Saturday, March 12th....6pm to 6:30 pm....'Kerrrchung' for me.
I went down to the Cape May Bird Observatory in Goshen and participated in a small walk (well...30 people), to seek out and observe the mating flight of the American Woodcock and, "they were spectacular', to quote from Seinfeld.
This is mating season and Woodcocks while not easy to find on the ground (as evident by my past adventures) you can find them if you know where to look for them at. This was my first sighting of a Woodcock so that made tonight even more 'spectacular'. Now Woodcocks start their mating behavior a bit after sunset and depending on what light is remaining, you either 'see them' or 'hear them'. We did both....we were lucky.
Walking down one of the paths at Jake's Landing we first heard this nasal 'peent' call coming out of the wet grass/reeds near bushy areas. It was just shy after 6pm. The sun had set and the sky was overcast, which turned out to be perfect. After rotating in 360 degree turns on the ground, all the while 'penning' away.....an American Woodcock male will just take flight. ...there it goes. One large spiral that takes it right overhead of us, then another large spiral fight upwards and then another..... until it reaches 300 feet or so. My ears have been 'rocked' out from too much 60 and 70's music, so I couldn't quite pick up the twittering sound of feathers in flight making their call. But my naked eyes showed me this display of flight though, spiral after spiral. Using my bins, I could easily make out the long bill. After a minute or two in the air with this amazing spiral that literally took it over our path, the Woodcock then makes this fluttering flight downward, imitating a paper bat one might display on their property during halloween. As it comes down to earth it chirps and lands in almost the exact same spot it jumped off from.
This flight continues throughout the early evening, depending on how dark the evening is, with the male show-casing their 'beauty in flight' to potential females on the ground. I tried to figure out what made one flight different from the other, or more beautiful or sexy or 'spectacular'....but I am not a female woodcock so didn't come from the same frame of mind that they carry into evaluating this display. I asked one of the lady leaders in our group, thinking that, well...she is a lady and perhaps has more insight, but...no.... Nada. No idea.
In the field in front of us there were at least 4 male American Woodcocks all 'peent'ing' in 360 degree turns and subsequently taking off in flight. Once in awhile a group of two males who were 'too close' to each other in physical proximity, and they audibled a 'cackling' sound warning the other to stay away. Much akin to male basketball or football players out at the club at 2am and getting in knife fights or shooting themselves, all most likely over some ditzy blonde. I wonder if there are 'blonde' female Woodcocks?
Well, our enjoyment lasted near 20-25 minutes. Apparently they were 'early birds' (pardon the pun) today as their peenting and aerial display started ahead of the usual time. But good for us, for the visual we gleamed from watching their long spirals and fluttering downwards set against the gray cloudy overcast allowed a perfect backing for our human eyes.
Around 6:25 pm, we began hearing another sound....a soft who-hoo-hoo-oo'ing' .... perhaps a 100 yards up. Then a bit closer....closer...and closer still. Then a dark glide over the field. No noise....no who-hoo-hoo-oo'ing, and no peenting. No flights, no spirals. Time to go home as obviously someone had just crashed the party.
But a memorable time. Deb asked me the other day what my favorite bird was and I responded by saying the American Robin because that was the first bird I was introduced to by my mom when I was a lad of 3 or 4. But I had to rethink that question. I am thinking it is not a matter of my favorite bird but rather my memories reflecting upon my experiences. The experiences stand out, not the bird. And today, with the American Woodcock....I created a spectacular experience to treasure.