Third Time’s a Charm for the Timberdoodle

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

This mysterious hermit of the alders, this recluse of the boggy thickets, this wood nymph of crepuscular habits is a common bird…widely known, but not intimately known.  Its quiet retiring habits do not lead to human intimacy.  It may live almost in our midst unnoticed.  Its needs are modest, its habitat is circumscribed, and it clings with tenacity to its favorite haunts even when closely encroached upon by civilization.   – Arthur Cleveland Bent, Life Histories of North American Shorebirds, 1927.

Call it a Timberdoodle, Mud Bat, Bog Sucker, Labrador Twister, Big Eyes, Blind Snipe, Brush Snipe or Swamp Bat…officially it is known at the American Woodcock (Scolopax minor).   Finding them with our members is an annual rite of spring for the Delaware Nature Society.  Some years it is easy.  Other years, the Bog Sucker foils us.  This year, we thought it would be the latter.

The privately-owned Bucktoe Creek Preserve is our traditional Timberdoodle tromping terrain.  Complete with wet, swampy woods for feeding, thickets for nesting, and open areas for displaying, it is usually heaven for the Woodcock.  Larry Lewis and Kathleen Pileggi led the trip this year.  They struck out the first two outings for the birds at Bucktoe.  For the third outing, Larry decided to move the search elsewhere.  At Marsh Creek State Park, Chester County, PA, they finally saw the birds at point blank range, and had a wonderful show.  Woodcocks make you sweat it out sometimes! 

Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the nighthawk.

Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.  – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, 1949.

Rachel Cameron got a photo of this Woodcock at dusk during its flight display.
Our group was lucky to find a "peenting" American Woodcock prior to dusk with enough light to see it well. Photo by Rachel Cameron.

If you would like to see a short video taken by Rachel Cameron, a participant on the trip last Wednesday, March 21, click the link below.

woodcock video


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