For us, the real sign of spring is our annual evening outing to Pineland Farms to take in the performance of displaying American Woodcocks. After another long winter, we were not the only ones ready for a birding trip, because an all-time record of 58 people participated!
Gusty winds all day were forecast to diminish by sunset, but it was still a little breezy when we began to congregate near the Visitor's Center. Luckily, the forecast held true, and after the gusts soon stopped, the wind rapidly began to diminish.
After a little woodcock natural history lesson -momentarily interrupted by a fly-by migrant Northern Harrier and a surprising displaying Red-tailed Hawk - we caravanned down to the farm, where we have special permission to be after hours. And found the gate closed. Despite confirmation just the day before. Unbelievable.
The sun was setting so we had to adapt. We parked and began a cross-country walk to get into position (photo of the procession above!). Within minutes after our arrival at the prime viewing area, we heard a distant "peent." We rushed to pick out some landmarks for use in the rapidly diminishing light, and as we did so, the first twittering display was heard.
Despite the early set-back, it was now primetime, and tonight, the woodcocks put on a show! It was definitely worth the effort. We had at least 5 birds, with 4 displaying right around us. One took flight a few times at a perfect angle against the glow of the western sky, allowing binocular-toting participants to follow it all of the way up to its apex. Another individual launched right over our heads a couple of times.
Sometimes, we hear one bird display, wait, then listen to another, and wait again. Not tonight! It was one display after another, sometimes overlapping. It was continuous activity for over 30 minutes. In fact, it was one of the best performances that we have ever had here, or at least within the past 20 years or so.
Eventually, the woodcocks settled down and none of the nearby birds were calling or displaying; the evening performance had come to an end. We walked back, hoping for a newly-arrived Wilson's Snipe (none tonight, unfortunately), but with the falling temperatures frogs were also silent. The walk back to the car was a little longer than usual - especially as we had to go around the fence - but hopefully it added to the successful adventure!
I do apologize, however, as that gate was promised to be open so we didn't have to walk off-road, and to reduce our distance back in the dark. I was furious, but folks seemed to roll with it, and we could all agree we were most definitely rewarded!