Water Closet for December 23, 2016

[pullquote]”Every couple of miles the visitor was warned: Do NOT go near turkeys. They can and will attack!”[/pullquote] The Water Closet is happy to report that ecologist Art McKee* is back from a long illness with another true story. You may remember several of his that we much liked and shared here a couple years ago about delicate sheets of frost in long abandoned manmade storage rooms and tunnels deep in the Alaskan permafrost, of ducks acting as buoys marking a road across a flash flooded desert, about herons swallowing pocket gophers in Oregon, and the interactions of cottonwoods, elk, and wolves along a western river. Here is his latest, a suspense filled story about hidden dangers to be encountered in Zion National Park. Those of us who have visited Zion thought sudden floods in the narrow canyons were what we had to watch out for. Little did we know that the feathered menaces lurking there are also here with us. – Middleton Stream Team
By Art McKee*
In late March of 2008, my wife and I spent a few days in Zion National Park as part of a spring-break tour. The snowline was very high and the Park was open. We hiked many trails, had a great time. We were frequently amused, however, at all the warning signs the Park Service had posted along the roads and in the trailhead parking lots that alerted visitors to how DANGEROUS wild turkeys are. Every couple of miles the visitor was warned: Do NOT go near turkeys. They can and will attack! No, I’m not making that up. We’re all used to Park Service messages about not feeding wild animals, but this seemed over the top.

These roosting turkeys may remind some of scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds. “How absurd,” the sleepers might cackle to one another. “We are up here to sleep, away from humans and other predators.” – Photo courtesy of internet

We encountered occasional flocks of turkeys. They’d be foraging on the hillsides or floodplains, scratching through the litter, checking out the lower branches of shrubs. We passed close to some flocks and commented at how they sure looked like your basic wild turkeys, nothing very formidable about them or their behavior. And, while walking back to our cabin along the North Fork of the Virgin River, the main stream that drains the Park, we noticed a flock settling in for the night, flying up into the cottonwoods along the River and roosting close to each other. These certainly presented no threat.
On our last day at Zion, we drove to the end of the North Fork road, parked and just hiked up along the River, mostly off of any trails, exploring the side canyons, the minor tributaries. We returned around dusk, very tired and muddy, more than ready to have a quick supper, and crash for the night. By then, our station wagon was the only car left in the parking lot. I plopped down to take off muddy boots while my wife went into the well-lit bathroom to clean up.
I was relaxing and enjoying the quiet evening when a car with New Jersey plates came creeping into the parking lot, drove slowly past the bathrooms and pulled to a stop behind me. The couple in the car conferred briefly and then the wife rolled down the window and asked me if it was safe to go to the bathroom. It seemed an odd question, but I replied that yes, it was safe, that my wife was in the bathroom cleaning up after a very muddy hike — and held up a boot as evidence.

Is it any wonder that Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the turkey to be our national bird? These handsome jakes are hanging out for hand outs in a friendly Peabody backyard. – Elaine Gauthier photo

The woman opened the door and stepped out as she told her husband to go ahead and pull in next to me, that she’d go use the bathroom. The husband had also stepped out and was cautiously looking all around. He turned and in a stage whisper asked, “What about the turkeys? Where are they?”
I just pointed straight up at the couple of dozen turkeys that were roosting in the leafless cottonwoods between the parking lot and the river, silhouetted against the still bright evening sky, and said, “By now, they’re all roosting up in the cottonwoods.”
They both looked up at the silent profiles some 20 or 30 feet above us and the wife screamed, “Jesus! Let’s get the hell outta here!” They both jumped back into their car and were peeling out when my wife came out of the bathroom and watched their car laying rubber as it fishtailed out of the parking lot. She walked over shaking her head, asked what that was all about and cracked up when I told her.
We drove back to the rental cabin where we were staying for the night and discovered the New Jersey car parked in front of a cabin next to ours. All their shades were tightly drawn and every light turned on. They’d also replaced the dim yellow bug lights flanking their cabin’s doors with bright 100-watt-or-more bulbs. We ended up having to close our shades on the side facing their cabin. I joked that they’d probably pushed heavy furniture against the doors to further protect them from the killer turkeys.
We were up before dawn to head south to the Grand Canyon and discovered that our neighbors were already gone, apparently fleeing back to civilization where they’d be free from feathered threats.
* Arthur McKee, resident professor, Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana, Polson Montana, has long been a mountain man. Art doesn’t trap beavers as did the wild mountain men of yore. He and his students study them, other organisms and their habitats to determine how they interact. For over 30 years he has done research in the Appalachians, Rockies, Sierra Nevadas and Brooks Range in Alaska.


Precipitation Data* for Month of: Sep Oct Nov Dec
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.77 4.40 4.55 4.12
   2016 Central Watershed Actual 1.85 6.81 2.68 2.1**as of Dec 15

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Dec 15, 2016  Normal . . . 59 CFS     Current Rate . . .24 CFS
data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Nov.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Dec.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584