Monday, March 21, 2011

A View from my Window

It was about 2:15 this afternoon and I was on a conference call. The call was going slowly and I was only peripherally involved in the conversation. So my focus and gaze shifted to looking out my home office window toward the bird feeders and the patch of open woods beyond. I saw some movement near a small pile of brush. It was snowing, so the light was dim. I put the phone on speaker so I could better hold my binoculars.

And there, I could not believe it, was a woodcock probing in the soft, moist soil for earthworms and other insects. In the mid-afternoon in rather open woodlands with little cover, a woodcock was in my patch of woods. She should have been napping in a thick cover of alder. I say she, because females are bigger than males and this bird was large and plump.

Needless to say, my attention drifted away from the conference call to watching the woodcock. The call lasted over an hour. During that time the woodcock rested a few times, tucking its bill into its back, but otherwise she moved slowly about, probing among the leaf litter and into the new dusting of snow to the soft soil beneath.

The fantastic part was the bird's movement. It bobbed back and forth (sort of a rocking motion) on its short legs as it pressed one pinkish-colored foot forward and then another. Like it was pressing down on the leaf litter. I've read that this is to cause earthworms to move and thereby more easily detected. After a few steps it stuck its 2 1/2 inch bill deep into the soil. This woodcock actively bobbed and pressed its feet. I watched it pull up a long juicy earthworm and nearly every probe seem to be successful in finding some insect or other food item.

The conference call ended and I kept watching the woodcock. Finally Kodi pulled me away for a long walk. We were out for more than an hour. Later, when I looked out the window at 5:30 pm I thought the bird had left, but after a few seconds there she was, not far from where I last saw her.

Yesterday I wrote about how few people get to see the male woodcock mating ritual because it happens at dusk or because they haven't the foggiest idea that it is even happening. They completely miss hearing the peents. But this, even I have never spent so much time watching a woodcock feed in broad daylight, Likely it was the mid-afternoon gray sky and snowfall that made the woodcock feel safer than it probably should have felt.

I set up the spotting scope (after the conference call) to better see the bird. I could see all her features -- large, black eyes set high on her head to better see predators like a hawk, black bars on the head, a plain, unstreaked, buff-colored breast and belly, big feet on short legs, and a robust body. An odd-looking bird with quaint behaviors.

Srini arrived home in time to see a few bobs and probes as it grew dark. He had to start dinner while I continued to watch the woodcock feeding. By 7:00 pm -- nearly 5 hours after I first saw her -- she was still probing in the same small patch of woods.

One more amazing view from my office window.

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