Saturday, February 22, 2014

Woodcock Walk

Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky.  -Aldo Leopold, The Sand County Almanac 
I witnessed this performer, the American Woodcock, on this warm winter evening showing off its Sky dance. The Woodcock's courtship display shows one of natures most interesting and spectacular animal behavior. The way Aldo Leopold describes the courtship display of the woodcock sums up my similar sighting. I joined the Wake Audubon Society on their Annual Woodcock Walk at a local hotspot called Schenck Forest, a plot of pine forest owned by NC State University, to take a look at the free admission show,"The Sky Dance", that's in town from now until the end of March.

First off the American Woodcock is a peculiar species. It is a plump shorebird that lives in the woods and meadows, probing the soil for earthworms with its long bill. The bird itself appears to be from another planet with its bold, black eyes positioned on each side of the head. This bird is very well camouflaged and not often seen unless flushed, or performing its courtship dance in the spring. The Woodcock first makes itself noticed with a buzzy peent from its preferred habitat, a forest opening or shrubby field. The performer pierces the air towards the sky emitting a musical whistle from its fluttering wings then circle high above any tree and spirals down to where it began.  An interesting fact I learned this evening is that Schenck forest has Woodcocks that spend the winter here and year-round residents.  Here is a Video of what the Woodcock looks like peenting.