Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Everyone loves an early morning encounter with a fired up spring gobbler. But once the episode concludes, have you ever wondered how many times you actually heard the bird gobble? Sure, all of us have asked that question at one time or another. Did the bird gobble 50 times? Or was it maybe 150? Well, this morning I took the opportunity to answer that question by literally counting gobbles. What I discovered was more than a little bit amazing — at least to me.
5 am: When the morning began the weather was clear, calm and cool. When I arrived at the woods, two widely separated toms were already sounding off from the roost. Although daylight was coming on fast, a curtain of unfurling oak leaves allowed me to pop my blind within about 40 yards of the closest bird. By now both turkeys were going nuts; enthusiastically responding to each others calls with double and triple gobbles. The noise was incredible.
At 5:28, both birds exited their roosts and flew to the ground. Better yet, both came to hurrying to the call and were soon standing at ten yards. After strutting for awhile, one of the birds headed for greener pastures. The second, however, stayed around — never venturing for more than 50 or 60 yards before returning to my location. Remarkably, the strutting tom was still around and sounding off at 7 o’clock — I timed him on my watch; still going at the rate of 6 to 7 gobbles per minute. At 7:18, he finally shut down and walked away — probably to go look for some throat lozenges.
Time to do the Math: Discounting the high intensity double and triple gobbles heard at daybreak, I used the lower average of 6.5 gobbles per minute X 120 minutes to calculate a grand total of 780 gobbles for the bird that hung around. Considering that I “threw away” a ton of early gobbling and shaved off several minutes; I’d say the estimate is fairly conservative. But regardless of what the actual count may have been, one thing is certain. That loud mouthed gobbler was the kind of bird that makes rolling out of bed at 4 o’clock in the morning well worth the effort — and then some.
Born in North Central Iowa, Lowell Washburn has enjoyed a lifelong interest in the out of doors. He began photographing wild birds at age 10, and outdoor photography soon became his passion and eventually a career. Washburn is best known for images that portray migratory waterfowl and other wetland wildlife in their natural habitats. His best photographs are often obtained after spending hours floating amid natural marshlands, half submerged within the dark confines of a floating muskrat house blind.
Upon completing military service as a sergeant with the Fourth Infantry Division in the central highlands of South Vietnam, Washburn returned to Iowa in 1970. His wildlife photos began appearing in Iowa newspapers in 1971 and he began authoring outdoor news columns in 1978. Today, his photos and writing have appeared in over 50 national and international magazines including Outdoor Life, International Wildlife, Field&Stream, Ducks Unlimited, Pointing Dog Journal, the NAFA Journal, and others.
After working as a naturalist for Iowa’s county conservation board system, Washburn was recruited by the Department of Natural Resources in 1984. His primary duties included statewide communication with Iowa newspaper, television, and radio news agencies with a primary goal of increasing the level of public awareness and appreciation for Iowa's natural resources. During his tenure he also served as staff member for the Iowa Conservationist Magazine and for the DNR’s Iowa Outdoors Magazine. Washburn retired from the DNR in 2010.
In addition to wildlife photography, his ongoing outdoor passions include falconry, traditional bow hunting, waterfowling, spending time with hunting dogs of all types, and herpetology.