Well, that was pretty awesome!
Last year was the first time in over 10 years of running this tour that we failed to all SEE an American Woodcock in its spring display flight at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. I was worried that long term declines, local land-use changes, brush-cutting, or something more sinister were catching up to the small population that breeds at Pineland Farms. But last spring also saw a mass fallout and likely significant mortality event in the Mid-Atlantic region following a significant spring Nor'Easter.
We've had so many successful trips at Pineland, where a combination of logistical factors (bathrooms, warm meeting room, paved roads for a group to walk together, special access to the private property, and most importantly, a prime woodcock viewing area) made it hard for me to consider relocating this very popular annual trip. So I decided to give it a go for at least one more year. Hopefully a successful breeding season would result in more than the one, lone woodcock we heard last year.
So with that decision made, it was time to stress about the weather. Strong and gusty winds all day found me staring at wind apps and weather forecasts. With such a tough spring of uncertain weather, we decided to give it a go, as perfectly clear and calm conditions have been hard to come by. And true to forecast, winds were rapidly diminishing as the sun got lower in the sky.
After our short lecture session, 29 excited would-be woodcock watchers loaded up and caravaned onto the farm. We then took a walk, checking marshy areas and wet fields as we strolled. A Red-tailed Hawk departed, but otherwise, it was eerily silent; spring had not yet sprung in New Gloucester. But, the winds continued to diminish, and only a light puff of a breeze remained by the time we were in place at dusk for what we hoped would be the show of the season.
And then we waited.
Finally, a woodcock began to call, but it wasn't close. I was trying to triangulate it, wondering if we had a chance to get closer to what I began to fear was the only bird present. And then, out of nowhere, a woodcock darted in, landed a mere 20 feet away from the group, and in plain sight (with plenty of light left) began "peenting" vigorously. For at least 5 minutes, he called, out in the open for all to see, offering some of the best views you'll ever have at an American Woodcock.
The viewing was so amazing, that many folks barely moved their binoculars when a mottled Snowshoe Hare came tearing by. Finally, he fell silent, and as per expectations, launched into the air, slowly ascending right in front of us, backlit perfectly by the still-bright-enough western sky. He performed directly overhead, wing-twittering and chirping close enough that most everyone could follow him with even the unaided eye. Dance complete, he tucked in and dropped straight down, just out of view.
Peenting again, but this time out of sight, we waited for a second display, but alas, it was a one-time show tonight. Perhaps there wasn't enough males around to get up his competitive instincts, or perhaps his one display was good enough for a female awaiting his landing. So while it was a relatively short performance tonight, it was one that will go down as arguably the best view we have ever had here, and for those who had never seen an American Woodcock perform, it was a view that may never be beaten!