Tag Archives: wild turkeys

Finding The Osceola Turkey

Sarasota, FL–-The swamps along the edge of Florida’s Myakka River are teeming with life.

From alligators to Seminole whitetail to mottled ducks, the wildlands just outside of Sarasota are rich in biodiversity.

The short, thin pines reminded me a bit of the habitat on the Upper Coast of Texas where I live, but it looked uniquely Florida. With scattered palms and thick palmetto, this place looked subtropical.

It would have been easy to get lost in the majesty of it all, but I was on a mission.

That mission was to get a photo of an Osceola turkey.

Turkey Revolution is a project I founded to raise awareness of turkey conservation. As turkeys go so do America’s forests.

This year I set out to get quality photos of the “Grand Slam” of turkeys which are the Rio Grande, eastern, Osceola and Merriam’s.

This was number three to scratch off the list as I had already gotten the Rio Grande and eastern but in my mind those made sense in terms of location.

I found the Rio Grande along a very remote roadway among many hundreds of thousands of undeveloped acres in the Texas Hill Country.

The eastern came from rolling hills and farmland new Auburn, NY in an area that any turkey hunter would mark as a prime location.

While Florida has plenty of forested lands, it also has many highways, subdivisions, businesses, and tourist destinations.

That made it feel a little off during the research process and the epic travel from Orange, TX.

Things changed once I found myself along the banks of the Myakka River. It felt wild although I was only three miles away from a subdivision.

It was an interesting dichotomy-tourist Florida vs. turkey Florida.

I had done many studies to end up in this location to find Osceola turkeys.

And since I am doing this all on my coin, I was low on time. I had from sunrise to noon to make something happen.

One particular area looked seriously promising, and within 30 minutes there I spied my prize.

A hen Osceola turkey gave the author a quirky look before getting back to feeding near the Myakka River.

A hen Osceola turkey gave me a curious look on the edge of a palmetto thicket and shortly after that followed another hen and a brood.

Two Osceola turkey hens escort a brood along the edge of Florida’s Myakka River.

They made their way into a clearing and fed down toward the edge of the river. It was great to see a brood because much of this habitat was thicker than I suspected it would be. Prime turkey habitat has relatively open forest. The suppression of natural fires has created enormous undergrowth, and that allows predators a better shot at turkeys and destroys some of the turkey’s best forage opportunities.

Something else that caught my attention was a great blue heron struggling to eats a plecostomus (think suckerfish in your aquarium) just past the feeding turkeys.

The author photographed this great blue heron doing its best to swallow a large plecostomus from a distance of 200 yards.

It was a picture of a  very determined bird trying to eat an exotic that has had an impact on this ecosystem at the aquatic level. Florida is full of land-dwelling exotics too from Burmese pythons to feral hogs and even monkeys. Add that to the pressures of human development in the Sunshine State, and I was concerned about this turkey’s status.

That is why I consulted David Nicholson, a biologist with the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) in Florida.

I inquired specifically about population trends.

“Unfortunately, there is not a reliable/accurate way to estimate wild
turkey populations at a large-scale and therefore the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) does not currently estimate wild turkey population size in Florida,” he said.

“Instead, the FWC utilizes spring turkey season harvest estimates from an annual mail survey as an index to population size.  These harvest estimates are either on a statewide scale or a regional scale, so, therefore, do not necessarily track harvest rates of the Eastern and Osceola subspecies separately in Florida.

Nicholson said that given this data is derived from mail surveys, and the harvest estimates are currently only available through the spring of 2018 and information is not yet available for 2019.

“In examining the spring turkey harvest estimates provided by FWC, it appears populations in Florida have been stable to slightly declining over the last decade depending on the region.”

Harvest data suggests the slight declines were observed more in Northern Florida coinciding more with the Eastern subspecies and harvest rates since that time have been more stable in Central & South Florida where the Osceola subspecies occurs.

