March 26. Went to Southern Tier Brewing Company for a sandwich and a brew. When we came out, I heard it: “Peent. Peent. Peent,” followed by that strange whistling when the bird takes flight. We were dressed for running from car to building, not for standing in a soggy meadow in the cold. But I vowed to come back in a week, dressed appropriately.
April 2. Arrived in the parking lot at 8pm. The sun was gone, but the sky was still light enough that we could almost see field marks on the bird that fluttered just above our heads. “There’s one now!” I love it when that happens! I’m introducing a friend to something new and the bird flies overhead, as if on cue.
We listened for the “Peent” and heard it on the hill above the parking lot. We picked our way over the stones to get closer to the source of the nasal call. The “Peent” stopped and the bird flew up in his wide spiral, wind whistling through the feathers. “Quick! While he’s in the air let’s get closer to his dancing ground.” When we sensed he was returning, we froze so we wouldn’t scare him off. “Peent. Peent…” for about a minute… then off into the air again.
Each time he took flight, we inched closer until we were within 10 feet of his ground dancing, though by then, it was so dark we couldn’t see him on the ground, and the sky had lost enough light that we couldn’t even see him in flight any more, either.
We decided it would be wise to climb back down off the hill before it was too dark to find our way safely and go inside for a beer.
So, Phin… maybe for next year you could brew a special Woodcock Ale, just for Audubon, just for spring…?
Tom LeBlanc has a couple of posts over at his blog about woodcocks. This one (click here) is about catching one on the night of the salamander migration in 2009. And this one (click here) contains a video in which you can hear the woodcock’s “song” – though it is dark enough that you can’t see the bird, but there is a great photo there, too.