Picture walks: Wild turkeys

By Jeanne Church

Growing up in a densely populated suburb on the east side of the state, the only turkeys I ever saw were either in books or on the dining room table for Thanksgiving dinner! I now live in a condominium complex that’s surrounded by woods, water, and open fields; the perfect environment for a small flock of wild turkeys who now call our neighborhood home! Every time I see them strutting across the yard, or hear them gobbling on the far side of the creek, I have to smile. They’re such a novelty to me!

Wild turkeys are big, beautiful birds with a lot of weird body parts, like caruncles and snoods! Caruncles (pronounced ker-uncles) are all those fleshy little bumps covering their featherless heads and necks. The name itself is as weird as the bumps! Both male and female turkeys have caruncles, but sexually mature males have larger, more colorful ones which, during the mating season, are quite attractive to the females.

The snood is a fleshy appendage that hangs over the turkey’s beak. Both male and female turkeys have snoods, but only the male snood enlarges as it fills up with blood and turns red when he is trying to attract a mate. The longer the snood, the more desirable the male! Wild turkeys also have wattles, a flap of red skin that hangs down from their chin rather than over the beak like the snood. Males with large wattles have a much better chance of attracting a mate than their short-wattled brothers!

Turkeys also have what’s called a beard, but it’s not on their chin and it doesn’t really look much like a beard! It’s just a bunch of long, thin feathers growing out of their chest! All male turkeys have beards. The older they are the longer the beard. A small percentage of female turkeys also have beards, but scientists have no idea why.

Another prominent feature of the wild turkey is its beautiful and abundant plumage. Surprisingly, these birds can have anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 feathers! During the spring mating season, male turkeys will fluff up their copper-colored, iridescent feathers, fan out their magnificent tail feathers, and drag their wings along the ground in an attempt to advertise how big and beautiful and available they are!

Wild turkeys are huge! Adult males, called “toms,” can weigh as much as 25 pounds, which makes them the second heaviest North American bird after the trumpeter swan. Female turkeys, the “hens,” are about half that size. Despite their somewhat unwieldy appearance and their reputation for being ground dwellers, wild turkeys are powerful fliers and fast runners, albeit for very short distances! They usually run or take flight when startled or threatened and can reach a top speed of 25 mph on the ground or 55 mph in the air! To avoid predators, wild turkeys will fly up to the nearest tree. They also take shelter in the trees overnight. When evening comes, wild turkeys like to find a comfortable place to roost about 30 feet off the ground in the largest tree they can find.

In the morning, those roosting turkeys will return to the ground and start searching for food. Wild turkeys have been aptly described as “opportunistic omnivores” meaning they will readily eat whatever they can find whether it’s a plant or an animal! In the spring, they look for fresh buds, seeds, grains, grasses, and spilled birdseed under feeders. In the summer, they’ll add insects, berries, and small reptiles! Once the cooler weather sets in, the bulk of their diet will consist of nuts, fruits, and grains, with a particular preference for acorns!

Wild turkeys are not common backyard birds, but many birders who live near wooded areas and open fields, like I do, might find them foraging nearby or under their feeders. If you don’t live in this kind of setting, but want to find a flock of wild turkeys, it’s best to start out early in the morning or early in the evening when the turkeys are usually scavenging for food. The best place to look for them is in an open farm field or near a wooded lot that has an abundance of acorns!

Enjoy your search!

On the road again: Fayette State Park

The village viewed from afar in the early morning.

By Steve Ellis

Every summer, I plan a trip up north with a group of old high school friends. A couple summers ago, we packed the four of us, along with four bikes, two tents, sleeping bags, stove, food, fishing gear and just about anything else we thought we might need, into a too-small vehicle and headed to Fayette State Park. The park is in the U.P, about one hundred miles west of the Mackinaw Bridge.

Fayette State Park is in what was once the town of Fayette, a booming mining town in the late 1800’s that included hundreds of residents and dozens of buildings. It fell on hard times as the mines dried up and most people moved away. The buildings sat empty, and it became a ghost town.

In 1959, the State of Michigan purchased the land and began turning it into a state park and restored many of the old buildings. The restoration work continues today.

We followed U.S. 2 west along the northern shore of Lake Michigan through St Ignace, Naubinway, Hog Island Point and Manistique. At Manistique, we drove south on 435 (Little Harbor Road) into the Garden Peninsula. This is a very pretty, meandering road that ends in Garden–a small town with a gas station, grocery store and a couple bar/restaurants. The park is another 8 miles south on 183. This peninsula runs down the right side of Big Bay De Noc. We quickly found that this is a very popular salmon fishing area with tournaments almost every weekend. In fact, we were told that this was once voted by USA Today one of the top 10 fishing spots in the country.

