This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

American Woodcock


OKAY, SO HERE'S THE STORY ON THE AMERICAN WOODCOCK (pictured at left, sitting on snowy nest, which I thought was appropriate as we had snow again today). My friend Clay called me last week to see if I wanted to go out looking for the American Woodcock on Saturday night, as he had heard a few people were getting a group together and these people were 'in the know' and knew where to find one. So I said what the heck. Clay picked me up Saturday night and for once he was early (well, only ten minutes late, which is like being early for Clay). It was a beautiful evening, cool and clear and sharp, with a near-full moon on the rise and a great sunset. We got to our destination-- the Sudbury division of the Great Meadow National Wildlife Refuge. This is from their website:
"Just twenty miles west of Boston lies an oasis for wildlife - Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Roughly 85 percent of the refuge's more than 3,600 acres is comprised of valuable freshwater wetlands stretching along 12 miles of the Concord and Sudbury Rivers. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protects and manages Great Meadows as nesting, resting, and feeding habitat for wildlife, with special emphasis on migratory birds. The diversity of plant and animal life visible from refuge trails provides visitors with excellent opportunities for wildlife viewing and nature study."
Our guide for the evening was certainly someone in the know, Libby Herland, the Manager of the place. Clay was in a panic that we would be late and miss the group going off somewhere, as he thought we had to be there at 7, but I kept reminding him that he had said 7:30 earlier in the week when he first mentioned it. We got there at 7:10 and found a woman walking down the road. Clay stopped her and peppered her with questions in rapid succession, ("Are we late? Where's Dave? Did they leave yet? Where are people meeting?") without waiting for her to answer any of them. Finally she blurted, "I don't know anything, I'm just here to see the birds!" and she walked off. But as it turned out we were twenty minutes early; then we spotted a kind of digital telescope on the side of the drive, pointing out to this field, so we knew that's where it would be happening. By and by a group of people sauntered over from somewhere else, then more people trickled in. By the time the show started there were about twenty folks there all told, looking, I must say, like a central casting call for birdwatchers off a Hollywood lot. I'm not sure what that really looks like, but you'd have to be there. Delightful people. Me and Clay I think were the youngest folks there, and there was lots of chit-chat about who had seen what where, in the way of recent avian activity.
Meanwhile the beautiful golden band of the sunset thinned and spread across the west, and Venus came out a-blazing, as did the moon, rising behind us. The magnificent booming call of the Great Horned Owl sounded from off to the south, behind a hill-- Weir Hill, I was told. Occasionally the squawk of Canadian geese punctuated the sound of peepers, as the former raced the twilight home. I couldn't hear the peepers but was told they were really going at it right ont he other side of the meadow.
Then we heard it, the nasal peet peet peet peet of the American Woodcock, from the field right before us. It was now growing pretty dark. Then with a burst he flew off, up into the air, higher and higher, until we couldn't see him anymore (they fly 200-300 feet up) then he bombed back down, emitting this whistling sound that reminded me of those firecrackers that whistle as they go off-- it's actually the air rushing over his wings that makes this sound. He landed at the exact spot from which he had taken off, which is called his 'singing grounds.' Then after a few minutes, he started up again with the peet peet peet business and then burst up again. There were actually two of them doing this. After about half an hour, the show ended. But what an amazing show it was. The more one sees nature, the more one becomes amazed at what an amazingly beautiful and rich place this earth is that we inhabit-- and how important it is, especially now as we stand at a crossroads, to preserve it. We know what must be done-- the question remains, will we do it?

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