Sunday, March 10, 2013

Early Spring Woodcock

This is the time of year the woodcock males come out of the woods to play in the evenings. With a little luck . . . .

We started the day in the mid-afternoon sunshine at Musick’s Campground. If you follow the Tenn./ Va. state line east from Bristol until you stop on South Holston Lake, your finger is on Musick’s Campground.

You’re welcome to bird there but be sure to sign in and sign out. Be respectful of their property and of the folks who stay there.

Because Musick’s is lakeside you’ll see droves of gulls, a few cormorant, various grebe, and a smattering of other waterfowl and, of course, yard birds. Depending on the water levels, which open or close a variety of sand bars for the gulls, you’ll probably need a spotting scope.

But what we were really after was Woodcock. This time of year they start to sing near the Weir Dam. Take US421 “south” (east by the sun) out of Bristol and 3-4 miles before the lake, follow the signs to South Holston Dam and Osceola Island. From the parking lot at the weir dam, cross the road, turn left and hike towards the dam, take the first right, stop at the power line clearing, and wait. They come out at dusk.

The woodcock is the less famous relative of the snipe. Both are about the size of the robin with longish beak but the woodcock has rounded wings and the snipe has sharp wings. When the male is signaling he uses a zip sound called at regular intervals. Peterson’s describes it as “zeept” suggesting a nighthawk. Then, to prove his worthiness, he’ll take off in an ever-widening spiral pattern, until he is well over the tree line. He’ll make a slight whistling sound as he flaps his wings. You probably can catch him rising but once overhead he is really hard to see. You’re supposed to hear him as begins to spiral back down to his spot again. (I didn’t.) And then, the routine starts over again. It’s a lot of fun!

Along the way we took some time to ponder a snow goose at a farm pond. The photograph a screech owl in the sycamore tree on the far side of the river, downstream from the footbridge at the weir dam.


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