Timberdoodle versus Human: Which Singles Scene is More Exhausting?

American Woodcock

American Woodcock image courtesy of Paco Lyptic on Flickr

I don’t miss my single days—trying to look just right, the awkwardness of some conversations, disappointing dates, and being pursued by men who just seemed overeager.

Of course, that was a long time ago. And I don’t know for certain if it’s still the case that the men often take the lead—asking for a phone number, or a date, or trying to plan a “perfect” night. For all I know, the women are in complete control now! But, back in the day, I felt for these guys, with such an onus of needing to impress the girl.

Well, I’m here to argue that the American Woodcock (aka Timberdoodle or Bog Sucker) has a much more difficult time of it. For proof, if you are local, get to the Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge in Westbrook this Sunday for a repeat of this  past Saturday’s American Woodcock event—a brief talk and then watching the male do his elaborate courtship display.

Scientists or other exacting readers, please forgive me if this summary is less than 100% precise. But the male’s courtship job basically involves:

  • Calling out for quite some time (can you say PEENT?) while rotating in a 360-degree circle on the ground
  • Shooting up into the sky for an erratic (or maybe to the female, it’s erotic) flight while making strange whistling sounds with your feathers
  • Zooming back down while making another sound, described by some as “whimpering chirps” (is this desperation setting in?)
  • Landing in about the same spot, often to do it all over again (and again) (and again).

All of this is based on the assumption that there must be a female woodcock camouflaged in the brush, just waiting to meet you!

Here’s a good account, complete with audio, from Miracle of Nature.

If you can get to the local event, it is so worth it. It’s led by Patricia Laudano, president of the local Potopaug Audubon Society. She’s been developing her very specialized expertise in this species for many years! (If you don’t hail from Connecticut, it might be worth researching if there’s something like this going on in your area.)

It is a truly a treat to learn about these amazing creatures, their upside-down brains, and the labor-intensive ritual that makes human dating look like a cake walk!  Plus, to me they are uniquely enchanting. Bonus: they are an ungainly, endearing, persistent, and often unnoticed sign of spring!


Going to Seed

By Slack12 in Guilford, CT

By Slack12 in Guilford, CT

It is a gift to discover a new and inspiring place, especially when it’s right in your own backyard and especially on a stunning autumn day. The Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge—the Salt Meadow Unit —is a short drive away in Westbrook, and our family was treated to a talk on fall foliage and a walking tour along the loop trail by the park rangers last Sunday. It was past peak, but the talk on what makes leaves green (chlorophyll) orange (carotenoids), brown (tannins), and red (sugars), and on the trees’ wise practice of conserving their resources for the winter gave me a newfound appreciation for the many autumns I have watched come and go.

In many cases, the bright green chlorophyll of the growing season is actually masking what the tree’s true, inherent leaf colors are. In other words, the beauty that’s been masked emerges as the leaves near death. This concept had me thinking about how this can often be true for humans, too–our “bests” do not necessarily appear when we are young and occupied with the business of growing and reproducing.

I cherished the rich scents of salt and mud and plant life wafting up to the viewing platform over the marsh, and I marveled at the mix of trees and their colored flags of surrender to winter. I became fascinated by the lives of the two women who had bequeathed the land so that it could be preserved. They ate at a grand stone table in a clearing overlooking the water; they even had an outdoor icebox nearby so they could linger outside longer.

As our varied group of families, couples, and singles stood in the sunshine within a tunnel-like walkway through tangles of low brush, the ranger explained that this shrubland was an endangered habitat, one that is being carefully managed and monitored. Years ago the natives burned swaths of land for clearing and other purposes, and after that farms had their own clearing effect, removing shade so that shorter plants could thrive. But now, in New England, much of the former farmland has been developed for housing or industry, and that means less shrubland overall. Diminished shrubland means less food and less cover for a variety of animals, like the declining American Woodcock and the endangered New England Cottontail.

From the Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife

From the Maine Department of Fisheries and Wildlife

There’s something to be said for letting things “go to seed.” The idiom has a connotation of negativity, perhaps especially in New England when clearing land meant labor-intensive walls of heavy stone. UsingEnglish.com says “if someone has gone to seed, they have declined in quality or appearance.” But in the case of shrubland and in defiance of this judgmental idiom, species can thrive if completely cleared land is allowed to return to its more natural state—at least for a time. And the tangles, twists, berries, and bugs that emerge have a subtle but seductive beauty of their own. Those of us with our own yards can pitch in, too, creating and/or preserving our own small shrubland patches.

I’ve been reading Living at the End of Time: Two Years in a Tiny House by John Hanson Mitchell, and I savored his account of encouraging a new shrubland after he had some trees cleared and their stumps bulldozed. How reassuring the relentless march of life can be:

I let the area grow up again. First to return were the poison ivy shoots and the blackberries, which, although ground down to nothing on the surface, had their roots deeply set in the topsoil. But this time other species came along as well, and….toward the end of that summer I counted the number of species in my first informal ecological survey. In subsequent years in the meadow I found brown snakes, red-bellied snakes, garter snakes, and milk snakes. I saw leopard frogs, pickerel frogs, wood frogs and toads, red-backed salamanders, katydids, meadow crickets, long-horned grasshoppers and uncountable species of beetles. Foxes and skunks regularly crossed the meadow; deer grazed there…Robins and flickers were abundant; flycatchers darted from the trees along the edges to snap up the field insects flying above the ground; swallows coursed the clearing by day, followed by bats at night. There was light and air; stars, wind, and sky; life had returned.