Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wild Turkey in Alabama


When I say "Wild Turkey in Alabama" I'm not talking about the bourbon of choice this Saturday in at the Iron bowl. 
I am talking about meleagris gallapovo. 

A game bird native to North and Central America.  

The wild turkey is the most popular game bird in the world.  Without a doubt the wild turkey is one of wildlife conservation's best success stories.  In the early 19th century the population of wild turkey had been reduced to about 30,000 birds.  Through much effort on the part of private and government agencies working together the wild turkey has rebounded to approximately 7 million birds in North America. 

There are 5 sub species of turkey in North America.

Photos courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation


The Eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo silvestris) is one of the largest of the five subspecies. Adult males, or gobblers, may weigh 20 pounds or more. The body feathers of gobblers have a rich, metallic, copper/bronze iridescence. The tips of the tail feathers have a dark buff or chocolate brown color. Hens have a drab appearance to help camouflage them while setting on the nest. The Eastern wild turkey inhabits most of the eastern forest, from southern Canada to north Florida and westward to Texas, Iowa, and Minnesota. The Eastern subspecies of the wild turkey is the one that inhabits Alabama.


The Florida wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo osceola), also called the Osceola, is found only on the peninsula of Florida. This subspecies of wild turkey was named for the Seminole Indian Chief Osceola. It is similar to the Eastern wild turkey, but smaller and darker in color, with wider black bars on the wing feathers. The large tail feathers are tipped with brown and are similar to the Eastern. These turkeys inhabit the piney woods, prairies and hardwood hammocks of south and central Florida. 


The Rio Grande wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia) is native to the brushy scrub of the southern Great Plains, western Texas, and northeastern Mexico. They may be found in elevations up to 6,000 feet in mountainous areas, but generally favor country that is more open than the woodland habitat favored by their Eastern cousins. Overall, Rio Grande turkeys are comparatively pale and copper colored. They are distinguished from the Eastern and Florida subspecies by having tail and rump feathers tipped with yellowish buff or tan color. Rio Grande turkeys may form large flocks of several hundred birds during the winter months and may range several miles from roosting sites each day. 


The Merriam’s wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) is found primarily in the ponderosa pine, western mountain regions of the United States. Adult males are distinguished from the Eastern, Florida, and Rio Grande by the nearly white feathers on the lower back and tail feather margins. It is comparable in size to the Eastern turkey, but has a blacker appearance with blue purple and bronze reflections.
Archeologists believe that about 2,000 years ago the Native Americans of the southwestern United States domesticated a turkey similar to the wild Merriam’s turkey. When the Spanish explored southern Mexico in the middle 1500s, they found tame turkeys being kept by Native Americans throughout that area. This now extinct turkey of southern Mexico (Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo) is believed to be the ancestral stock of the domestic turkey that the Spanish encountered. This domesticated turkey was brought back to Spain and was widely accepted throughout Europe. The domesticated turkey was brought back to America by the English colonists of the Atlantic seaboard.


The Gould’s turkey (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana) is found in portions of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as northern Mexico. The Gould’s turkey is a bird of the mountainous areas of this region. It is the largest of the five subspecies and resembles the Merriam’s turkey. They have longer legs, larger feet, and larger center tail feathers than any of the other wild turkey subspecies in North America. Gould’s differ by having distinctive white tips on the tail feathers and tail rump coverts that usually separate to show an “eyelash” appearance. Lower back and rump feathers have copper and greenish-gold reflections, unlike the faintly iridescent velvety black found on the Merriam’s. Gould’s body plumage is somewhat blue-green in coloration.


The Ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) is a different species than the other wild turkeys of North America. The Ocellated turkey only exists in a 50,000 square mile area of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. The Ocellated turkey is easily distinguished from its North American cousins in appearance. The body feathers of both male and female birds have a bronze-green iridescence. The tail feathers in both sexes are blue-gray in color, with a well-defined eye-shaped, blue-bronze colored spot near the end, followed with a bright gold tip.

The Aztec of Mexico domesticated the Mexican subspecies of the wild turkey (called guajolotes) and the Spanish explorers took some of these back to Europe in the mid-16th Century where they became common farmyard animals. These domestic turkeys eventually completed the circuit and came back to North American turkey farms from Europe. In fact the domesticated versions are so much larger and with so much more breast meat that they are unable to fly and have lost the instincts their wild cousins depend upon for their survival. The Mexican subspecies is now endangered in the wild but the other subspecies in North America are thriving.

