An "Egyptian Pheasant" on Italy's Isola Madre

The “Pheasant Whisperer” (a One-Shot Story)

Last May, Kate and I enjoyed a two-week trip through Italy’s spectacular Lake Region– just south of the snowy Dolomites at the Austro-Swiss borders.

And at 11:44 on the morning of the 15th, our Road Scholar guide, Mara Mori, and I stood alone in an isolated garden area of the Palazzo Borromeo, on Lake Maggiore’s island of Isola Madre. As we watched a colorful bird feed in the shadows of a distant tree line, Mara called it an “Egyptian Pheasant.” The feathers around its neck looked like the cloth those ancient people wore to protect their heads from the sun.

My “Squeaky Sound”

I don’t know why, but I decided to hit it with a strange “squeaky sound” that my father once taught me to make. He played English Horn in college, and I was basically playing a horn that wasn’t there. The technique has worked many times to get cats and dogs to look my way for photos. But the pheasant reacted quite differently. It raised its head, looked across the lawn, and began a meandering zig-zag stroll toward us.

“I don’t believe it,” Mara exclaimed.
“It’s coming this way.
“I’ve never seen anything like this.
“Keep squeaking. Don’t stop.
“You’re a ‘pheasant whisperer!’ ”

I kept making the noise and the bird kept coming. Until it stopped right in front of us. I grabbed the above portrait, said “thanks sweetie,” and it sauntered gloriously off.

Nothing like that had ever happened to me either. But I did have a rather different encounter at home with a wild turkey a few years before.

“Feed Me!”

It happened after many people in our condo community stopped planting birdseed feeders in our lawns. Bears could rip them down. But when one resident’s trailcam caught a bear about to climb a support column to reach the feeder on a neighbor’s second-floor deck, I removed our deck feeders too.

Unfortunately, this also impacted our community of wild turkeys, which regularly looked for seed that had fallen to the ground. A short time later, I was in my basement office when I heard a loud rapping on the window beside me. Turning my head, I faced– nose-to-beak across the glass– a lone wild turkey standing on our air-conditioning compressor. The glare in its eyes told me it wanted SEED!

I said “hang on,” collected some, went outside, and scattered it across the ground. The bird didn’t budge until I went back in… at which point it jumped off the compressor and enjoyed its solo feast.

Maybe I’m both a “pheasant whisperer” AND a “wild-turkey restaurateur”!

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

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