Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
By Lowell Washburn – By the time July rolls around, I’m not usually
spending very much time in the timber –way too much heat and way too much
humidity for my liking. But North Iowa’s crack of dawn temperatures have
been amazingly tolerable this week. Heading out well before dawn this
morning, I decided to try and find one last gobbler before the woodlands resume
their usual sweat lodge persona. I didn’t take a blind or decoy — just camera,
face mask, and call. And although I had completely struck out while
making similar attempts yesterday morning, today took a happy upturn. I
had a gobbler going pretty good by first light. I settled back against a
tree and when daylight finally began in earnest, I turned the camera
settings as high as they would go. If anything was going to happen, I
decided that a grainy photo would be better than no photo at all.
When it got to be about half light, I detected some rapid movement in the thick
forest ground cover. I caught a glimpse of orange, and figured I’d
spotted a feral tom cat hustling through the cover. But then the quick flash of a thick,
white tipped tail noted my
by. By the time I got my call into action, the fox had disappeared.
But within seconds of emitting a series of soft hen helps, here he came again
— this time at a dead run for my position. At a distance of around 12
yards, the fox suddenly hit the brakes and stopped to stare directly
into my lens. I soon realized that he wasn’t really looking at me, but
was instead intensely focused on pinpointing the hen [Fresh poults for
breakfast?]. In order to take maximum advantage of the low light, I had
already pared my optics down to a mere 135 mm focal length. Nevertheless,
I chain fired a burst of three shots and hoped for the best. At the sound
of the shutter, the fox turned inside out and disappeared into the foliage —
this time for good.
When sunrise finally arrived, the ascending rays of soft light set the woods
ablaze, and a brief minute or two nearby the trunks glowed with a rich orange
color. Still in the tree, the gobbler continued answering the call and at
long last came off the roost. Although the gobbler did go into full strut
a time or two, I could tell that his heart wasn’t in it. He completely
quit gobbling a few minutes later, and I soon lost track of his
whereabouts. Pretty soon, I spotted a doe. She was traveling alone.
A few minutes later, I saw another doe with a fawn. When they got close,
I took a shot. Both deer heard the camera and went on alert. After
a long stare down, the doe finally relaxed and the pair moved on.
Squirrels began to move through the trees and a few of them came close.
Suddenly, the shadow of a large bird moved across the overhead canopy. In
an admirable attempt to become invisible, the squirrels immediately
froze. Red-tailed hawk, I thought to myself. Wrong again; the
shadow turned out to be that of a passing crow. Apparently I wasn’t the
only one in the forest who could misidentify wildlife. But when you’re as
far down on the food chain as a gray squirrel, I’m sure it’s much better to be
safe than sorry. The squirrels became active again and continued with
whatever they had planned for the morning — assuming, of course, that gray
squirrels think ahead to what they’ll be doing two or three hours from
now. Later, I saw two turkey hens [no poults]and a variety of smaller
woodland birds — including a red-eyed vireo gathering nesting material.
One of the turkeys charged a nearby squirrel, apparently just for the thrill of
making it run up a tree.
When I got to the truck, the sun was well above the treeline and temperatures
were already getting ugly. OK by me, I guess. I’d already had a
spectacular morning in the out-of-doors and would leave the heat of the day to
those “normal” people to claim to enjoy it. As for me, today’s
early morning adventure had provided an incredible visual commentary of how
forest plants, birds, and mammals constantly interact in amazingly
complexity. Thank God for the Iowa woodlands. May we all treat the
forest and its creatures with the respect they deserve.