"My favorite time to be in the spring woods is at dawn. Wildlife is most active then. The early morning air is damp, and the colors are bright and saturated. If you are in just the right spot, you might get to see a gobbler sounding off on a wildflower-covered ridge. This is the setting for Oak Ridge Monarch – Wild Turkey.
The bird is in one of his most impressive displays, gobbling from a strutting position, just as he crests a ridge in front of the viewer. Many of the feathers on his neck and back are erect while those in between lay down explaining his unorthodox appearance. Close observation will reveal the worn tips on the primary wing feathers from many weeks of dragging them on the forest floor while strutting (a display mainly for the benefit of hens). The long spur length indicates this is an old bird. His posture and expression show that he is determined to make it clear to all who listen that he is the dominant bird in this part of the turkey woods. Parts of the gobbler’s head and neck can become engorged with blood and change color depending on the attitude of the bird. The swelling and coloration reflect his domineering attitude.
Not only are gobblers so active at this time of the year, but also the forest is bursting with life. A wealth of wildflowers rushes to emerge and bloom before the upper canopy leaves out and blocks the energy-giving rays of the sun. One of the joys of being a wildlife artist is the time spent in the woods with a sketchpad and camera. As the painting progressed, I made periodic predawn journeys into the spring woods to study and photograph the progression of blooming plants illuminated by the rising sun and make sure I portrayed them accurately. Wildflowers you may recognize include the numerous May apples with their umbrella-like leaves and the colorful phlox or sweet William. Along with these are smaller numbers of Dutchman’s breeches, dogtooth violet, bluebells, wild ginger and bedstraw. Non-flowering plants include moss, lichens, and morel mushrooms. Close inspection will reveal the presence of red oak, white oak, hickory, elm, and ironwood trees. Each organism plays an important role in the forest ecosystem. Gobblers often sound off in response to other sounds in the woods especially the call of the barred owl, so it seemed natural to include one in the background. Also sharing the scene and forest at this time of the year are a luna moth, a tree frog, and an American toad."