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My Life’s Birds: #441

November 3, 2010

January 2, 2008 – Falls Lake, NC How does one find a Timberdoodle?  Or a brush snipe?  Or a bog sucker? Well, you’ve got a couple options.  You could head to a wet meadow in the evening at the intersection of winter and spring, and sit in the gathering darkness, ears tuned to a distant buzzing and nasally call, at which point you take off through the dewy field hoping to catch a glimpse of a grapefruit sized featherball hurtling out of the sky.  This is the preferred and conventional way to go about this.  Alternately, you can randomly walk through any deciduous forest in the hopes that you might stumble upon the Night Partridge, and I do mean upon the bird as it’s not budging unless it’s in eminent danger of being physically crushed by a clumsy biped with eyes on other things.

At least that’s how I found my American Woodcock.  I was on a Christmas Bird Count, covering one of the access points around Falls Lake and looking for the little perching birds that like to hang around the inlets where they can get out of the end.  I’d had a productive morning, with good numbers of Hermit Thrushes and kinglets, and even a couple Blue-headed Vireos, a half-hardy species that winters in the area in small numbers.  I was following a marked trail, craning my neck skyward for the source of the kinglet peeping I’d just picked up, when all of a sudden I stepped on a feathered landmine.

Or so it seemed.  The bird completely exploded from under my foot, sending me back in surprise and I recovered to get my binoculars on what was shooting away from me at an amazing rate.  Suddenly the bird, dropped behind a fallen tree 100 meters off the trail.  I’m not one to generally bushwhack, I respect the trail system, but I wanted to see this bird and the winter forest was nearly completely devoid of undergrowth.  As I got close to where I’d seen it land, I was amazed at the extent to which it completely disappeared in the carpet of dead leaves.  I had no idea where to start, except to slowly pan the forest floor hoping someone would stick out.

At that point, the bird exploded from the leaves again, this time beating a path deeper in the woods and beyond my ability to chase.  Besides, I had a CBC region to finish canvassing, a lifer was just icing.

AMEWOO from wikipedia

  1. November 3, 2010 10:46 am

    The third option is to go to Magee Marsh/ Crane Creek in May where one can quite reliably get free views of a bird or two foraging in the mud right next to the boardwalk. Unless the warblers are too much of a distraction.
    Congrats on this beautiful lifer. I think the exploding sensation is almost as valuable an experience as getting decent views of a foraging bird. But you should really try to see the courtship flight. That’s almost extra-terrestrial.

  2. November 3, 2010 11:25 am

    Cool experience! I usually see them fly over at dawn, never flushed one before. Would love to get pictures of one on the ground though.

  3. BirdTrainerRobert permalink
    November 3, 2010 12:09 pm

    I flushed one underfoot exactly once, at Brickland Rd, but I got my “life views” at Mason Farm during mating season… it was dim light, but the bird was no more than 6 feet away, just off the trail, preening itself and “peent!”ing every so often. Good enough for me!

  4. November 3, 2010 12:52 pm

    Cool story and reminds me of my first American Woodcock. I wasnt doing a CBC but also had the explosion underfoot experience.

  5. November 3, 2010 2:30 pm

    Going woodcock watching during a warm evening of April (I should say THE warm evening of April for us michigander) is one of the coolest thing to do with a baby. Their display flight is a natural wonder!!!!!!!

    I got my lifer woodcock next to the boardwalks of Magee Marsh, in Ohio. Oh, wait, I was probably with Jochen that day!

    • November 3, 2010 3:15 pm

      Wasn’t that the day we also saw Whip-poor-will and the Eastern Screech Owl? Good times, ey? Good times.

  6. Nate permalink*
    November 3, 2010 6:50 pm

    @Jochen- Oh well, if you’re close to Ohio I guess there’s a third way…

    @Ali- And I’d love to get one flying over!

    @Robert- That’s definitely the traditional place to get them in the area. I’ve looked but probably haven’t spent enough time there after dark to have a shot.

    @Pat- It’s a trip and totally surprising!

    @Laurent- April in Michigan is approximately the same as late February here, which is when people start looking for Woodcocks in NC.

    • November 4, 2010 8:16 am

      From where I am now, Ohio is just a cat’s jump away from North Carolina (as we say in Germany).


      • Nate permalink*
        November 4, 2010 4:21 pm

        Maybe so, but it’d have to be a big cat.

  7. November 4, 2010 7:13 pm

    If you’re ever in NJ in spring, Great Swamp NWR is the place to go. I’ve nearly had my head taken off by displaying woodcocks flying across the parking lot that overlooks the Great Blue Heron rookery on Pleasant Plains Rd. (though my lifer was at Hatfield Swamp in Essex Co.). I think I’d have a nervous breakdown if I had a feathered land mine experience during a CBC, though!

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