Nicholson said research is being conducted to determine the cause.

“While no exact cause has been determined yet, it is likely due to many factors, which may be different for certain areas.  Factors likely include: decreasing habitat quality, changing land use, and land conversion (e.g., development), but may also include other factors we don’t fully understand yet, but active/planned research is looking into them.”

All of those factors seem entirely plausible, and the word “decline” has been omnipresent during this Turkey Revolution quest. Louisiana and New York have both seen significant declines, and now Florida seems to be on the down swing.

What is going on with turkeys and how widespread is the problem? That’s something we will be investigating heavily.

As both a wildlife journalist and a turkey hunter it is concerning.

This is not a situation of birds becoming threatened, but we could be seeing a trend that ends badly if exact reasons for decline are not determined.

I genuinely believe that as wild turkeys go America’s forests go with them. Poorly managed forests equal minimal turkey numbers. Highly managed forests see optimal turkey numbers.

And many other factors-some which we may not even understand yet are at play. I am glad they have dedicated people at the NWTF and in state fish and game agencies investigating this phenomenon.

And speak of a phenomenon I was able to get my fourth species of turkey this month-the Merriam’s but there is something very unique about it. I am getting the photograph examined to learn more.

You will see something on it here within the coming month and it is worth the wait.

Big things are happening with Turkey Revolution, and I believe we have just begun what may an epic journey.

Chester Moore, Jr.

Eastern Turkeys In New York!

Auburn, NY—Mention New York to virtually anyone who lives outside of the Northeast and it conjures images of skyscrapers, traffic jams and urban sprawl.

New York is of course not just a city but a state and much of that state contains beautiful forests, farmlands and mountain ranges, greatly contrasting the Big Apple.

The state is home to around 180,000 eastern wild turkeys and that is why I found myself hunkered down in a blind for the opening of the spring season.

The hunt was a success and I bagged a nice bird but the real mission of the trip was to capture a good photo of an eastern gobbler to help complete my quest to capture photos of the “Grand Slam” (Rio Grande, eastern, Merriam’s and Oceola) in 2019.

The aim is to raise awareness to turkey conservation triumphs and concerns.

It is my belief after much study that if we get turkey conservation right-especially in relation to their habitat America’s forest will be dramatically healthier and all wildlife in their range will benefit.

They are the proverbial canary in the coal mine and in my opinion the cornerstone species for forest conservation in the United States.

That is why I was so excited to get this photo of the big gobbler I took when it appeared in the field.

Me and my friend and NY resident/expert turkey caller/outdoor writer Lou Marullo hunted a farm near Cato, NY in an area with a good mixture of corn, beans and other crops and forests.

Score! The author got the second bird of his quest, this big eastern gobbler near Cato, NY.

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  after reaching their peak around 2001 (250,000 birds), wild turkey populations declined gradually over the next decade. This was followed by a more severe decline since 2009.

The decline in turkey numbers may be more pronounced in some areas. Reasons for this include cold wet spring weather, tough winters, and changes in habitat quantity and quality. In areas where open habitats such as agricultural fields, hayfields, old fields, thickets, and young forests have been lost due to development and vegetative succession, there are fewer turkeys. In areas with a larger proportion of “big woods” turkeys will persist, but at lower densities than areas with a mix of mature timber, early successional habitats, and agriculture.

According to DEC officials, predation may also be a factor due to the fact changes in habitat give predators like coyotes easier opportunities to get birds.

My view getting ready to land in Syracuse, NY. Notice the slivers of forests and huge amount of agricultural land. This is not optimum habitat and is a big reason turkey numbers have declined in the state.

New York turkey hunting regulations are adjusted to reflect population trends and hunter harvest is figured into management strategies and is considered to have minimal impact on long-term turkey populations.

Turkeys were hunted at their population rise and peak in the late 90s to early 2000s and are hunted and managed now.

