet at this stage, the verdant color and lush bouquet—well, it makes me ridiculously happy. I breathe more deeply.

Okanogan Highland Grouse - MaleSpring is also when the dusky blue grouse male begins to court his harem, drumming ‘oot, oot, oot’ from his air sacs while he struts his stuff. Not long afterward, his hens lay buff colored eggs beneath Ponderosa pines and sagebrush. Incubation takes almost a month before hatching in late May.

This is the sweet time, when my drip system is optional and yellow jackets aren’t dive-bombing me in the gardens. Native arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta) splashes the steppes with festive yellows as raptors freewheel along Young Kestrelthermals. My particular favorite, the kestrel, sets up housekeeping in our nesting box. By late summer, the fledglings scream their fear and excitement as they take their first flight from one branch to another, then one pine to the next before departing to establish their own territories.

But today, it’s a scent and the promise of lush Mediterranean gardens while the quality of light fills me with hopefulness. Daylight hours have stretched from winter solstice’s threadbare eight to nearly twelve. By summer solstice we’ll enjoy sixteen hours of light. For now, I wander forests and sagebrush steppes, cherishing eggs tucked into grouse nests.Dusky Blue Grouse eggs

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27, 2015
The big day is here.

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