Monday, May 10, 2010

The Timberdoodle

Cute name, don’t you think?! Bogsucker isn’t as appealing. Both apply to the illusive American Woodcock sometimes inaccurately called a “snipe.” I had to borrow today’s photo. As a casual, wander-about photographer, it would be nearly impossible for me to capture an image of this secretive little member of the sandpiper family of birds. I would have to “stumble across” one and at the exact moment of its terrified eruptive flight I would have to have been prepared to grab a shot “on the fly.”

Well…yesterday on my pasture hike, I did, in fact, accomplish half of that prescription: I did “stumble” across an American Woodcock, but as for being prepared to take its way. Practically underfoot, the poor astonished bird exploded from the ground just six feet from my foot, and both of us were way too surprised for artful images! I had just enough time to catch a glimpse of that distinctive long probing beak and a blur of rusty white wings, as it made haste toward protection afforded by multi-flora rose and Russian olives.

The majority of sandpipers inhabit environs closer to the sea. But one, the American Woodcock lives in moist thickets and woodland undergrowth rather than close to the shorelines. It ranges over most of Eastern North America. Usually they can be seen close to dawn or dusk. But this one, was simply hunting for worms (presumably) in a boggy valley between two segments of pastureland. Earthworms are the Woodcock’s food of choice, using their long beak like a sewing needle to probe the wet ground. They are stubby little creatures, almost comical with short tails and big eyes. (night vision!)

They make a soft “Peent, peent” sound. It’s quite distinctive. I’ve heard it several times, and I can remember a pair that flew past our porch every evening for a couple of weeks, several years back. But, alas! The American Woodcock population has been declining (habitat loss) by about 1.2 percent each year. So, it’s especially rare –not to mention heartwarming—that we out here JOTOLR—have been honored by the bird’s presence. And, though I’ve never seen their mating ritual, it’s said to be “entertaining” as the male climbs upward in a spiraling flight as his wings make a twittering sound. He chirps as he returns to earth, trying to entice a female with whom they’ll make a household

A snipe (yes, Virginia…there is such a thing as a snipe!) and a wood cock are about the same size. The snipe is apparently thinner with an even longer bill.

So, were you ever sent out on a “snipe hunt?” I was! Gullible Elora!  That’s the old camping game in which the poor unsuspecting tenderfoot camper is sent out with a burlap sack and a stick and told to make weird noises, in order to find and capture as many (obviously non-existent) snipes as possible in a certain time frame.

Actually, the snipe is difficult to catch or to shoot. So much so that the word “sniper” is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot it.

I love the woodcock. And I’m elated that we rated a five-star for their choice of places to stay for this spring’s nesting season! I only hope it comes a bit closer to the house so we can hear it’s “peent, peent” and watch it swoop overhead as it takes a tour of the farm as evening falls.

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