Wild turkeys can fly and run at incredible speeds. They reach up to 55 mph flying and 25 mph running. They are also far more beautiful than the white domestic version that becomes the supermarket’s butterball. The wild turkey’s dark feathers are iridescent with shades of red, green and copper that shine when hit by the sun. The male bird (called a gobbler, or Tom) is the most colorful with a bright red head and neck wattle with a beautiful fan of tail feathers that it spreads out to impress the lady turkeys (called hens).

So if you sit down to a thanksgiving turkey meal this year, you should think a little about the wild turkey and give thanks and respect to the history of where the bird came from.  



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Fungus Among Us!


These photos are left unidentified on purpose.  It is easy to mislabel mushrooms and with the fairly common occurrence of poisonous fungi, I will leave the i.d. to true experts (I think you would do well to do the same).  

Mushrooms can be aesthetically pleasing parts of the natural landscape and can also serve as a source of edible goodness for those that have the taste for them and are able to safely identify the ones that will not kill you.   

Image result for red mushrooms of alabama

In general, this is my response to the often asked question "Eat or don't eat this mushroom":   

Possible but...... Can't tell from the photo, so NO.

 Simple rule, don't eat what you are not sure of . In general these are the rules I follow:

Avoid mushrooms with white gills, a skirt or ring on the stem and a bulbous or sack like base called a volva. You may be missing out on some good edible ones, but it means you will be avoiding some deadly ones

Avoid mushrooms with red on the cap or stem. Again you will be missing out on some good mushrooms but more importantly you won't be picking poisonous ones.

Finally don't consume any mushrooms you are 100% sure of what they are. I know I have already mentioned this but it is by far the most important rule.
Avoid mushrooms with red on the cap or stem. Again you will be missing out on some good mushrooms but more importantly you won't be picking poisonous ones.
Finally don't consume any mushrooms you are 100% sure of what they are. I know I have already mentioned this but it is by far the most important rule.

Image result for red mushrooms of alabama

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fairy rings: The Folklore and the Science


The Folklore and the Science of Fairy Rings
Recurring Fairy Ring Snead, Al

Common Name:     Fairy ring, Elf ring, Fairy circle, Elf circle, Pixie ring, etc.

Scientific Name :    Hocus pocus nonsenseicus  

The magical fairy ring, where elves, fairies, pixies, and the like come to dance and play.  Through much of European history fairy rings have been a part of much folklore.  Once viewed as an off-limits area for us mere humans,  the reality behind these rings is a little less mystical than tales of dragons and tiny magical beings, but the science behind this interesting phnomenon is still pretty cool.  

 A  little science behind fairy rings

What causes them?

These imaginative circles are the result of a particular pattern of mycelium growth. Mycelium is the underground organism that produces the reproductive fruit bodies that we know as mushrooms. This relationship is sometimes explained by comparison to an apple tree. If we think of mushrooms as apples, then the mycelium is the tree from which they fruit.In this analogy the tree is underground, but you get the idea. ;)In the case of a ring, the mycelium starts as a single point and grows in a circular shape. It continues to push outwards in an attempt to consume more nutrients. As it exhausts the nutrients on the inside of the circle, it will widen further and further as it looks for a new food source.This process results in an ever-growing circle, that doesn't start to grow back inwards or cross over on itself because there's no new food on the inside of the circle. The mycelium may have started at one point, but soon it has nowhere to go but in an outwardly, circular direction.

Although not uncommon, fairy rings don't just happen anywhere. Multiple factors influence this circular growth pattern, including soil type and condition, amount of nutrients in the soil, obstructions underground, and dirt composition. The ground needs to be even and well composed, a reason why you'll often see them pop up on lawns.

The chance exists that you've seen more fairy rings than you realize. Although we only notice them when they produce mushrooms, the circular mycelium underground is always there and growing. 

There are about 60 different species of mushrooms that produce fairy rings; Marasmius oreades, Agricus campestris, Lycoperdon spp., and Scleroderms spp. being the most common.

 Now that I have sucked the fun out of Fairy rings by being all sciency and stuff here are some fun facts:
  • The rings will continue to grow over time, resulting in a pattern that can be thousands of feet wide, and hundreds of years old.
  • One of the most impressive rings ever was found in France, and suspected to be about 2,000 feet (600 meters) wide and over 700 years old!
  • Time, environmental factors, and animal droppings may replenish the nutrients in the center of the ring once it is wide enough. This can result in a second ring growing inside the first.
  • Depending on the soil and the weather, a ring may expand radially from 3 to 19 inches per year.
  • There are many other fun names for this phenomenon, including elf ring, pixie ring, and fairy circle.

Fairy Rings are still a part of folklore today and I feel that even though we understand the science behind them, they are sure to inspire the thoughts and imagination of generations to come.

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