At the end of the day habitat is the ultimate key and during this Turkey Revolution my eyes have been greatly opened to the scope of  issues facing turkey habitat.

In New York forests are continually being removed for farming and housing developments. And while turkeys can live with small sets of woods and big cropland, they need a good mixture of crops, mature forests and intermediate woodlands.

Developments do them no good.

The author points out a turkey track in a field near Auburn, NY.

A key to turkey conservation is getting landowners to see value in the birds.  Two of the tracts I visited and hunted on were kept as forests specifically for the purpose of hunting. Land in this state that is not seen as a value for hunting or otherwise for wildlife is eventually plowed or developed.

It’s that simple.

The eastern turkey is a truly amazing, wary creature and were what founding father Benjamin Franklin famously wanted to use as America’s icon.

They were the dinner for the first Thanksgiving and are a species we should monitor more to see where the health of forests in their range is going.

Groups l  ike the National Wild Turkey Federation and state fish and wildlife departments do a great job but they are limited. They need everyone to support efforts for turkeys.

The author finds a set of turkey tracks in Moravia, NY. The search for wild turkeys throughout America will continue with the goal of raising awareness to their conservation.

There is no concern of major decline in the near future but looking down the road it’s hard to imagine turkey habitat in states like New York not declining as human populations surge.

We need to make sure available habitat is maximized and managed properly.

Few are interested in a variety of threatened, endangered and declining animals in the eastern turkey’s range but due to the fact turkey hunters are passionate, these birds have a huge fan base who cares about their habitat.

And they spend millions of dollars on conservation.

Turkeys are important for the wild lands of America and I was honored and privileged to capture the second species in my Turkey Revolution question.

The search continues…

Chester Moore, Jr. 

 

 

Touching Hearts For Turkey Conservation

“Holy smokes! It’s a turkey!”

A 16-year-old girl wearing a retro Metallica shirt could not believe her eyes.

“I’ve never seen a turkey. He’s so big,” she said.

The young lady was referring to a hefty golden-breasted gobbler we had displayed at Eco-Fest at Shangri-La Botanical Gardens in Orange, TX. The tall, docile bird was strutting his stuff and drawing a crowd.

She was not the only one that was shocked to see a turkey.

Hundreds came by to see it and every one of them left hearing that wild turkeys are the epitome of a wildlife conservation success story.

They also learned East Texas is seeing a return of eastern turkeys due to the efforts of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the hunter-founded National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

Our Wild Wishes® program grants wildlife encounters to children with a terminal illness or loss of a parent or sibling. We are mentoring many of them to be conservation ambassadors.

Eleven-year-old Jaxon sat in with the big gobbler and told passers-by about wild turkeys and had lots of fun making turkey calls to incite gobbles.

And if that didn’t get them the baby turkeys did.

IMG_7177
Ana enjoyed showing Eco-Fest attendees the turkey poults.

We brought two newly hatch bronze-breasted poults and they absolutely blew away everyone who saw them.

“Their wild cousins will be born shortly out in the woods, deserts, swamps and mountains of America. If we want wild turkeys to thrive then we need to make their habitat healthy and do our best to restore them in areas where they are missing,” I told one gentleman.

I’m not saying he shed a tear when I let him pet one of the poults but he was definitely moved.

The wildlife conservation community needs to bring more people in if we want to secure the future for not only wild turkeys but hundreds of other species and their vanishing habitat.

And that will require moving the hearts of the public.

Legendary wildlife host and zoo director “Jungle” Jack Hannah once told me that you must move the heart before you change the mind when it comes to wildlife. He said this while telling kids from our Wild Wishes® program about the value of zoological facilities to conservation and giving props to excise taxes on sporting goods funding everything from game wardens to land acquisitions.

In my opinion, hunting-based conservation groups have done great work in the field but have missed in moving the heart.

I want to conserve turkeys because I grew up in a family that hunted for its food and dreamed of the day I would one day see wild turkeys in the field.

