Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Peents in the hood!

Wow, what a great day I've had, filled with many first signs of spring. I saw a Red-winged Blackbird alongside the highway today. I heard spring peepers this evening. But most importantly, I heard American Woodcocks displaying practically in our backyard.

Dave and I had just come back from a nice evening walk. I stayed out to fill the bird feeders and then to spy on a tree that I think MIGHT be hosting a Barred Owl nest (this is not yet confirmed), and then I heard it - the unmistakable twitter of an American Woodcock descending from its aerial display high in the air. I ran inside to tell Dave (I probably shouted it, actually, because I was so excited): "You gotta get out here - there's Woodcocks!!!" The funny thing is, we had just been talking about Woodcocks during our walk, wondering if there is any suitable habitat for them around where we live, and it turns it they are just up the hill from us!

For those of you in the audience who aren't birders, the "peent" referred to in the title of this post is one of the characteristic sounds the male Woodcock makes during his mating display. Quoting from Cornell University's All About Birds site:
"The male American Woodcock has an elaborate display to attract females. He gives repeated "peents" on the ground, often on remaining patches of snow in the early spring. After a time he flies upward in a wide spiral. As he gets higher, his wings start to twitter. After reaching a height of 70-100 m (230-328 ft) the twittering becomes intermittent, and the bird starts chirping as he starts to descend. He comes down in a zig-zag, diving fashion, chirping as he goes. As he comes near the ground he silently lands, near a female if she is present. Then he starts peenting again."
We contacted our neighbor whose property the birds were actually on, and some evening soon we're going to go up there and observe them more closely. One of them flew overhead this evening, looking like an over-sized bat, but that was the only view we got. Hopefully we'll be able to get some better views up on the mating grounds.

Stay tuned!

P.S. One thing I forgot to mention when I originally put this post up: I sat outside for a little while longer after all the peenting stopped, and I could hear the earthworms and other creepy crawlies moving around under and among the leaf litter. At least I know there is plenty of food available for the Woodcocks. As to hearing the sound of the soil moving... that only creeped me out a little...


Gabrielle said...

Oh how wonderful for you!!!! I got chills while reading your post. We get snipe instead of woodcock here, but they are still very cool. I love camping on my cousins' ranch in Idaho in May and hearing the snipe version of peenting. Enjoy your woodcocks! (And can't wait to hear if it is indeed a barred owl nest or not)

KaHolly said...

Oh, that's so exciting!!! Truly harbingers of spring! What fun I've had in the past spying on the woodcocks, laying in wait in the cold, wet fields as silently as we can, and watching in total amazement! Send that Red-winged Blackbird north, please! They are being reported in Mass., so it won't be long now! ~karen

Kelly said...

How cool!!!! Woodcocks in your own backyard. You must have been going crazy...

Joy K. said...

Hearing the soil weird.

RuthieJ said...

Sounds like spring is definitely there Heather!
P.S. My handheld rechargable spotlight worked really well last spring for watching the "Sky Dance."

Meg said...

I flushed a woodcock on our place once several years ago. We used to flush grouse all the time while walking in the woods. I'm afraid we have more coyotes now than ground dwelling birds, though. Very exciting for you! I hope you'll get a picture : )

Ginnymo said...

It must be great to sit out there with nature. Amazing that you could actually hear the worms moving...Awesome Heather!! Spring is coming!!

Heather said...

Gabrielle - I'm going to have to check out the Cornell site to get an audio fix of the snipe version of peenting. I'll try to keep an eye on the potential owl nest.

Karen - This is only my second experience with woodcocks, but I'm sure it won't be my last. I'll tell those Red-wings to head on up your way, but I'm sure they're working on it.

Kelly - I was out of my mind. I was practically jumping up and down, and I was certainly squealing with glee. It was so incredible.

Joy - Yes, that was an odd experience, but in a good way.

Ruthie - Good tip about the flashlight - thanks! I'll keep that in mind the next time we go out.

Meg - When you flushed the woodcock, did you happen to notice if you flushed it from a nest? I'd love to see (and/or hear) grouse, but there are lots of dogs on patrol around the neighboring woods, so I'm not sure they would have a chance around here. I worry about the woodcocks, too, because our neighbor on whose property they were calling from, has a dog who runs through the woods regularly.

Ginny - Good to hear from you - hope you're doing okay. I think of you when I'm out there. Hope spring is showing signs up in your area!

To all of you: The weather has been a rainy and windy since I wrote this post, and those are not good weather conditions for woodcock display, so we haven't had another chance to get out there and scope them out. Every evening I cross my fingers that the weather will break, and today is no exception. We'll see!

Annelie said...

Hi there. Nice blog and beautiful photos.
Have to agree on the barn owl resemblance picture. Very clever. Have you checked out the live cam on the nesting barn owl. Amazing. (a link on my site if you're interested)
So sad to see the trash. Angers me.

Heather said...

Annelie - Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I haven't watched any owl nest cams for a while - I will have to come over and look for the link. We have our own nest cam going at our house, as we have a pair of Eastern Phoebes nesting on the side of our house. I just posted about it last night.