Hugh is an exceptional mimic, so when we heard wild turkeys in the scrub ahead of us, I asked him if he thought he could mimic that call. He’s an ace at Donald Duck. How tough can a wild turkey be by comparison?
(I realize it’s a slippery slope from, “hey, can you make that sound?” to a guest shot on Letterman — bird-calling in baggy overalls. For the record, I’ve never asked him to do a bird call before. I’m not sure what overcame me.)
Some tom turkeys were engaged in a call-and-answer with a Red-tailed Hawk soaring above. Every time the Red-tail screamed, the toms gobbled. It’s a gobble sometimes referred to in sport as a “shock gobble” — when turkeys respond to other bird calls — like owls, hawks.
The hawk itself was spectacular — a real Hollywood hawk, broadcasting across his domain. You know how movie scenes depicting wilderness desolation are always punctuated by the scream of a Red-tailed Hawk? This hawk was a shoe-in for that role. Flying Red-tails are not always as talkative as this one was. He was in full cinematic mode, swooping out over the gully and screaming his hawkish head off.
The hawk was way above us in the thermals by the time I snapped a shot. So — within the limits of my 70-300 lens — here’s our Hollywood Hawk.
As the Red-tail screamed, the toms gobbled. Hugh joked that a gobble sounds a lot like “trouble, trouble, trouble.” Hawk overhead? Trouble, trouble, trouble. Photographer at 3 o’clock? Trouble, trouble, trouble. So, from that audio starting point, he honed his turkey impersonation into a reasonable facsimile . . . even if the greenest turkey wouldn’t be fooled.
I have to say here that I don’t use calls of any kind to draw animals in for photography. I was just toying with Hugh’s ability to counterfeit sound. I’m conservative when it comes to disrupting an ecosystem. I’m too conditioned now to avoid actions that could (over time) habituate or harm wild animals. So, that’s my personal rule. I won’t betray the circle of trust.
As we approached the bluff, the gobbles and clucks morphed into visions of real turkeys: two separate flocks, meandering through the tall grass and foraging in mounds of California Brome and wildrye. As we got closer to the turkeys, an alert tom uttered some warning calls. He didn’t like me and he didn’t like my camera. In response to the heads-up, a big flock trotted across our trail and into the protective scrub on the other side. They did their best to hunker down and avoid us altogether. But a few brave turkeys, deeming us harmless, allowed me some quick captures before they, too, blended in with the sage and chaparral.
The Photos: All of these were taken with our Olympus E-520 and Zuiko 70-300mm lens. The E-520 is a basic, lightweight dSLR that’s super easy to travel on hikes. The 70-300mm isn’t a pro-caliber lens, but it’s what I use for most of my wildlife shooting. It gets the best results when I can fill the frame with my subject. But it often pleasantly surprises on other shots, too.