On The Trail: Nature reigns

  • A Conway hen and 10 of 13 poults are caught on an iPhone camera out and about feeding recently. contributed photo/kevin wesoloski

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Buck Moon has passed and tiny green apples are already finding their way to the ground. My dogs stop to find and eat them in shin-high grass. Figuring it’s a nutritious digestion aid, I myself search, picking up the largest, removing their stems, feeding some to the dogs on the spot and carrying a handful away to intermittently feed them on the final leg back to the truck.

It’s a glaring reminder that soon the wetlands will be splashed with bright colors of goldenrod and purple loosestrife, and — Horrors! — I’ll hear that haunting beep-beep-beep of the dump truck backing up to the backyard woodshed. Honestly, I can’t say I ever looked forward to that sound signaling imminent chores. But as I age, I must admit my reaction is trending toward dread.

Anyway, since suggesting last week that many hen turkeys lost their first nests to cool, wet spring weather, many confirmatory comments have come this way by email, telephone and convenience-store chatter. Then again, just Tuesday, a hopeful email report with accompanying photos arrived. So, as the observations keep coming, we’ll have to reserve judgment regarding a final assessment, but it does appear that many first nests are no longer with us.

Similar to last week when Conway pal Bill Gokey chimed in with concerns that he had not seen a poult in his Shirkshire neighborhood, where spring sightings are common, if not abundant, things changed quickly this week. If you recall, a few hours after his initial observation, Gokey fired off another email to report a sighting. This week is no different. Having sat down Tuesday morning to compose a first draft of this column recounting turkey sightings by me and my neighbors, spontaneous changes occurred fast. First, old friend Kevin Wesoloski, a devoted hunter and expert turkey-caller, sent photos of a Conway hen with 13 poults. Accompanying the shots was a short note reading, “Hey Bags, Mother Nature was nice to a few!”

When I responded that they appeared small for this time of year and queried whether he thought the birds could be a brood from a second nesting, he replied, “First week of June is normal hatch time, but I’ve seen them as early as mid-May and have seen little puffballs in August, so these are probably just a later hatch from a first-year hen.”

On my way to work an hour or two later, right there in a field I pass several times daily, and where I had the previous two days observed five jakes feeding, sure enough, a hen and two poults. There could have been more poults, but I saw only two, heads low, feeding, likely on bugs. They were the first little ones I’ve encountered in my neighborhood since early June, when my dogs flushed five or six that were much larger than Tuesday’s brood. So, definitely this week’s birds are from a later or second nest. Maybe they had been chased out of adjacent hayfields that had been harvested this week (see below).

Backing up a bit, the prevailing wisdom for weeks now has been that we endured a poor spring nesting season complicated by cold, wet weather. Like me, people coming into the week reported many adult-turkey sightings but few if any poults. Just this week, I had seen those five jakes feeding in a scalped hayfield. At first, I thought, “Gee, I hope that’s then hen and five or six little ones Chub-Chub flushed about a month ago, not a half-mile away.” Then, after pondering it, I concluded, “No, too big. It was way too early for there to be no clear size-distinction between hen and poults.” Sure enough, later that day I saw the same birds again, closer, and could see they were red-heads with little beards protruding like an artist’s brush bristles from their breasts.

Last week, a neighbor and colleague inquired at work as to whether I had seen the hen turkey and her little brood in the identical freshly hayed field. I had seen the hen a couple of times, feeding back along the bordering tree line, but no little ones. Maybe they were out of sight in the woods and I missed them. I asked if they could have been the same group I had flushed from a nearby chest-high hayfield in early June? No. He didn’t think so. In his opinion, the poults he saw last week were too small to fly. A farmer familiar with turkey broods, he said he was surprised the birds he had seen survived that day’s mowing of the field. Hmmmmm? Maybe some did perish. Either that or they were lucky little critters, out of harm’s way at a perilous moment.

This week, the same colleague had additional observations that came to me second-hand from his father, who hayed his western fields extending back to the base of Greenfield Mountain. That whole plain is “POSTED” turkey country, and he ran into broods of young birds for which he had to stop his tractor, jump off and flush them out of harm’s way.

“My Dad joked that he’s teaching the little ones to fly,” chuckled my desk mate, whose latest neighborhood report suggests a late or second nesting. Birds from a typical first nest would have been flying a month ago and by now fully capable of escaping the danger of farm equipment and predators alike.

On a related, curiosity-piquing note, the same haying farmer had another interesting observation, this one pertaining to field mice. When cutting hay over the years, he’s grown accustomed to watching mice flee from his tractor into the uncut part of the hayfield. Then, as he reduces the second half of the field, the mice have no choice but to scamper out across the scalped field, where they become easy prey for opportunistic hawks, coyotes and fox, which have learned to interpret the sights and sounds of haying equipment as a come-and-get-it dinner bell. For some reason this year, the man has noticed far fewer mice. He wonders why.

Hmmmm? Could it be that the cold, rainy spring that did a job on immature turkeys also did a mortality number on mice nests, too? Maybe so. But it’s also a fact that gray, wet, low-pressure days are scent-enhancers for gundogs, and such days also improve scenting conditions for foraging predators like foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes and you name, all of which could detect and make quick work of mice nests.

Fun indeed are the twists, turns and mysteries of nature.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.