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Balmy March

Monday, March 13, 2006

It's the kind of warmth that won't last, but I let the kids wear shorts to school today. 75 degrees, promising to plummet to 38 tonight. I can hear the winds starting to roar already. Last night Bill took the kids out to hit wiffle balls. In my entire childhood, I can recall perhaps two instances when my dad actually played with us. Thanksgiving Day, touch football. Our interaction was more that I followed him around and asked questions about what he was doing. Which was fine. But it makes my heart sing to hear the hollow TOMP of a wiffle ball being hit, and peals of laughter from Liam and Phoebe as Chet intercepts the balls. Thank goodness for a daddy who takes the time to play with his kids. (Cue Harry Chapin, "Cat's in the Cradle.")
This weather has the woodcocks all het up. We've got at least six in the meadow and orchard, more than we've had since we moved here in 1993. I figure the super-mild winter allowed a lot more to survive than usual. Thank goodness, it rained about an inch on Sunday, so the nightcrawlers are coming up. Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee a good woodcock crop on its way. How lucky we are to have woodcocks nesting in our backyard!
Chet is intrigued by the buzzy peents coming from the meadow at dusk. He whirls around looking for the creatures. Time exposure made a ghost of him; he stood for a couple of seconds, then trotted off, leaving his aura behind. I don't want him to chase woodcocks, so I keep him close at hand, or leave him inside when I go out to watch them. The woodcock peents maybe 20 or 30 times from the ground, then takes off on a slow spiral, higher and higher over the meadow. His lanceolate outer primaries twitter as he flies. The American woodcock in flight display has the slowest powered flight of any North American bird, and it's easy to follow his path before it gets too dark. When he's at the apex of his climb, though, he starts to sideslip like an autumn leaf, and begins a mad liquid twitter that's both mechanical (wing feathers) and vocal. It's like the song of a dervish, reaching a frenetic climax just before he brakes and coasts into his calling spot. The trick is to make a run for cover while he's up, and hope to hide in the brush near where he comes down. It's hard to fool a woodcock, though, and he'll usually see you and drop somewhere else. When you've got a foolhardy or inattentive bird, though, you can luck out and get one to drop like a little potato practically at your feet. Then, the hard part is not laughing out loud as he gives his raspberry call. He stomps around in little circles, and with each peent he seems to explode, partly spreading his wings and tail and opening that ridiculously long bill wide as he throws his head back to force the call out. It's absolutely adorable. I knew a man who hunted woodcocks, years ago in Connecticut, and I took him out to see them on the display grounds, in the hope that, once he saw them lekking, he'd have a change of heart. I don't know if it worked or not.
Last night, the moon was bright and the wind was warm, and one woodcock called almost all night. I wish I had an audio file for you, but here's our meadow at 10 PM. It was all I could do not to run out there in my PJ's, but we've two more trips coming up, back to back, and I had to get some sleep.


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