Adventures in Photography: Proliferation of the Wild Turkey
Eastern wild turkeys have been successfully reintroduced to Massachusetts. After having been extirpated from Massachusetts for more than 100 years, the turkeys are now abundant. Reintroduction programs from the 1970’s through the 1990’s have restored this bird as part of our natural heritage.
As a kid, a wild turkey in eastern Massachusetts was nothing more than a legend. Like the bald eagle, the turkey was a myth. The descendants of the Pilgrims had eaten all of the turkeys in Massachusetts. I would fantasize about seeing wild turkeys and bald eagles much as the Pilgrims and Native Americans had. Fortunately, due to conservation and wildlife management efforts, that childhood fantasy is now a reality.
According to Massachusetts government surveys, there are approximately 20,000 wild turkeys living in our state. This is only fitting considering the history of our nation and the prominence of Massachusetts in the story of Thanksgiving.
This spring, I returned to what I consider to be a hotspot for viewing and photographing wild turkeys. There is a neighborhood not too far from Plymouth Rock that supports a very large flock of turkeys. There are at least eight toms and over twenty females. These turkeys comfortably avoid hunters during the spring by residing in the yards of local residents. Fortunately for me, this makes them easy to photograph.
Using my car as a mobile blind, I will often spend my mornings witnessing one of the great spectacles of nature. The mating ritual of the turkey is an amazing display of dancing, posturing and very colorful feathers and heads. The male turkey’s head will turn bright blue while its neck will turn bright red. The male will display his tail feathers as a fan and scrape his wing feathers on the ground while slightly shimmying his feathers. The scraping of the wings creates a subtle rattle like sound.
It is commonly believed that turkeys are stupid. Among people in the know, turkeys are considered to be incredibly wily. The intelligence of wild turkeys makes them a challenge to photograph. A few tips for making your own image include using a long lens (300mm or longer), use your car as a blind, and look for turkeys during the mating season. During the mating season, male turkeys need to display to attract females and they generally let their guard down, allowing a closer look than at other times of the year.
As always, treat all wild creatures with respect. Please don’t harass any creature to make an image. Many people want to make great action images of birds in flight. Some people will cause the bird to fly which is never appropriate. I can honestly say that my flight images have always come from patiently waiting for the bird to move on its own accord. Sometimes that means waiting for hours…
This Month’s Tip: If you are successful in finding turkeys to photograph, try to create artful images that communicate your feelings for this fantastic creature. This will often occur after you have repeatedly visited the turkeys. The more time you spend in the field, the better your chances will be to create a beautiful masterpiece.
Greg Lessard is a professional photographer. You can join him on a three day tour of Acadia National Park this fall. Visit http://blog.greglessardphotography.com/2014/05/fall-photo-tour-in-acadia-national-park.html to find out more.