Thursday, February 23, 2006

Spring, for Now

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Incredibly beautiful here on the farm today. All the birds were singing, the woodpeckers were drumming, and I half expected to see a tree swallow swoop down out of the ever-changing sky to give its liquid chatter from our telephone line (where the male always makes his first appearance each spring). The warm winds out of the south can fool even the most experienced season watcher into thinking it's time for gnatcatchers and crocuses.

But it's too early for tree swallows up here on the ridge. And I fear I'm pushing the season a bit to even hope that they are already making their way up the Ohio River Valley. There's one bird I do expect to arrive in the next few nights, or if he's already here, to make his presence known soon. Our American woodcock.

He'll start performing and peenting any night now. The first male usually begins flying his dusk courtship display around Feb 20. We stand out on our deck each evening, usually bundled up against the cold, and strain to hear the first peent! Then we listen for the twittering of his wings as he flies his spiral ascent into the night sky. For his first few sets we can pick his plump body out against the purple-gray sky in the twilight. Once darkness swipes the last bit of light, we must be content simply to listen.

I remember the incredible thrill I had our first spring here at Indigo Hill, when I realized that the woodcocks displaying in our meadow were, in effect, "our" woodcock. This had meaning to me because the very first place I ever witnessed this natural spectacle of the performing male woodcock is sadly long gone. A community college rests atop the scrubby hill where my first woodcock performed.

There is a part of me that hopes the woodcock will wait another week or so before he tunes up. It was in the mid-50s today, but tonight will be in the 30s and it's going into the teens during the next two nights. Hardly earthworm-probing weather.

Still, I'll be out on the deck each night that I'm home, cupping hands to my ears, straining to conjure spring's first peent.


On February 24, 2006 at 6:02 PM LauraHinNJ said...

I'm very jealous that you have woodcock in your backyard and don't have to bundle up and trek out and stand around in the near dark in the middle of nowhere to see them, like I do! Really, it's not as bad as that, but I do tire of trying to explain to park rangers what I'm doing in their *closed at dusk* park.

I haven't yet felt *that* type of dusk yet, that tells me to go looking for them. It's been way too windy here in NJ for any displays.

Hope you get your first "peent" of the year before too long.

On March 8, 2006 at 4:16 PM Bill of the Birds said...

We heard our wooodcock lasty night (3/7) for the first time, though he may have come in several nights earlier--we were away and could not listen. There were two last night and our all-time high is 6 calling at once withing hearing distance of our house.