Fiddleheads, Turkeys and Springtime Mystique

Fiddleheads and turkeys are today’s topics, plus potential peripheral musings that can always develop.

It’s that time of year, I guess, when nature’s magic pokes through the forest floor overnight in bright green color, or maybe furtively peeks from behind a large, stately shagbark hickory anchored atop the edge of an escarpment, below which a bulbous Paleo lake once lay as a Lake-Hitchcock-drainage puddle.

Let’s start with fiddleheads. I have been monitoring a patch for some weeks and was thus stunned when stems shot to the heavens six inches or more overnight after just the previous day displaying only an inch-high, tightly clenched, scaly brown fist protruding from the forested wetland floor. There were many other tall ostrich ferns nearby, all of them first appearing like dense little brown periscopes camouflaged among dead fallen leaves two weeks ago, following a soaking midnight rain. And there they sat for two largely uneventful weeks, monitored daily and showing little progress until Monday morning, when, likely inspired by hot daytime temperatures and summer-like nights under a bright Full Corn-Panting Moon, they shot up like curlicue-capped stilts, growing an unbelievable six or more inches in 24 short hours. Ah, for the wonders of nature and springtime fertility.

It’s funny. A week earlier, an old friend and fiddlehead picker I’ve on occasion joined for the spring ritual phoned to inform me he’d picked his first batch not a mile upstream from the ones he knew I monitor. “We didn’t go all-out because I still have a lot of frozen fiddleheads and fiddlehead soup piled in my freezer,” he reported. “But I thought I’d warn you that they’re out, and that someone had already beaten me to mine. I don’t know what’s happening in your spot, but you better watch them. It’s going to happen fast.”

No truer words have ever been spoken, because fast indeed it did happen when they finally popped this week. Overnight, in fact, with a light touch of Mother Nature’s wand. If I get around to it, I’ll pick a plastic-bagful and go through the labor-intensive cleaning process in the sink before placing them into a hot cast-iron skillet and aggressively stir-frying before tipping down the heat and sautéing them in olive oil to the desired tenderness. When done to perfection, just a dab of butter and a dash of salt and pepper to please my pallet and nourish my body with wild greens, all natural, no preservatives or pesticides. Fiddleheads are fine for those trendy Paleo diets so many health nuts have wandered to these days, and they complement that diet’s wild game just fine.

As for wild turkeys, well, although I still haven’t seen any in my neighborhood, word has it that someone else has, right were I’m accustomed to seeing them. Maybe they’re there early and late in the day when I’m away, because they are not there midmorning to late afternoon.

If I had time or wanted to run on fumes coming down the stretch on work nights, I’d gather my gear and climb a familiar trail up to a large red pine tree inside an old stonewall where I have shot many toms. I’d set up comfortably at the base of that tree before first light and wait for the sky to light up with the sound of throaty roost-top gobbles piercing the gray, twinkling twilight air.

Without hesitation I’d sacrifice sleep and punish my body to set my grandson up for his first kill. But the kid’s young yet. His day will come. I can’t wait to watch him light up like I once did to the sights and sounds of turkey hunting, which, if it doesn’t get your blood boiling, you had better get your pulse checked.

I can’t say I don’t think about turkey hunting when the season begins. These days, during my self-imposed respite from an invigorating, challenging spring activity I genuinely enjoy, I’m still learning about turkeys’ springtime routines and habits. To be honest, when hunting the birds and calling them to my customized shotgun, I didn’t fully understand what was happening in the turkey world. All I knew was that I’d get them going early off the roost, hear the fly-down, and call them in by simulating the yelps, clucks and purrs of amorous hen turkeys as frantic gobbles approached my stand, momentum building. My assumption was that the nesting and hatching occurred after the season, which, from talking to my professorial Maine brother-in-law and state Turkey Project Leader David Scarpitti, I recently discovered was not quite so. The fact is that increased daylight triggers breeding activity as early as March in these parts, and many turkeys are now already into their nesting mode and unreceptive to gobblers’ advances.

By late May, some broods are indeed already on the ground, while some unfortunate hens have lost a nest or two to skunks, raccoons, bobcats, opossums or other predators and egg-eaters that contribute to a woeful 70- to 80-percent mortality rate. The renesting that results provides eligible gobblers with additional spring mates in addition to others that become receptive to late breeding due to biological and physiological factors. For instance, yearling hens that survive from second and third nests and then winter, develop late and can provide last-ditch mates for aggressive males that are always searching when without.

From what I have gathered of late, once a hen is bred by a gobbler, an internal string of up to a dozen eggs will form in decreasing size from back to front. Hens lay an egg a day until they’re all in the nest, covering their clutches with brush when they leave the nest briefly to feed and patrol. The eggs laid early lay dormant in delayed development until all the eggs are assembled. Then the gestation period begins and lasts 25 to 31 days, at which time the whole nest hatches en masse. Heavy spring rains are murderous to hatchlings, which die of pneumonia from cold saturation, again stimulating rebreeding and renesting by hens that provide more mates for gobblers and opportunities for diligent, late-season hunters seeking a late kill.

So, fellas, take it to the bank: With more than two weeks remaining in the annual four-week season, there’s still plenty of time to bag a nice gobbler, even for hunters who prefer bankers’ hours. Not me. It’s first light or nothing in my world, and I know when the time is right that my grandsons will rise and shine in darkness with eager smiles.

Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mad Meg theme designed by BrokenCrust for WordPress © | Top