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Take a Hike … with Mike Monroe: Forget Black Friday, check out the local wild turkeys and turkey vultures

Published in the November 23- December 6, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe

ben-franklin-turkeyBenjamin Franklin did not have a high opinion of the bald eagle becoming one of our national symbols.

In writing to his daughter, America’s favorite sage referred to the turkey in comparison saying that it “is a much more respectable bird, and a true original native of America.”

In California, though, during Franklin’s time, there were no wild turkeys. In fact, the ancestors of the California turkey that migrated from Asia across the Bering land bridge are thought to have become extinct in central and northern California with the last ice age 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. It was not until an aggressive re-introduction program by the California Dept. of Fish and Game in the 1960s that wild turkeys were once again established into their former range.

The Rio Grande sub-species, imported from Texas, had no problem adapting to the California environment, and the turkey population and territory has rapidly expanded. Of course, as with any species introduction or re-introduction, there have been a host of ecosystem issues including overpopulation concerns and habitat disruptions.

This historical review will not prevent me, though, from enjoying a farm-raised heritage turkey bird this Thanksgiving with all of the trimmings. The anticipated food coma, followed by a nap later, will have me ready to go for an invigorating walk Friday morning.

I am definitely not a Black Friday shopper and I prefer to remain in the spirit of gratitude by enjoying a hike in our beautiful countryside. I intend to pack a turkey sandwich for a lunchtime break sitting along the ridge top overlooking Coyote Lake and the southern Santa Clara Valley.

At the Mendoza Ranch trailhead, we will start our trek at the eastern terminus of the Bay Ridge Trail. With our recent rains, the views of the green hillsides will be spectacular and the air will have that rich earthy smell of autumn. With Thanksgiving behind us, the local turkey flocks will be foraging with abandon.

Make sure to bring your binoculars or spotting scope as there are always plenty of turkey vultures soaring in the sky. The naked red heads of the turkey vulture resembles those of our wild turkeys, hence the name. Turkey vultures, like their much larger cousin the California Condor, feed on the carrion — the bodies of dead animals, thereby providing a cleaning service to the ecosystem.

Groups of vultures spiraling on the wind thermals are called “kettles” because their upward soaring looks like boiling water in a pot. Their sense of smell is highly developed allowing the birds to sense fresh carrion from more than a mile away.

Weather permitting, I hope to see you on the trail — and we can talk turkey as we saunter along.

Gilroy resident Mike Monroe is a Morgan Hill business owner and naturalist. He is a docent for Santa Clara County Parks.

THE NEXT HIKE

What: Of turkeys and turkey vultures
When: 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 25
Where: Mendoza Ranch entrance of Coyote Lake County Park
Directions: Take Roop Road off of New Avenue to entrance and free parking area
Description: Easy walk, open to all. Wear sturdy shoes, layered clothing and bring water and a turkey sandwich. Rain will cancel.
Contact: Mike Monroe at (408) 234-6377