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NOT ANOTHER TURKEY STORY

By Nic.Korte

     I know, “Tis the season!” How many times are you going to have to read how stupid domestic turkeys are, and how smart are the wild ones? My story is different. Perhaps, a turkey as a human predator would have been better for Halloween.
     It started with my son yelling, “Dad, dad, there’s a huge bird here.” We were at Upper Tapeats campsite in the Grand Canyon. It was 6PM in early June. Our thermometer showed 120 degrees in the sun. Tapeats is a narrow canyon, and although a cold creek was roaring; we could feel the rock walls radiating heat as the sun set. Though tired and hot, I ran to where Adam called and there was the “huge bird”—a turkey. “What the heck,” I thought. “Turkeys on the rim for sure—even down in the oaks, but all the way down here in the cactus where it’s so hot?”
     “What an inquisitive turkey,” I thought, as it came toward us. Soon, it was walking around us. “What’s it doing?” It followed us. It stalked us. We realized it wanted a handout. All we had was a simple meal of bean burritos. We had just hiked more than ten miles. It was so hot! But, we couldn’t sit down. We ate standing with a burrito in one hand, and a long stick, for fending off the turkey, in the other. 

     After we finished eating, the turkey continued to harass us. Finally, in the twilight, the turkey roosted in a large tree above our camp. Having spent almost five months of my life in the Grand Canyon with a variety of companions and weather, the turkey was just a reminder that “things happen.” I don’t like to eat turkey, but I did wish mayhem on that one. 

     There are five subspecies of Wild Turkey. Ours (and Arizona’s) are Merriam’s, whereas Eastern Colorado has the Rio Grande variety. There may be a zone of hybridization west of us in Utah.
Turkeys are an amazing success story. For those who doubt the efficacy of conservation regulations in the US, consider: Game managers estimate that the entire population of wild turkeys in the United States was as low as 30,000 in the early 20th century. By the 1940s, they were almost totally extirpated from Canada and were found mostly in localized pockets in the US. Hunting was banned and conservation efforts began. These activities included protection, trapping and re-location. By 1973, the estimated population had rebounded to 1.3 million and hunting was resumed. Current estimates place the population at 7 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_turkeys).  Unfortunately, this remarkable success story is under some stress.  Population declines are being noted once again--especially in the east and southeast.  Loss of habitat, and climate effects are being examined as possible causes.  

     Grand Valley birders will be looking for turkeys around Christmas time. We won’t be looking for any to eat, but to count. We have two annual Audubon Society Christmas counts in the area. One is the Grand Valley count which encompasses an area more or less from Fruita to Fruitvale and the same distance north-to-south. That “count” will occur on December 15. On January 1, we have the Grand Mesa Count. For all but a few species, we find more in the valley than in the mountains. On which do you think we’ll find the most wild turkeys?

    Last year we had zero turkeys in the valley and 71 in the mountains. Last August I saw a turkey on top of Elk Mountain at more than 10,000 ft. Earlier in the summer, we saw a hen and seven nearly-grown poults below Elk Mountain at 8400 ft. Turkeys may migrate 40 miles from high elevations where they breed, to lower elevations where they spend the winter. Which is why, if you want to see turkeys, check out the area around the town of Molina. 

(Photo by Jackson Trappett)

     Drive in and around Molina early some morning. The roads between there and the Grand Mesa are excellent for seeing turkeys in the winter. You might also try driving Peninsula Road (highway 330) from Collbran to Vega Lake. Check out the pastures down along Plateau Creek as you drive along.
     If you want to explore the types and numbers of birds seen on our Christmas Counts, here’s how. Go to http://birds.audubon.org/data-research and Click on “historical” and follow the directions. If you want to help us do the counting (we always need help!) this year, check our website (audubongv.org) or send an email audubongv@gmail.com).
     This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to nkorte1@hotmail.com]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, send an email to audubongv@gmail.com and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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