It was a cold morning on the first day of Minnesota’s 2020 wild turkey hunting season, April 15, as I sat in the relative warmth of my ground blind overlooking a small field on Beltrami County public land.
Arriving at my chosen spot about 5:15 a.m., I didn’t waste much time to set up and begin my morning vigil. Armed with a full thermos of hot coffee, I was ready for a pleasant morning in the Northwoods.
My morning, though “turkeyless”, was filled with the sights and sounds of springtime wildlife. A lone tom turkey gobbled from his nearby roost, but after leaving his pine tree perch, no amount of my anguished hen calls could coax him to me.
I was thrilled, however, by other species of wildlife that did pay me a visit. For 45 minutes I had a male woodcock displaying and peenting just a few yards from my blind on the open field.
In the early dawn light I could just make out the little gentlemen through my binoculars in an ultra closeup view as he bob-walked while emitting his nasally, two-part hiccup-peent call.
And then, after perhaps two to four minutes performing his ground display, up he’d go, twittering as he gained altitude, his primary wing feathers making the music, still further up until nearly out of earshot . . . and then down he’d come in his corkscrew descent, warbling and chirping the whole time, as he performed the aerial part of his courtship sky dance.
Just seconds before landing in almost the same spot he ascended from, he’d go silent and then I’d see him drop from the sky onto the ground, followed by another round of hiccup-peent calls.
Ruffed grouse were performing, too. In the darkness two birds about a hundred yards apart were engaged in what sounded like a stand-off of dueling drums. “Thump, thump, thump-thump-thump-whirrrrr”, one would go just as the other would finish his production.
Performed typically from a log or stump, spring is a time when male ruffed grouse furiously beat their wings against the air while they wedge their broad turkey-like tail against whatever they’re standing on for support. The drumming sound of their flapping wings reverberates through the forest and can be heard from long distances, thus is the hope and that a female grouse will be attracted to the drumbeater’s territory.
After sunup, a large flock of juncos foraged in the shrub thickets that my blind was adjacent to. So close were the feeding birds that all of their soft calls were clearly audible, as were the sounds of their beaks popping and clicking as they plucked and husked seeds from the heads of grass and other plants. It was delightful to be in the midst of the unsuspecting birds. Until they left, I felt I was a part of the flock.
The juncos abruptly left in unison while sounding simultaneous alarm calls as they fled. The reason why they suddenly abandoned me quickly came into view—a sharp-shinned hawk, an accipiter, a bird-of-prey so perfectly adapted for hunting birds of the forest, swooped over my blind in pursuit of the juncos that had already reached the safety of dense shrubs.
Yet the highlight of the morning was the curious visit of a raven. Ravens are among my most favorite wild bird. So intelligent and with a vocabulary unmatched for its variety and fascinating linguistic charm, landed in an oak tree that towered directly above me.
In a snow squall, the raven began a series of vocalizations that defy description. Absent were the common croaks and rattles of this bird’s morning conversation. I’m almost positive that the raven was audibly communicating its confusion over the three turkey decoys I had staked into the ground in front of the blind.
The varied and interesting vocalizations eventually stopped for a moment when the bird landed on the ground and walked up to decoys. He or she puffed out its throat feathers, raised its crown feathers, and croaked and chortled as it strutted in front of the fake turkeys. After a moment of seeming discontent, the raven flew off, croaking as it went.
I’m sometimes asked why I hunt. Indeed, why I would get out of a perfectly warm bed at 3:30 in the morning to sit inside a dark and cold blind in the middle of a forest somewhere, is a reasonable question to ask.
And yet I can honestly tell you that doing so has little to do with bringing home game. Indeed, it’s just another chance to take part in the grandeur of Mother Nature and stand witness to all the wild and free performances as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Blane enjoys getting feedback from readers and hearing about your stories from Minnesota’s great outdoors. Email him at email@example.com.