Bird’s eye view of a wildfowl state – Spotting the wildfowl and their hunters

The days passed quickly at EROS, and I enjoyed the new surroundings and the concentration I was able to muster to look at one piece of work.  Gray set me up at a desk that was currently vacant, and had the luxury of a window on to the east of the vast office block.  From my window two huge golf balls loomed, containing earth observation receivers that were downloading data from satellites passing overhead.  The grass was neatly cut and the drains and culverts, the clipped trees and shrubs made it a pristine parkland.  It was still close to nature and I would sometimes glance out to see an eagle soaring overhead.  Once I saw three large brown birds.  At first I struggled to recognise them; they reminded me of some of the larger birds I knew from African safaris.  A colleague of Gray who was sharing my office seemed surprised I did not recognise them as they were wild turkeys.  I was used to turkeys being fat waddling farmyard creatures with garish plumage and wattles and seemingly completely paranoid about the world.  No doubt with good reason as they almost all end up on someone’s dinner table.

These birds were pensive, yes, but also deliberate.  They strolled across the clipped grass, pecking at whatever they could find.  And they looked like real birds rather than lumps of meat with feathers.  They had the main features of their domestic cousins, the long blue necks and wattles, but their bodies were much more streamlined and with the plumage more akin to pheasants than turkeys, with black backs but brown under feathers and a black and white pattern on their wing tips.

 

Gray took me over to this parkland area one afternoon after lunch.  There was still a stiff breeze but the sun was out and as long as you kept walking you avoided hyperthermia.  The EROS estate included a lake and wildfowl area.  I had noticed how South Dakota was not just cultivated fields and cattle ranches; there was significant wild land here.  Sometimes it might only be a small patch in the corner of the farm where a creek meandered so much no mechanised farm equipment was able to get in.  As well as those there were plenty of reserves.  I’d also noticed that when I arrived at Sioux Falls, in fact when I was in Dallas, that many of the people coming to South Dakota were hunters.  They flew with their dogs, they were travelling in camouflaged fatigues, and when my suitcase came round the carousel in Arrivals, it was accompanied by plenty of large long metal cases carrying shotguns.  South Dakota was a huntin’ an’ a fishin’ state and when

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Wild Turkeys

driving back and forth to EROS I did see some guys (they were all men) stalking across the fields towards a clump of woodland.