I have a birding friend in Iowa....and when he spots his 'target' birds...he always say 'kerrchung'.... got it!
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.
Sonny and Cher.... The beat Goes on.
I think Deb must think I am nuts.... how many times do I go out and tell her " I am going to find an X Bird'.... and when I return, no...no 'X' bird. I really feel that people get the idea that birding is easy. It is fun and challenging but not easy to find that particular bird that manages to allude you....
I am still looking for a snow bunting.... after 'how many tries?"
In Ecuador my nemesis bird was the Torrent Duck. Not an overly difficult bird to find but one in which I returned to one place 5-6 times before one was kind enough to appear before me.
When will the snow bunting be as kind to me?
Yesterday, I went in search of a Woodcock... This is 'their mating' time of the year and I asked Diane where to go and she steered me into the Cologne area 'in the fields'...when it snows the birds come out to the road's edge where the snow has melted. Lester gave me the same advice too. So...onto Cologne I went. It snowed, the roads were melted and hmmmm..this is my shot.
But after a (a) mid-afternoon of hunting, and a (b) 5-6:30 shift...I gave up. I went to Chic-fil-a. The Beat Goes On.
For those that know me, you know I work from home....So as I sit here in my lonely writers garret, as I like to quote Harry Chapin, I feel like I spend more time chasing away birds than I do working.
I have a second floor office that overlooks the feeders....ah, perfect, right? Sort of. .... I just filled up the feeders and Deb got on my case about going outside and filling them while still in my PJ's after being sick for 5 days. Oh well, birds have to eat too.
Anyhow...the feeders are full and here I am working away. I notice at first a solitary junco...then another to fill in a gap on the feeder. Then another etc. No problem. Cute....I can always remember what Pete Dunne said in his retirement about just wanting to sit back and observe the little birds...the juncos etc. They lend so much to view.
So juncos abound. But then....what the heck. There is this grackle on the feeder. Come on man. First I do not understand how your 'weight' alone doesn't shut down my feeder as it is one of those 'sliding kinds' that shut down if a squirrel (egads!) gets on. But the grackle is there so I get up out of my chair and bang on the window. It leaves.
It returns.... I bang on the window again and it leaves.
It returns....now with a friend or two. Or three...or really there must be 100 grackles and blackbirds out there. Come on....I have that food for the juncos. Skat.... I open the window and they fly off. Sort of....Just to the neighboring tree. So for the next 30 minutes we play this game. I am 'pretending to work' and they are just staring at me thru the tree limbs -- just waiting for the time my eyes are on the computer, and then...wham...they are back at it. 5-6 of them find their way to the feeder why dozens are below catching the droppings.
Get out of here....this 'food' is for my juncos. Eventually after 45 min of tag, they leave. But I need to get a shower and I know they will be there, I just know it. Does a tree make noise when it falls in the forest if no one is looking? Do grackles attack my feeder when I am in the shower and no one is looking?
So....birds are birds and they all need to eat. But why are we birders so particular about who gets to eat what. Do not grackles, being a bird have a right to my food? Can 10 Grackles be a problem and not 10 juncos? Why my attitudal difference? I might have to do some soul searching? Am I bias? Am I a hidden bigot? Was I harmed in my childhood by watching the movie 'The Birds' and have this hidden and yet deeply profound psychological problem haunting me years later as an adult?
I am not going to beat myself up over grackles....I am not going to admit I have a fault as a human and I will freely admit my bias against grackles or crows, or blackbirds or starlings or jays or magpies etc... all birds which are considered by others as nuisance type birds as well. Some people put CD's on trees to chase them away, farms will use scarecrows....grapefields will use 'boomers' to scare them off etc. So really, I am not a lone ranger on my thinking here.
I simply want my juncos to be happy. Is that asking a lot? Oh...I don't want that Coopers Hawk around here either for it freaks out my juncos too.