December 11th – After the Shooting

The sun was just going down when I got there. In the west, a streak of orange with platinum darkening to gray the higher in the sky you looked. From the Indiana Trail, the pines were silhouetted above the River. And it was quiet, except for the wind soughing in the bare branches. Gone were the machine gun bursts of a few days ago and the hustle and bustle of the diversion industry. The park was returning to its roots.

I hooked into the River Trail and then reached the beginning of the Fox Den Trail (you have to keep going past the sign with the arrow that says “Trail” that runs you up beside the Thompson Cemetery). The Fox Den Trail was started a number of years ago by the Burlington Chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women, who had the foresight to make me the one and only male honourary member in the country (thus assaulting the pink ceiling that men run into in trying to access these prestigious groups). Since that time, the trail has not been kept up or utilized – which is a shame since, in my opinion, it is the prettiest and, during migration, has the best variety of birds of any of the trails. Fortunately, Anne Klaus, who started volunteering at the banding lab this Fall has agreed to “take it on” and has been out marking it and clearing the overgrown sections. By next Spring it will be in good shape.

I followed it along the River and, just where it cut inland, I began to hear the alarm calls of Wild Turkeys. These very large birds spend the night roosting high off the ground in trees and a flock was just settling down for the night. As I approached, at least 23 of them took off from their high perches. It’s always a wonder to me to watch them negotiate the flight through the branches. I would describe their flight as “lumbering”. If smaller passerines were “fighter planes”, in terms of their manouverability, then turkeys would be Lancaster Bombers. Still, all of them cleared out without crashing into anything…..miraculously, to me.

Wild Turkeys had been extirpated in Ontario by the early 1900’s due to hunting pressure and habitat loss. However, in 1984, 74 wild birds from Michigan and Missouri were reintroduced into southern Ontario. [I well remembered when this happened as it was a bit of a media event at the time. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources “traded” a few moose to Michigan (which was trying to reintroduce them into that state) for the Wild Turkeys. I thought we got the best of the deal.] They then “exploded” – it was noted in the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas for 2001-2005 that they were found in 477 atlas squares (a square is a 10 km block). Although they break up into small groups starting in April to breed, they form larger foraging flocks in the Fall and Winter. (On Ruthven property just across the highway, I once saw a group of 78 foraging in a harvested corn field.)

The diet of Wild Turkeys includes acorns, berries and fruits, tree/shrub seeds, seeds of grasses and sedges, beetles, other insects, snails and salamanders. All of these, with the possible exception of salamanders, are found in abundance at Ruthven. (I sometimes wonder if these birds, foraging in such large numbers, might have a detrimental effect on salamanders and, possibly, young snakes.)

After watching them take off into the growing dark, I headed on up the trail as I had “promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep”. And as I proceeded on, I mused on the possiblity that these were the same birds that the firing machine guns had hastened past the Gingerbread House just a few days ago…..


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