Sunday, December 01, 2013
By James Lomuscio
With leftover Thanksgiving turkey still in some fridges, not to mention the desire to walk some of it off, about 30 men, women and children today flocked to Westport’s Earthplace: The Nature Discovery Center for a chilly trek to ferret out and learn about some their main course’s feral cousins—wild turkeys.
Led by Joe DeBone, a retired Norwalk firefighter, naturalist and avid outdoorsman who has made the post-Thanksgiving Turkey Walk and Talk a regular event, the group had almost given up hope after DeBone’s various hen turkey calls designed to attract Toms turned up no suitors. That is, until participants came to the overgrown, now leafless, abandoned field lined by a centuries old stone wall.
“There, on the other side of the stonewall,” DeBone blurted.
The crowd crunching dried leaves along the trail came to an abrupt halt, and then slowly stepped forward, some on moss to muffle their footsteps, to spy the birds. As if it were a hunting expedition, cameras came out on cue.
“See that sheen,” said DeBone. “It’s a Tom. That’s a big bird. They were digging for acorns.”
Before long there were four clucking turkeys. One even spread out his fantail in hopes of impressing the faux female sound.
Finding the birds was mission accomplished for DeBone. He noted that while the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection holds there are 30 wild turkeys per square mile in Connecticut, the number is highly dependent on ecosystems.
And in area towns, with development limiting woodlands the birds need, plus the incursion of predator coyotes, the numbers might be lower.
Still, the birds that survive are hardy, having swelled to thousands since they were reintroduced, after a century’s hiatus, in the1980s with a comparatively small lot of 350 wild turkeys.
“The deal was they were introduced on the Connecticut and New York borders, and they found Connecticut more habitable,” Debone said, noting that many of the deforested farm fields had returned to woods.
Upon their reintroduction they also had time to repopulate since the state did not allow a hunting season for wild turkeys until the mid-1990s.
“Growing up, I never thought I’d see so many turkeys, geese or deer,” said DeBone, a hunter with an appropriate surname.
During his talk inside Earthplace prior to the walk, DeBone showed different colored fantails and Tom beards that enable one to discern the bird’s sex. Hens have brown fantails, Toms, black and silver ones in addition to beards that can grow as long as eight inches, he said.
Dede McDowell, whose husband Tony McDowell is Earthplace’s new executive director, noted that there is an aggressive Tom turkey on Kings Highway North across from the Birchwood County Club.
DeBone knew the bird well, and said it is about three years old and is legend for its aggressiveness. He noted that when he spied it and let out a trukey call, the bird began pecking at he hubcaps on this truck.
“One time I saw him, and I was afraid to walk into the parking lot,” Dede McDowell said, noting that she saw others from a nearby office building fanning newspapers to keep the bird away.
DeBone noted that he often gets calls about aggressive turkeys up on Bayberry Lane.
Larry Rollins of Southport came with his three children, Scarlett, 10, Creed, 6, and Georgia, 7, and said their interest in wild turkeys was spurred by seeing more than a dozen of them near Westport’s Nyala Farms.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” said Scarlett after examining fantails and a turkey foot.
“When I pulled up here on Wednesday, there were 18 of them in the parking lot, and I started joking that they should be in hiding,” said Tony McDowell.
When they want to, DeBone pointed out, they can hide very well.
Posted 12/01/13 at 01:44 AM Permalink