April 18, 2005 [LINK]

Woodcock display flight

On Saturday evening I joined an Augusta Bird Club outing led by Allen Larner to the Blue Ridge in hopes of seeing one of the more remarkable mating rituals of the avian world: the evening flight display of the American woodcock. (Jacqueline and I had seen a woodcock once before, in November 2003.) About 15 members showed up, and while we did see a Blue-gray gnatcatcher and a few other songbirds, no woodcocks were heard as the sky turned to black. While waiting in the chilly night air, I drew everyone's attention to Jupiter in the southeastern skies, the identification being based on the three adjacent moons I saw; up to four of its moons can be visible with binoculars. After two hours, we were ready to give up, but just as we were about to get back in our cars we heard the distinctive peent call of the woodcock, rather like the call of a nighthawk. Soon we tracked him down, and with the aid of flashlights were able to get good looks at the odd long-billed bird, about 40 yards away. It's a relative of sandpipers, but lives in moist woods, feeding mostly on earthworms. I managed to follow his upward twirling flight path up to a height of over 100 feet (higher than I expected), and then as it came fluttering down with an odd twittering sound, mostly caused by the wind in his wings, much like the Mourning dove. Very curious behavior, indeed. It's nice when patience pays off!

A group of Purple finches has been hanging out behind Lee High School/S.A.R.S. for the past week or so, but I haven't seen any warblers there yet.

UPDATE: I saw the first Chimney swifts of the spring flying overhead late this afternoon. They seem to be arriving later for the last few years. Also, I saw a Northern (yellow-shafted) flicker for the first time in months.