Last year’s field trip to Morgan Run was a big success. Some 20 to 30 American Woodcock were either heard or seen. One or two even posed for us by flashlight in the middle of the trail. The weather wasn’t much to brag about though. It was cold and damp. A steady mist was falling most of the time.
So, I wondered if our luck would be as good this year. Had last year’s bad weather been the reason we saw so many of the birds? Or, was it the amazing birding skills of our field trip leader, Bill “Woodcock” Ellis that made the difference.
This year, the weather was nice. No rain fell and the temperatures were moderate for the season. Bill was our leader again. Evidently, word had gone out about last year’s success. Twenty-four birders showed up! Some were club members, however, others came from as far as Oakland, Maryland for the experience. (OK. They do have American Woodcock in Western Maryland. And the woman was already visiting one of her friends in Carroll County. But, it sounds good.)
While assembling in the parking lot, we listened for bird sounds. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much about. The list included American Robin, American Goldfinch, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Canada Goose, Fox Sparrow, and Northern Mockingbird. Bob Ringler heard the Fox Sparrow. I never would have recognized its call note. I don’t think anyone else did either.
We walked a short way along the trail into the fields and stopped. There, as the light faded, everyone listened for woodcock. The birds are usually heard in the air first, either going up or coming down from their spiraling courtship flight. Or, you may spot their silhouettes as they land again. An American Robin fooled us for a moment, but soon, there were woodcock everywhere.
“There goes one,” someone shouted. “I’ve got one over hear,” another birder called. From past experience, some of us knew to keep an eye on the trail. Sure enough, one of the birds landed there. Allan McQuarrie had brought along a high intensity spotlight and quickly turned it on the bird. Instead of flying, it pretty much ignored us and while we watched (open mouthed, I might add) proceeded to go about its business. This included the making of its characteristic “peent” call. It’s one thing hearing it in the dark. It is a totally different experience to be able to watch the bird’s bill open when it makes the call.
Not to be outdone by this “show-off” another bird
stepped into the spotlight on another portion of the trail. Once everyone had great views of both birds we quickly turned off the lights and trooped back the short distance to our cars.
Bill had done it again!