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Chris Wood/Macaulay Library
Adult American woodcock. Stocky, short-necked shorebird with a long bill that blends in well with vegetation. Note gray stripes down back.

NATURE’S TURN: Find woodcocks on the ground and in the air

By Monday, Mar 25, 2019 Farm and Table 2

March 25 – April 8, 2019

Mount Washington — The soft “peent” of a woodcock came from the darkness gathering over a wet thicket within the hour after sunset on the vernal equinox. Its nasal call at dusk is unmistakable, as recognizable to the ear as a signal of winter turning to spring as the renewed heat of the Sun on skin at midday.

My attention was divided between the surprise stimulus of the distinctive sound of the return of the woodcock to his nesting ground and expectantly looking over my shoulder to the east for the predicted appearance of a perigean full moon. Even though it was anticipated, I was amazed when a spot of golden light appeared on the crest of the ridge to the east. Mounting steadily, the light broadened, its edge curved into a bow: It was the leading limb of the now brilliant half-of-the-moon rising above the trees, silhouetting the wintry forest – black branches painted on gold. A wonderful, ochre-colored corona expanded around the orb as it lifted and took shape as the Full Sap Moon.

On the other side of the lane, the woodcock’s “peent” was louder. I wondered if I heard two woodcocks in the territory that I have returned to every late winter for 20 years, to listen for them and observe their aerial display. They have often arrived during a frigid February, bringing the promise of spring. This year, the hill towns were painted white with snow two days after the equinox.

Typically, after voicing their nasal “peent” from the ground, a twittering sound is heard. Please listen to their sounds at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Woodcock/sounds. This twittering is our cue to scan for the sight of the woodcock in flight. At my location, the bird shoots up from the ground and spirals into the air adjacent to the thicket, above an open field. As it descends, it chirps loudly, punctuating its fall, and repeats the songs and the aerial dance in the darkness.

Among the programs listed in the “Opportunities to participate” section, below, please find “Birding by Ear: Songs and Calls of Berkshire Birds” offered at Pleasant Valley Audubon.


American woodcock

Opportunities to participate

April 6, 10 a.m. – noon, Birding by Ear: Songs and Calls of Berkshire Birds – https://www.massaudubon.org/program-catalog/pleasant-valley/63863-birding-by-ear-songs-calls-of-berkshire-birds

April 6, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Spring Pruning of Ornamental Plants – https://www.berkshirebotanical.org/events/spring-pruning-woody-ornamental-plants-0

April 6 – May 26 Gallery Exhibition, April 5, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Gallery Reception – Nature Narratives — The Botanical Art of Carol Ann Morley

April 6 – 11a.m. – 4 p.m. Berkshire Earth Expo, Pittsfield – http://coolerberkshires.org/berkshire-earth-expo-2019/

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