|American Woodcock at Assateague National Seashore - © Dave Spier|
American Woodcock -- © Dave Spier
I am alive and well, but again seriously sidetracked by eBird... (continued below)
Given the recent warm weather in Upstate New York, it was no surprise that "spring" birds started arriving in winter (at least technically). Okay, it really is calendar spring now and the birds are still arriving earlier than normal.
I'm not talking about all the robins. Some of them spent the winter here if you knew where to look. I'm talking about American Woodcocks (Scolopax minor), a type of shorebird that never sets foot on a beach. Woodcocks are upland birds that prefer open, grassy patches where they can strut their stuff. You'll seldom find them in the middle of the day, and if you do, they'll be silent. After sunset and before sunrise are the best times to listen for their nasal "peenting" calls and their aerial courtship flights accompanied by fluttering wing-whistles. What do I mean by "peeenting," a description often used in field guides? I think it sounds more like a buzzy "jeeep," but don't take my word for it. Go to the website All About Birds (http:/www.allaboutbirds.org), type in "woodcock," select "American Woodcock" and then scroll down to "Typical Voice" on the left side and click the play icon (a triangle pointing right toward the slider).
Woodcocks have long, flexible bills designed to probe in soft earth for earthworms, their main dietary item. Although the birds prefer grassy areas with open sky for courtship, they feed and nest in or next to damp, bottomland thickets, but not flooded swamps. Cryptic feather patterns keep them extremely well camouflaged during the day, as you can see in the accompanying photo I took in February at Assateague National Seashore. We unintentionally camped next to his courtship ground. Every evening at dusk and early every morning we could hear him doing his thing.
On a related note, there are a number of woodcock reports on the Eaton Birding Club's Facebook page. The club covers Wayne, Ontario, Seneca and Yates Counties in the Finger Lakes region of New York. This is an open group and anyone can join for free, or simply check the page for sightings and upcoming events without actually joining. I also encourage you to visit the club's website and become a supporting member which offers additional benefits.
For more information, or to ask a question, e-mail me.
I had many blog columns drafted for the winter, but, alas, my mind was preoccupied with entering eBird checklists. It took me much of January just to finish entering my 2011 data. I was simultaneously working on a project to enter data for other birders in the Blue Ridge region of southwestern Virginia. When I was entering the remainder of my data from our February, 2011 trip to Charleston, SC, I noticed a serious lack of eBird data for Carroll County, VA, which we traverse on I-77. Many of the weeks were totally devoid of reports, so I began contacting local birders and entering their data for them. Following this year's February trip to Assateague (instead of Charleston), I've been busy keeping up with my own checklists.