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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gobblefest straggler

Last week Wolfgang Schleidt asked if I could help him get an hour long tape recording of springtime turkey gobbling. In the early morning. My ethology teacher, who now refers to himself as "old grey wolf" wrote:

"I did a lot of turkey vocalization recording and measurements for many years, but ONE specific situation I had neglected was to record “early morning gobbling” while the toms are still on the roost, and presumably interacting with toms on distant roosts miles away under optimal conditions for sound propagation. I observed this only once, in the spring of 1967 at the Welder Wildlife Refuge at Sinton, Texas, when I was sneaking up on a roost tree under cover of darkness, and listening to the strutting up above which continues throughout the night. Gobbling started before the break of dawn, intensified with the first rays of the sun, and ended when the birds left the roost. Then they went for a drink, and started the daily routine with a big bout of preening, still within meters of the roosting area."

Unfortunately, I didn't have these conditions, and the professor let me off the hook. "Thank you once again, but there is no need to get into the act, except if your area is suddenly inundated by turkeys!" A friend in Oregon had exactly what he was looking for.

As luck would have it, the next morning we were inundated with turkeys. As the gobblefest moved up the slope toward the house I tore into my storage boxes searching for recording equipment.

"They're out by the garage", called the redhead. I hurried to the kitchen and looked out the window. An old gobblehead was escorting a flock of ten nubile hens. He stood there with that fluffed-up air of self-adoration as the hens pecked here and there in distraction. Then they crossed the driveway and headed down the ravine on the other side of the house. I returned to testing the recorders.

"Here come more turkeys", called the redhead again. Now the short-bearded wannabe-Toms had arrived. Like adolescent boys in the locker room their's seemed a slightly confused world. They alternately strutted at one another and gawked at the kingpin with the girls down the hill. When the kingpin gobbled so did they. In essence they were shameless peeping Toms.

By mid-afternoon I admitted defeat. The only working recorder and microphone in my possession didn't have compatible connectors, and the gobblefest was far in the distance.

Two days later I found this single photo of a hen turkey in the camera trap down the hill. She might have been a member of the flock, but now she was alone. As the late and great Ann Richards would say, the hen had been "basted". And now it was time to nest.

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