Friday, March 14, 2008

Peenting and Winnowing

The first known occurrence of the American Woodcock (Philohela minor) in Berrien County, Michigan, in spring 2008 was a bird reported by Dick Schinkel (via the Berrien Birding Club listserv) that was heard peenting briefly behind his house at 8:15 pm on Sunday, April March 9.

Monday, April March 10, saw temperatures warm into the mid 40's, melting most of the snow that had remained in open areas. Prompted by Dick's report, Marj and I took a late-evening crepuscular walk down the top of the earthen dam (and abandoned right-of-way of the New York Central Lines) that forms Crescent Lake. We left the house at 8 pm, by which time temperatures were hovering around 32 degrees. The clear skies gave us nice views of a smiling crescent moon and stars, but the hoped-for woodcock and owls did not materialize in the half-hour we spent outside.

Tuesday evening, April March 11, was uncomfortably cold with a stiff, raw wind blowing, affording little likelihood of hearing woodcocks or owls.

Wednesday evening, April March 12, was warm (with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees at 8 pm) and calm. A perfect evening for listening for night birds. This night, we decided to carry folding lawn chairs a couple of hundred yards to a shrubby area on the edge of a swamp that I thought had much potential for woodcocks. We enjoyed the calls of late-departing Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls as they flew over in the fading light, and marvelled at the silhouettes of the scraggly and misshapen branches of scraggly shrubs against the dark-blue night sky, but we again struck out on hearing woodcocks. Chilled, we walked back to the house at 8:30 pm.

Thursday evening, April March 13 was perfect, with an 8 pm temperature of about 50 degrees and virtually no wind. After two strikeouts, I decided to listen for woodcocks this evening from the comfort of our own deck. Eureka! At about 8:10 pm, I heard a woodcock peenting in a brushy area not too far behind the barn. I quietly walked to the far corner of the barn. From that vantage point, I could also faintly hear the winnowing sound made by air rushing through the bird's feathers as it tumbled slowly back to the ground after reaching the apex of it's flight display. The bird continued peenting and winnowing until about 8:25 pm. How cool to hear a displaying woodcock from the convenience of our own deck!

Addendum: It appears that the early switch to Daylight Savings Time, in concert with unseasonably warm and sunny weather, lured me into thinking that we had jumped ahead to April!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listening to woodcocks is just amazing. It fills me with wonder every time I hear that winnowing sound coming from high above.
That must indeed have been very cool!

March 14, 2008 10:31 PM  

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