Thursday, February 25, 2010

Looking for woodcocks

Haven't seen/heard any displaying American Woodcocks yet. They seem to be running late this year.

According to Brock’s Birds of Indiana, Monday was the arrival date for this species. By this time last year there were at least a half dozen reports of displaying woodcocks on both the local and state birding e-mail lists. This year there have been no reports on either list yet. Last year the Indiana statewide Great Backyard Bird Count report showed 15 checklists reporting 83 woodcocks. This year there was just one checklist reporting only one bird. Last year I found several peenting and displaying birds the first time I went looking for them on February 16 on the Indiana University cross country course. I found them several more times after that.

I took several late evening walks over to the IU XC course to listen for owls during the Great Backyard Bird Count. Each time I started my walk at about the same time as woodcocks would be peenting/displaying. I didn’t notice any woodcocks.

This week I’ve been checking out the XC course specifically for peenting/displaying woodcocks. On Monday there was a low cloud deck illuminated by nearby city lights, and I did see one woodcock silhouetted against this backdrop as it flew near the southern tree line. So I know there’s at least one bird there, but no peenting/displaying so far. I’m thinking maybe the snow cover is delaying these mating rituals?

Here are some other highlights from my evening XC walks this week:

* Heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling back and forth in the distance, off to the north. Very nice serenade.

* Heard a Barred Owl very close to me in the woods. Close enough that it sort of gave me chills.

* I’m pretty sure I heard several Killdeers fly overhead on Monday evening. Migrants? Sign that spring is drawing near?

* Heard some coyotes carrying on not too far off to the north. They weren't yapping or howling...they were singing. Sounded like some kind of otherworldly jazz improvisation as one coyote's calls played off another's. Now that’s a sound that really gives me goosebumps!

* Each evening I’ve been on the XC course as the deer begin to move out of the woods and onto the XC course to graze...several small herds of maybe a half dozen individuals each. On Monday the lighting was kinda spooky, and the deer looked like ghosts as they slowly moved across the terrain, silhouetted against the patchy snow cover. At first you think you see something moving. Then you know you’re seeing motion, but you’re not sure what it is. And the deer appeared to be having the same experience as they caught sight of me. They’d stand and stare for minutes. One deer slowly walked straight towards me from about 200 feet away, staring intently the whole way. I got a little nervous when it was about 30 feet away, so I made a loud noise and it bounded away, white tail held high.

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