Monday, April 25, 2005

Shaggy dog birdwatching story

I live not far from a cretaceous limestone ridge called Turkey Hill. My father-in-law used to own it, before he sold it to Saudi speculators who incorrectly believed they could hold it a few years and make a profit when they in their turn unloaded it. I don't know who owns it now, but I sometimes go birdwatching there. I regularly see large birds there, vultures, hawks, and great horned owls, but I have never seen a wild turkey on Turkey Hill, and probably won't. It is too close to town, now.
But last fall, out west of town in the hills near the headwaters of the same Onion Creek I live too close to (flood hazard), I was lucky to get close enough a wild turkey last fall to photograph it. (See wild turkey photo below.)

Wild turkeys are elusive and generally hard to get near, which is why I say I was lucky to get the picture. You could call them wily, if you care to dignify the projections of frustrated birdwatchers with such terminology. I myself believe wild turkeys are very much like domestic turkeys, with the crucial difference of being able to fly. They become alarmed easily, which, in a bird which retains the ability to become airborne, is a useful survival trait.

Not so with domestic turkeys, which also become alarmed easily. It was _many_ years ago when I was a college student, that I decided, for some reason I have long forgotten, to ride from Austin to Victoria, Texas, about 120 miles, on my one-speed bicycle--a battered and decrepit bike that got stolen once but did not stay stolen because the thief brought it back and threw it over my fence, dissatisfied. It was slow and heavy and made a noise with each turn of the pedal like someone hitting a pipe with a hammer. I started late in the morning, and did not get more than halfway, so I ended up spending the night in a furrow in a plowed field near Cuero (pronounced kway-row), a small town known at that time, at least locally, as the turkey capital of the world. Anticipating a night in the open, I had brought a blanket, which I recall was peach colored. It was cold when I woke up, and still foggy. I resumed my journey in the dim early morning light, still hooded and wrapped in my pink-orange blanket, trying to stay warm.

It's worth mentioning that highway bicycling was at that time done only by Frenchmen, in France, so it was very unexpected in Kwayrow, Texas. Pelotons of Lance Armstrong wannabes wearing spandex outfits moving swiftly in tight clusters down country highways were as yet undreamed of.

So I set off down the highway in the fog with a loud "crankWONK" noise with each turn of the pedal. As bad luck would have it, I rode, draped in my blanket, out of the mists past a large turkey farm. This apparition, which came looming and slowly clanking out of the mists was interpreted unanimously, and instantaneously (and maybe correctly), by the the turkeys, as the turkey Grim Reaper, and they all ran desperately toward the back fence of the big turkey pen, where they piled on top of one another, many hundreds of them, in an enormous and horrible struggling mass of hysterically gobbling birds.

This looked like big trouble to me, so I redoubled my efforts, and clanked away into the fog before the turkey farmer came out to discover what had befallen his birds, which I have always imagined was catastrophic. But I did not look back. I have the vague memory that I may have abandoned the blanket in an absurd attempt get rid of evidence.

But no one came after me. It was not, even in Texas, a crime to ride a bicycle on the highway, or for that matter past a turkey farm, but I think I was worried about vigilante justice.

The bird below would have just flown over the fence.
Wild turkey

No comments: