One of my friends, a world class birder, Jim McCarty (see his Plain Dealer, Thursday Inside and Out on birding) says that the new harbinger of Spring is the Killdeer. The robin has been usurped. World class birders from Cleveland echo this sentiment as Jeff Wert and Larry Rosche from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History state that the robin is often a permanent resident of the Buckeye State. It never leaves town. They state that the "killdeer, killdeer" sound of this recent prodigal to Cleveland is the new harbinger of Spring. My purpose here is not to refute these prestigious birders, but think of the sound of the killdeer. Please, it sounds like a plea, not a trumpet of the good things to come. Especially after a long winter here. And while the robin's sound is much sweeter, it is they that refute his claim to spring's preeminent position. I proudly submit a new hero of spring...the wild turkey.
The turkey's raucous gobble is a primordial call of sex, domination, power and freedom in the spring woods. If you have heard this powerful, throaty call in the spring, you are privy to one of the great sounds in wild America. To me, this is the real beginning of Spring. It is not a harbinger of spring as it is full spring by the time the first big birds begin a ritual of powehouse gobbling from the trees and forest floors. And although this call can be heard in the winter and other times of year, it is in the spring that it is at its most powerful and because, at least in Ohio, there is little foliage for the early part of the season, the call can be heard from miles. I submit this as my real spring. And it is about to begin.
Turkey season opens on April 21 this year. There is nothing quite like the early spring when small flowers and buds are sprouting, and the air is dark, damp and cool. And suddenly, you hear the ratchety sound of an old liimbhanger announcing to the world that he is awake and ready for love. The closest thing to it, might be the roar of a stag, the bugle of a big bull elk, or a wild wolf's howl. But those animals don;t live around here. The wild turkey is a denizen of the swamps and the deep forests at night where it goes to find a roost. During the day it can walk over 20 miles if necessary and will be found in open fields, along roadsides and woody paths. At night when he flies up, the big gobbler likes a big limbed swamp oak or maple, preferably hanging over water or over a deep piece of woods. When he comes flying down he heads where he needs to go. And prior to going he is emitting the powerhouse gobble that announces to the world, that he wants loving, that he is the boss and he is going to get it. Now that is spring.
Here in Ohio we are also blessed with fantastic steelhead spring fishing. It is on right now. Slip into the clear and fast running streams emanating from the green waters of Erie and there is a chance that in deep holes, gravel covered flats and small bends in the moving water, there will be a silver torpedo waiting for your egg pattern or nymph. Hook on. Hold on. Now that is spring. Don't bring me all that killdeer stuff.