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An explosion of wild turkeys and other surprises along the Henrys Fork

Living the Wild Life

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An explosion next to my pickup window startled me as I was slip-sliding along a Fremont County road near the lower portion of the Henrys Fork of the Snake River, east of St. Anthony. Two wild turkeys had been hidden while feeding on hawthorn berries next to the road and decided that I was way too close.

“Where there are two, there may be another 50,“ I thought as I got my camera ready and started driving a little slower – watching closer into the thick brush. About a hundred yards later, I located a white-and-black turkey busy picking berries and buds off a Chokecherry bush. As I took pictures of it, a normal colored one took flight and I was able to get some pictures of it as it flew across the river. It flew further than I had ever witnessed a wild turkey fly.

There were only seven turkeys that I saw; but they were not the only surprises that jump-started my heart last Tuesday. A White-tailed doe decided to try to play bumper cars with me, but I missed her. Two Trumpeter swans decided to fly from a field to the river with one brushing my antenna with its wing tip – they are huge birds when they come that close.

Several hundred other Trumpeters were lounging on the ice-islands and by the number of piles of guano dotting the top, it looked like the fertilizer had worked well on it. There were places where the piles of ice appeared to be three to four feet high along the banks.

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While most of the swans were sleeping, two were bathing in the ice-water while others were feeding with ducks and Canada geese were trailing them. Geese and ducks love to follow behind feeding swans to pick up the aquatic plants dislodged by the larger birds. Some people call that a symbiotic relationship while I just call it, “taking advantage of your neighbor.” “One person’s waste is another person’s treasure.”

There are two things that I love to look for while I am spending four or five hours watching the water flow through this area from St. Anthony to the Henrys Fork Ranch, just above the Chester Dam. The first is to study the thousands of Common Goldeneye ducks looking for a rare Barrow’s Goldeneye. The Common males have a white circle on their cheek while the darker Barrow’s are smaller with a crescent-shaped white spot between their bill and their eye.

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The second thing I love to watch for are the Belted kingfishers as they hunt the shallows of the river in search for small fish. They love to hoover over the water and then dive into the icy water for their favorite snacks. Rarely do I get a good picture of the dives, but I love to catch them while they dry out their feathers. They do a lot of shaking, similar to the dance called the “twist” in the “60’s”; then they will preen their feathers and lastly, they will stretch their wings and tails to “air-dry” their critical flight feathers.

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Last Tuesday, I was also rewarded by seeing a Great-blue heron and a mixed flock of Cedar and Bohemian waxwings as they tried to eat the berries faster than the turkeys could. Looks like both species are going to have to find some more food somewhere as most of it has already been eaten.

If you get bored, the Henrys Fork is a great place to find something to enjoy; but be careful because if the slip-and-slide road doesn’t get you, a turkey exploding from a bush may make you miss a turn.

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