Camp’s Other Communities-Birds!

And….the strange story of Sarah Tollett’s Turkey


Given that trees are our most visible other community here at camp, it must be said that the residents of the trees, our bird community, must be the next group to think about.  Nesting in all sorts of trees and bushes around our property, the birds are plentiful, colorful, and deserving of our attention.  In fact, they require it!

  “What’s that tapping, tapping, tapping high up in that maple? “

  “Did that strange hooting last night keep YOU awake for a bit?”

“Hey!  There are baby birds in a nest up in the beams in the shower house! Are they enrolled at camp??”

  These and other questions are familiar ones to those of making our summer homes at Camp Betsey Cox.  The “tap-tap-tapping”?  A couple of interesting species of woodpecker work on the insect population nesting in our old trees.  The “hooting”?  Ah, yes!  The owls!  Lucky ones of us even get to see them while strolling to the washhouse of an evening.  And if you want to learn how to sound like an owl? Staff member Marcy Covey has mastered that skill and can coach you into being quite a talent at this.  Finally, yes…the early-arriving staff find birds’ nests in a few of our buildings.  Most leave the buildings as we arrive, preferring the less crowded woodland locations to cabins full of us!

 And then there’s the strange story of Sarah Tollett’s Turkey.  Really?  Did long-time staff member, Sarah Tollett, head of the Camp BC farm program bring a turkey to camp, a turkey deserving a place in the camp archives?  No…the story is more intriguing than that.

On one of his frequent meanderings through camp in the early spring, off-season caretaker, and a bit of a naturalist, Steve Spensley, noticed a wild turkey hen, nearly hidden from view, nesting in some fallen trees and brush off an upper-level path.  The few of us already on site went looking.  At first searching, most of us concluded that Steve was imagining this viewing, the bird was so well camouflaged.  On closer look, however, there she was, absolutely still, clearly hoping no one would notice her, including the couple of dogs already around camp.

Those of us in the secret society of turkey observers, Camp BC 2016, did our best to keep her secret.  We slowed our pace, creeping by on the path slow enough to check on whether she was still there, but not stopping to disrupt the process.

There has never been as steady and as long a camp BC silent sitter as that mama turkey!  For two weeks she sat there, hidden from view and most surprisingly, never noticed by the dogs.  And then…the exciting moment happened!  The poults (yes..that’s what one calls baby turkey chicks!) hatched!  We learned that for 24 hours the mother turkey feeds her brood and protects them diligently.  After 24 hours, though, they become a “clutch” (that’s what you call a group of turkeys) and they find their own food while hanging together like a flock.

The first 24 hours went very well.  But on hour 25 or so, the clutch faced its first big challenge.  The mom decided they would walk/totter away from the security of the nesting area.  They made a very cute looking line of wild wanderers!  And for the camp dog, the temptation of disrupting the group into some kind of wild chaos was too great.  She ran at the clutch and the group dispersed in any number of exciting directions.

Not one bird was hurt, apparently.  And for Sarah Tollett, who happened to wander out of the lodge at just the right moment, her opportunity to serve as a turkey’s surrogate mom was about to begin!  Like other species of poultry, turkeys like to imprint, preferably on their mom, but in the absence of her, another species could do.  Like so many of us, the baby turkey poult found Sarah absolutely enthralling!  For a number of hours, he or she followed Sarah’s every step.  We began to have discussions about whether a wild turkey could be part of the summer’s farm program.  We called the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Service to inquire as to how to care for a day-old poult.  We rung our hands over the tragedy of the group of poults being disrupted by a mere dog—a family disrupter if ever there was one!

 The end of the story?  Well…Sarah Tollett will be at the camp farm this summer.  You’ll have to ask her!

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