Deer Jousting and Turkeys Mating Today, 03-12-19

I went out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and got there around 8:00 am. I was joined there by fellow volunteer trail-walker, Mary M. (The-Other-Mary), and we walked for a little over 3 hours. It was a very interesting walk!

Very early into the walk, we came across a Red-Shouldered Hawk who then joined another one… flew into a nearby tree and did their mating thing right in front of us. Around that same area, I could see a European Starling flitting and hopping through the branches of another tree with a large feather in its beak. It was a gift intended for a female Starling, but the male fumbled with the feather, it fell out of his beak and floated to the ground. D’oh! I kind of felt sorry for the little guy. He was trying so hard to make a big impression and failed epically.

The Wild Turkeys gave us a lot of photos ops today, too. We saw two leucistic turkeys, one a male and the other a female. I’d seen a couple of the females around before, but I had never seen the male until today.  Leucistic animals have a depletion of melanin that washes out most of their coloring, but they’re not pure white like albinos.  On the female turkey, her leucism made her look black and white; but on the male it made him look blond, light brown and white. I thought they were both soooo interesting looking. I took a lot of photos of them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

While The-Other-Mary and I were watching one small flock of turkeys, we saw another group running across the lawns straight toward them… and then we saw the coyote running right on their heals! He jumped at a few of them but couldn’t catch any of them. and while this is all going on The-Other-Mary and I are trying to get our cameras to focus on the coyote and follow the action. It was my turn for an epic fail; I didn’t get a single image of the coyote. Dang it!

In another area, we’d stopped to watch some of the male turkeys strutting for a handful of females… and then one of the females approached a male, did a circle dance with him, and eventually let him mount her. The-Other-Mary and I are snapping photos as some other people walked up to see what was going on.  So, I got the chance to do my naturalist thing… I identified the males and females for them, told them about how the males strut, about their snoods, and about what attracts a female to the male. When the female turkey bowed down to the ground, I told them about her posture, how the male will “tread” on her, and how, if she’s aroused, she’ll raise her tail for the male… And while I’m talking, the birds are performing as though on queue.  We actually got to see two matings while we were there. During the second one, an Asian lady came up (who didn’t speak much English) and asked if we could take her photo with the birds in the background.  The-Other-Mary obliged her, but it was right when the male mounted the female, so this poor lady now has a photo of herself with turkeys doing the nasty behind her… It will probably turn into internet gold. Hah!

Further along the trail, we came across a pair of Canada Geese in the tree tops.  I’m not certain, but I think with was the same mama and offspring I’d seen a couple of weeks ago. It looks like the younger one can’t fly very well; only in short bursts.  So, they travel from tree-to-tree, then go down to the river, then go back tree-to-tree into the preserve or onto the lawns.

The other cool thing we got to see was a herd of about 15 or 20 Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, including some bucks that still have their antlers. The big 5-pointer was out there, and he started jousting with another older buck. At one point, when they “locked horns” the younger one pushed hard enough to force the older down to the ground. The older one recovered quickly, but he really had to push back HARD to get himself onto all four feet again.

When we were done with the walk, we went into the nature center to record our hours (we get volunteer hour credit for each hour we’re on the trail), and I got to meet Tova, the gal who oversees The Acorn publication. She thanked me for the article I’d written and sent to her on Red-Shouldered Hawks and appreciated that I was able to include photos I’d taken right there at Effie Yeaw. It’s always nice to put a face to a name…

As The-Other-Mary and I left the building, I had to stop to watch one of their snakes (on display) devouring a mouse. The-Other-Mary didn’t want to see that; and I thought that was funny because she’s ex-military and an avid hunter. Hah! So, we left before the snake finished its meal.

The-Other-Mary was very excited about the walk and said it was “one for the books”. We’re hoping to be able to meet up again soon.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronate ssp. auduboni
4. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
5. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
6. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
7. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
8. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
9. Golden-Crowned Sparrow,Zonotrichia atricapilla
10. Gopher Snake, Pacific Gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer
11. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
13. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
14. Red Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
15. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
16. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
17. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
18. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
19. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

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Mary K. Hanson is an author, nature photographer and Certified California Naturalist living with terminal cancer.