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 of being on injured reserve following shoulder surgery, I was not the only ones ready for a birding tour - the official kick-off to my busy guiding season.
Gusty winds all day were forecast to diminish by sunset, but it was still a little breezy when we began to congregate next to the Market. Luckily, the forecast held true, and after the gusts soon stopped, the wind rapidly began to diminish as the sun began to set.
Arriving at our viewing location just before prime-time, it wasn’t long before we heard our first “peent” in the distance. Then one closer.
But as I was trying to triangulate where it was calling from, a sharp-eyed participant saw one fly by and land at the edge of the brush – in the open! While it was still fairly light out, too! What a start!
Freezing in the (relative) open, it was easy to see when it was facing us with its peachy-buff breast nicely highlighted by the last of the sun’s rays. When it turned around however, the perfectly camouflaged upperparts made the bird virtually disappear into the brown, grassy background.
Based on the continued “peenting” nearby, we hypothesized this was a female who was also arriving to take in the night’s performance. And perhaps due to her presence, it wasn’t long before the show got started. In fact, the first, close male launched into the air much earlier than we expected, providing an exceptional view of the bird with a fair amount of light on the scene.
The show continued, and thanks to the early start, we were able to see over a half-dozen flights before it began to get too dark. Even when it was too dark to follow the bird in the air, we stood by and took in the sounds of another 5 or so display flights. While his trajectory wasn’t as consistent as some bird’s, and therefore it was a little harder to predict which way to look when he took off, it was one of the best views that we have had in quite some time here. There have been years with more birds, closer birds, constant activity (last year, for example) but the views in the air this year were tough to beat.
We heard at least 5 males, including another bird that came quite close on the other side of the road.
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 temperatures only in the upper 30’s, frogs were also silent, bringing an end to tonight’s concert.