Well, that was fun! And we weren't even cold! In fact, with a starting temperature of a moderate 48F, it was one of our warmest Woodcocks Gone Wild walks at Pineland Farms that we have ever had. And we had a heckuva show.
After our little indoor "spiel," we hopped in our cars for the short caravan onto the farm. We were told that the gate would be left open. It was not. I was not given a code. We turned around. I was furious.
But as you may know, I don't give up easily, so we simply returned to the visitor's center and marched through the woodland trails and across fields to our desired viewing location. It really wasn't a very long, or particularly challenging, walk, but most of us were not wearing shoes for mud. And it was annoying. I was also worried about the timing...the sun was setting fast.
We had just finished talking about landmarks to aid us in spotting the birds, should they perform, when one American Woodcock blurted out a loud "peent" from just beyond the nearby brushline. We fell silent, he began to peent more rapidly, and then took off with a burst. With an orange glow just hanging on in the western sky, we were able to follow him throughout his ascent, and aided with binoculars, could easily see every twist and turn as he slowly descended from the flight's apex, adding chirping vocalizations to his wing-and-wind-generated whirring.
Egged on by at least 3, perhaps 4, other males in close proximity, our star of the show did not spend a lot of time on the ground. Luckily, he repeatedly landed in the open, allowing us good looks on the ground in fading light; always a treat to get to see. Flight after flight was launched as darkness rapidly fell. As we walked away with just enough ambient light to aid the beginning of our cross-country return, we heard him rise up for his 15th flight display of the night!
The benefit of taking the trail back to the visitor's center was we passed right through another bird's territory. Those who had a moment to pause were treated to another series of rather close take-offs and landings.
Last year, we only had one bird present. While he performed quite well and afforded us the best looks we've had in a while on the ground, we only saw a few flight displays as no other males were around to encourage him to continue. This year, with 4-5 once again present, hopefully it's a sign that the woodcock population has recovered a bit from last spring's apparent massive mortality event caused by a freak spring snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic. While the numbers here have declined steadily from a over a decade ago when we started these outings, 4-5 is the recent average and far better than last year's singleton.
There was no sobering reality - other than the amount of mud on some of our shoes - to contend with as we moseyed back and returned to our cars. We were just able to celebrate spring, a great show of woodcocks going wild, and for many: a new life bird!