Wednesday, February 28, 2007

True Sign of Spring

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Forget the first robin of spring, the budding crocus, the sibilant spring peeper! The true first sign of spring around Indigo Hill, our old ridgetop farm in southeastern Ohio, is the return of the first male American woodcock. And his first peent!

Last night I wandered out onto the back deck for a moment of fresh air and solitude, but my reverie was broken by the nasal peent of our most loyal timberdoodle. This old boy is the first back each spring and, after five years or more of his performances, I know his routine by heart.

He starts well before deep dusk, peenting from the seeping, spring-soaked paths in the dell below the house. Inconsistent utterings, lackadaisical compared to his later efforts, drift up to our ears, until the precise foot-candle-power of daylight remains, at which point he twitter-flies up and into the meadow. How he knows when the light is just right, I can't say. Is it when it's just too dark for a late-lingering Cooper's hawk to see him clearly? It can't be calculated on the visual powers of owls, which can see and hear clearly in the deepest, blackest night. Or is it when he knows he'll look his swanky best for any female woodcocks foraging nearby?

All I DO know is that the performance of the dominant male woodcock in our meadow, and several other pretenders to the throne peenting from the fringe, is the most regular first sign of spring I see each February. And it seems to occur just when we're getting a bit hopeless that winter will ever decide to pack it in and leave. Spring slides her foot in the door, and it's all but written in the stars that the wheel of seasons has surely turned.

Last April I videotaped our male woodcock peenting his very best. I used a Canon Powershot 520A through my Swarovski 65mm spotting scope. Digi-videoing you might say.

This spring I hope to capture his whole sky dance on tape, if the gods are smiling and with me.

Tonight my parents came out for dinner and Mr. Woodcock started his serenade from the woods. But when it was time for him to take the main stage in the meadow path, he jilted us and flew across the woods and far away. Perhaps he was not 'feeling it' tonight and needed to make the scene somewhere else. Was his backstage buffet not enough. Did his handlers forget to fill his brandy snifter full of juicy earthworms?

The moon is bright enough that he might sky dance all night long, in which case, a show at dusk is not mandatory. No matter. I'll be outside in the gloaming tomorrow night, waiting for his nocturne. And I'll be smiling in the knowledge that spring, once again, has the upper hand.


On March 1, 2007 at 12:15 AM Susan Gets Native said...

Woodcocks are just so damn cute!
And isn't he a looker? If I were a female woodcock (would that be a woodhen?) I would be impressed with that peent.

On March 1, 2007 at 3:19 AM Trixie said...

Damn fine! No sign of spring here, except the ever increasing daylight and the northward march of the sunset. Thanks for the SE Ohio spring report. I am grateful.

On March 1, 2007 at 6:50 AM Julie Zickefoose said...

Sah-weeeet video! Thrilled to see the upload. Do you realize how lucky you are to have that going on just a few steps out your back door? Shall we watch him dance tonight?

On March 1, 2007 at 8:42 AM Rondeau Ric said...

The video was uber cool.
If you're getting spring sign there maybe there is hope for us Canadians eh.

On March 1, 2007 at 9:05 AM Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Ric's right- uber cool! I got directions from Birdchick last spring and went out to listen to woodcocks for the first time, but I couldn't get a good look. I'll try again this spring...whenever that is. We're getting socked with the 2nd major snowstorm in a week.

On March 1, 2007 at 10:06 AM mon@rch said...

True sign of spring for sure! I can't wait for ours to return but with all this snow it probably will be a little later than years pass! Although our skunks have just started to return!

On March 1, 2007 at 12:46 PM Heidi Garrett said...

I am looking for one of Ora Anderson's wood carvings of a bird. He was a good friend of mine and I only knew him for about a year before he passed away. Any ideas if there are any of his carvings available for sale?

Heidi Garrett

On March 1, 2007 at 11:21 PM Born Again Bird Watcher said...

Splendid video Bill! I can't wait to see the forthcoming sky dance footage. Not a bird I'm likely to trip over any time soon out here in Oregon.

On March 2, 2007 at 7:44 AM Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks all!

Heidi I have sent you an answer offline.


On March 2, 2007 at 9:19 PM Edit2 said...

Heidi, I hope bt3 told you Ora has a book coming out in April. If not, check out the Ohio University Press website. It's called Out of the Woods: A Bird Watcher's Year, and it's lovely; pure Ora.

On March 4, 2007 at 9:53 PM zeladoniac said...

Wow- what a fantastic video! Now I've heard my first "Peent", thanks to you. And thanks for finding me my first Timberdoodle ever- oh, wait, no, come to think of it- that was your resourceful Chet Baker who put that one up for me.

Wish we had them over here!
More videos, please!

On March 8, 2009 at 7:54 PM Ken_Orabone said...

Great post on the woodcock. I have been away from the East for almost 20 years and am now back. I wandered down to the field out behind our rental house this evening, not even thinking of woodcocks and heard that wonderful "peent". It was a bit too cloudy and dark to see the sky dance, but I could hear them. I'll be heading back for more on the following evenings and may try to catch a video at some point - I'll let you know if I do.