Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Woodcock Peenting

Last night I thought I saw a woodcock fly past the house. It was pretty dark, but I could make out the stumpy silhouette and hear the whistling wings. So today I went out just before sunset, over to where there is a displaying woodcock every year, determined to stay out until I heard one.

A perusal of the unsystematic records of firsts of the year (notes in the weather journal) revealed that over the last 6 years the first woodcock has been heard as early as March 16 and as late as March 26. Pretty amazing really that the range is so small given how different the years have been weather-wise. This week in other years has been blizzardy, hot, chilly (as it is this year), and of course the weather leading up to it, and the weather on the woodcock's route, has varied widely as well. And yet still they come, in this ten-day period. And the other birds we take note of, the bluebirds, tree swallows, etc., show up with the same regularity.

It's chilly today, as I said. Not that the temperature is so low, but something about the combination of wind and frozen (most places) bare ground is bone chilling. I set out, walking into the setting sun, in its spring location. I couldn't see ahead of me, so until I got to the shade of the cedar bush I watched the ground. Lots of old scat, now completely bleached out. Bird song and calls all around me, mostly starlings, but a few American robins. When I got to the cedar bush I watched a pair of robins in a slow, friendly chase. Moved on to the far field, the sun low enough that I could see ahead, and listened for the sound of fox sparrows scratching in the leaf litter under the shrubs and trees at the edge of the field. No luck. Then I came upon a robin who began screaming as if I'd flushed her off a nest. I know this sound well from when robins have nested around the house, and never got used to me passing to and fro. I don't think there could be a nest yet, but from the song all around me, and this bit of screeching I think the robins are on territory now. Robins nest every half acre or so around here.

Heading back through the scrape (the area of the fields where the topsoil has been taken off), I heard one desultory peent, so I stopped for a while to wait and see if more developed. It was starting to get dark, and from the north, a few fields away I guess, I heard a low howl, and then a cacaphony of what sounded like a mixture of dog and coyote voices. Thinking of the tracks of the pack I'd seen earlier in the year I wondered if I was ready to confront a pack of coyotes. I moved to where I could hear better, but the chorus stopped. A chunky bird flew by me. It was really too dark now to see more than that it was a bird--could've been a robin, or a mourning dove (one had flown into the scrape about the time I got there), could've been a woodcock. I still don't know--but a moment later I could heard a woodcock in full voice very near. I listened, moving up a little and scanning with my binoculars to see if I could locate it. No--but after several calls off it went in its twittering flight. Mission accomplished. The woodcock's return established, I made my way home.


TroutGrrrl said...

I'm jealous that you've got woodcocks already and we don't. I assumed I'd hear one before you did. I stayed out purposely late last night to see if I could hear or see one - no dice.

Pamela Martin said...

That doesn't seem right. On the other hand, we still have no turkey vultures (though I did see one about 50K south of here yesterday).

viagra online said...

haha I had a problem with a woodcocks once in my place the bird start to stab the wood on the middle of the night... maybe it had a bat complex haha anyway I just get the custome to hear it and 1 year later he's still here, and he always do that sound on nights.
Thanks for sharing, nice post.