In Search of Bird #100

It was 2013, and my first summer birding days in Maine were drawing to a close. I had seen pelagic birds, I had seen forest birds, and I was close to hitting a major birding landmark: 100 species on my Life List. So close in fact, that as my husband-to-be and I drove towards my childhood home for one last night before heading back to the mid-Atlantic, I had only one more bird left to see.

Unfortunately, my birding opportunities were limited. We were in the car for one thing, leaving before the sun arose the next day to complete the 12 hour drive back to Virginia Beach. I had one chance, a hail-Mary pass to make it to 100 birds: a Wild Turkey.

wild turkey, nature, birding, maine

I know what you’re going to say, I know it. I had seen a Wild Turkey before. In fact, I had seen a lot of Wild Turkeys. They are fairly common in Maine, especially in the farm fields that dot my hometown. Their populations have been steadily increasing since record keeping began in 1966, plus we’ve all been drawing hand turkeys for Thanksgiving since we were what, five?

That’s what’s funny about me and listing. I had seen a Wild Turkey before, but not since I had “officially” started birding. I didn’t pay attention to the turkeys like I would now, I didn’t note the date of my first “sighting,” and for me, it didn’t count. I had to see another one.

To get from the lake to my suburban neighborhood required passage through quite a few farm fields, so I had reason to hope. Since I wasn’t driving, I kept my peepers peeled and pressed to the window, scanning the tree line for any and all blob-like brown shapes. An hour passed, then another, then another, and still I was turkey-less. Time was winding down.

We were barely fifteen minutes from home, pausing the old softball fields I had spent so much time on as a teenager. I began to reconcile myself to the idea I would be stuck at 99 birds, at least until returning to Virginia Beach. Missing a self-set goal was annoying, but as missing it had basically no consequences, I just had to deal with myself and move on.

The sun had nearly set as we approached home, when suddenly, less than four miles from our destination, my father cried “Turkey!” and slammed on the breaks. Revving in reverse, we pulled up alongside a mother turkey and her dozen chicks!

“Oh my gooossshhhhh,”I squealed, clicking my seat belt open and vaulting out of the car. The female turkey was hustling her chicks into a field of tall grass, blowing gently in the wind and glowing gold. Her turklets (not the correct name, but it matches their adorable nature) were still quite small and fuzzy, and disappeared from sight even in the short grass. In moments, they were gone.

They may have been gone, but I was elated. Triple digits baby! It had taken me five months of dedicated birding to reach 100, averaging out to about 20 new birds a month.. I was addicted.

Erika Zambello

About Erika Zambello

Erika Zambello is a writer, birder, and photographer, born and raised in Maine. She has a bachelor’s degree in Government and Anthropology from Cornell University, and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from Duke University, specializing in ecosystem science and conservation. Her love of the outdoors was inspired by her childhood in Maine, and she returned for her National Geographic Young Explorer grant in 2015-2016.