As a youngster there were virtually none in the Pineywoods where I grew up due to poaching, lack of natural fire and habitat loss. Now, groups like the NWTF are helping bring them back.

I first encountered a wild turkey on a day lease in Llano in the Texas Hill Country and since then have had deep reverence for America’s greatest game bird.

Many people left Eco-Fest thinking turkeys were amazing too and were armed with more information about the positive aspects of turkey conservation.

We need to reach a broader audience with a pro-conservation message in ways that people have never considered.

Bringing a big gobbler and some poults to a community event did that and having kids trained up to talk turkey (in Jaxon’s case literally) made people think.

IMG_7208
Jaxon had a great time getting his turkey “Tom” to gobble for the crowds.

Me and my wife Lisa have dedicated our life to helping hurting children and training them to be wildlife conservationists. We believe these kids are not the next generation of conservationists.

They are the NOW generation.

We have just begun this Turkey Revolution and will unveil many more projects spearheaded by these wonderful young people for not only turkeys but many species.

Chester Moore, Jr.

 

 

 

A Turkey Revolution Has Begun!

A society can only value what it understands.

And with wildlife, understanding is only the beginning. People must find a way to appreciate wild animals enough to care whether or not they exist.

Throughout decades of research, time spent in the field from Canada to California to seemingly every corner of my home state of Texas, I have come to a conclusion.

No creature in North America is linked more to healthy forests than the wild turkey. And no creature has the potential to captivate people in all corners of the nation than these great birds.

The author was busted by this big gobbler as he tried to sneak up near a tree on his belly. These free-ranging birds on a ranch didn’t know if they were tame, wild or in between but this one showed no fear. Good thing the author’s wife Lisa was set up in an elevated position just a few yards away and caught this photo.

Whether they are the striking Rio Grandes in the Texas Hill Country, Eastern turkeys in the big woods of the Northeast, Oceloas in Florida’s swamps, Merriam’s in mountain forests of the West or Gould’s in the high deserts, turkeys desperately need healthy habitat.

All animals do of course but some have done a much better of adapting to mans’ meddling of forest management, invasive exotics and urban sprawl.

And while there are urban centers where turkeys have adjusted, for the most part unlike whitetail deer and coyotes, turkeys need primo habitat to thrive.

If we can make the woods better for turkeys, it will be better for deer and the threatened Louisiana pine snake and the gopher tortoise and a host of other native wildlife desperately needing healthy ecosystems.

The National Wild Turkey Federation and various state fish and game departments have done an incredible job of turkey restoration and enhancement but they need the public’s help.

I have begun a quest to capture quality photographs of Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Eastern and Oceola in 2019.

Hunters call this quest the Grand Slam and while I will be taking a hunt or two this year, this quest is to document with a camera these great birds and to log everything discovered along the way.

I live a stone’s throw from Louisiana and a friend recently sent photos of eastern turkeys near their home.

Photos submitted by Maris Martinez inspired the author to look at Louisiana’s turkey population.

This inspired me to look more at Louisiana’s turkey population.

As of now it sits at 60,000 but that is down from a historic high of as many as 1,000,000 birds.

What happened?

Digging into these types of stories is what this is all about it. I’m calling it the Turkey Revolution and it will encompass years of research, reaching out to the public via many media platforms and searching out stories in the field.

If you have an interesting observation on wild turkeys, perhaps see a rare color phase bird or have anything related to them to share email me at chester@chestermoore.com.

Founding father Benjamin Franklin famously opined that the wild turkey would make a better representative of America than the bald eagle.

After all eagles are scavengers he said!

While I can’t see an image of the gobbling turkey intimidating America’s enemies, I can see the story of these great birds move the hearts of the public toward wanting healthier forests and more abundant wildlife of all types.

Putting a gobbler on a flag might have been a terrible way to cap the Revolutionary War but for a Turkey Revolution that might actually be pretty cool.

Chester Moore, Jr.