Due to the remoteness of Fayette State Park, it is not overwhelmed with campers or visitors and rarely fills up. This was fine with us.

The park is located at the tip of a peninsula and has a large bay with rock cliffs on the northern side, making it very conducive for larger boats to dock and spend the night.

Camping was quite peaceful with a short walk through the woods to Lake Michigan. The shore is covered with large flat rocks but at the far end of the park is a nice, sandy beach.

Up above the beach is a gorgeous old cemetery on a bluff overlooking the lake. Many of the headstones are from the late 1800’s.

We walked and rode our bikes around the old buildings and the 7 miles of trails. No cars, stores or houses were nearby and unlike Greenfield Village, where you are tripping over people at every turn, we had the place almost to ourselves. It gave us a real sense of what it may have been like to live in a remote village, 130 years ago.

One of the highlights of our trip was getting up at 6:30 one morning and riding bikes to the top of a cliff, overlooking the village. We ran into Paul Rose, who lived nearby, who woke up and had the same idea.

He explained that he had moved to the area from southern Michigan several years ago and never left. He is a photographer and has spent years photographing this beautiful area.

We stood watching as the sun came up over the back of the peninsula, slowly lighting each building down below. Paul pointed at small details that we would not have noticed on our own.

We spent a few afternoons driving around Manistique, Gladstone, Escanaba and other nearby towns. At night we returned to Fayette and twice had dinner at Sherry’s Port Bar, a cozy little place near the park that was built back in the 1950’s in the shape of a lighthouse. They have a very tasty fish fry and offer conversations with life-long residents who know everyone and everything about the area.

Overall, this was a very relaxing trip that I would recommend to anyone, young or old.

Watching a rainy day parade

By Audrey Seilheimer 

It was a slow, overcast cloud front that moved in grey billows across the Village of Vicksburg as people began lining up for the 5 p.m. Homecoming Parade October 6.  A slow drizzle did not deter anyone. Viewers stood under awnings and overhangs along storefronts of village businesses. 

Each table in front of Jaspare’s and other places in the social district was filled as people sat under umbrellas and canopies, sipping Oktoberfest beer from the Distant Whistle and other drinks from nearby establishments. Some folks wore winter coats. Some were still wearing shorts! 

Dustin, Olivia and Stella Jennings came down to see the parade, even though they had no students in the procession. “Vicksburg is such a nice place for our family to enjoy things like this. All of the community events are happy. We both feel fortunate to be here and we’re raising our family here. It’s just a really good fit for us because of how friendly, inclusive and positive the community is, but it’s not far from things near the city,” Mrs. Jennings said. “It’s got its own vibe.”

My son, a fifth grader, ran off with a couple of his school friends to the other side of the street because “that’s where the most candy will be given out,” one friend had advised him. His buddy came prepared with a plastic bag, and my son pulled out his deep sweatshirt pockets to show he had a place to stash the anticipated sugary loot. This was his first homecoming parade, so he wasn’t sure what to expect.

The Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce president, Nick DeVito, owner of Nick’s Barbershop a few doors down, had dressed and placed a life-sized Ninja Turtle as a Bulldog football player outside his shop. Another tiny parade-goer spotted it and was overcome with excitement; he had a similar action figure in his hands. “This Ninja Turtle traveled across the county to be here in Vicksburg!” Nick explained as he generously moved it for the child to get a fist bump and a closer look. 

At 5, we heard the marching band as it rounded the corner and turned onto Main Street.

Following the band and color guard, floats from each of the Vicksburg High School classes came down the street. Freshman through senior classes competed by decorating four wheelers or golf carts, expressing this year’s homecoming theme: Fast Food Chains. Then cars and trucks passed by, holding homecoming court couples, waving from under umbrellas at parade-goers. 

Each age group of the Vicksburg Rocket Football Program was represented, along with other sports such as the volleyball team and cheerleaders of every age. Local companies and businesses sponsored large trucks which towed football themed floats featuring different professional teams, including the Detroit Lions, with a giant, plush stuffed lion gracing the top of one of the vehicles. 

A fire engine from South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority’s fleet sounded its horn, making everyone jump back and applaud.

You could really feel the homecoming spirit and smalltown pride under the umbrellas on a damp Friday night in October.