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New Jersey wild turkeys: a Thanksgiving delight 

Four wild turkeys were among a gang of eight visiting a wooded area of Monmouth County on Monday.I was pulling into the driveway of our art director's Monmouth County studio yesterday when I saw a cluster of huge birds crossing the road.


“Turkeys!” I shouted with excitement as I parked haphazardly, grabbed my camera and ran  into the woods after them. They did not look exactly like the fancier wild turkeys I used to see behind my house when I lived in a wooded area of Pennsylvania, and I was not sure if they were turkeys or turkey vultures (an image search would later solve that). Either way, I knew I had to get shots of them.


I found the birds, eight of them, feasting amid the fallen leaves. I followed them quietly and cautiously, using a zoom lens to get my shots. As this gang of birds roamed from place to place looking for the choicest fall eats, I inched closer and closer. At one point I was standing as still as I possibly could while taking photos, and they were near enough that I could have reached out and grabbed one.


I thought, maybe the presence of turkeys at this time of year was why the pilgrims were said to have feasted on turkey. Then I began to ponder how I would have no idea how to go through the processes that would be required to get a living turkey from the woods to oven-ready. The thought made me thankful for present-day Thanksgiving where others relieve us of such thoughts when they prepare turkeys to be seasoned, stuffed and roasted.


Who could harm a bird with such beautiful plumage, so lush and intricately patterned? I could not imagine hunting them, and I pushed back guilty visions of one plucked and cooked as the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. These probably weren't Thanksgiving-type turkeys, anyway, I rationalized. And they'd probably taste gamey.


A wild turkey moves in close to eye me suspiciously but without fear.Their faces and long, graceful necks were disturbed by numerous pink globular growths. In my image searches online, their long necks would differentiate them from the apparently no-neck turkey vulture.


As I admired the unusual elegance of these birds, they came closer, and that actually made my heart sing. “Oh, hello!” I said to them quietly as I continued to take close-range pictures. Then they started to make turkey sounds, and the experience was heightened.


Years ago, I was in the chamber where lions were kept at the Philadlphia Zoo. While I was walking through, one lion began to roar. It was a powerful, awe-inspiring noise that no recording could ever capture. Within that room, the sound reverberated. I felt so fortunate to have been there at that moment. I had been to many zoos and seen lions in most of them. But to hear one speak made a rare and unforgetable moment.


I have mixed feelings about animals in capacity (especially when I recall from the same Philly Zoo visit the madrill who was pacing around his room and glaring at those who observed him through a window. There was what could only be characterized as rage in its colorful, expressive face that seemed so close to human.)


But in the woods, with a camera, there were no ethical issues to contemplate. I was so happy to have spent time seeing and hearing these turkeys in this week of Thanksgiving. Their presence was another small joy to be thankful for.



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