Tonight I went to Scotia Barrens with hopes to spot a few American Woodcock. Joe Verica reported two displaying males near the “big sign” at Scotia on February 28th, so it was likely that they would be there again. I arrived at the barrens around 5:30 pm. There was an unusual amount of traffic and barking dogs, so I figured I wouldn’t be seeing much of anything. A few Black-capped Chickadees were out foraging, along with a single Pileated Woodpecker, but not much else.
As I rounded the corner, the barking dogs grew much louder and there seemed to be some kind of gathering of men in camouflage. The friendly group of faux-hunters were at Scotia running dog trials for American Woodcock and Ruffed Grouse. What a coincidence! I was sure this all but ruined my chances of seeing any woodcock, though, since the dogs were so loud and the trucks were all leaving for the night, right past the big sign. Apparently pointing dog field trials happen a few times a year at Scotia (don’t worry, they don’t actually shoot the woodcock). The guys informed me that they saw a handful of American Woodcock near the powerline cut, but not as many as they had expected.
As they left for the evening, I almost decided to call it quits because of all the activity, but instead went back to the field south of the road near the big sign. There are a few openings in this shrubby field with some snow left in them, which looked perfect for displaying woodcock. Around 6:10 pm, I could hear a displaying woodcock but could just not see it; they get super high in the air fairly quickly, and can be hard to spot if you haven’t followed them up from the ground. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear where this one landed. Around 6:20, as a truck drove by, a single American Woodcock flushed from near the big sign. This bird left the area to the south west without looking back. Surprisingly, a few minutes later, a woodcock started his “PEENTs” nearby. The second woodcock of the night! (not counting the first one that I couldn’t see, since I couldn’t confirm I didn’t see him later). I sat down in the field to give the other woodcock a chance to come out and for this bird to settle into a routine. The second bird peented for about 5 minutes, and as it got darker, I walked closer to it. Meanwhile, another woodcock started peenting from the shrubs just a few feet away from me, and flew to the open ground right next to me! (now at least 3 woodcock for the night!) He eyeballed me while I froze, gave a single “peent,” then retreated to another open area of the field. The original peenting woodcock continued calling for about 5 more minutes, before displaying high into the air, and spiraling back down. The second peenting woodcock also displayed, but did not come back down into the field; I think he was onto me, and he may have landed in the field on the other side of the road by the big sign…he peented no more. I stuck around for about 25 more minutes while the original woodcock called and displayed. The area wasn’t open enough to quietly sneak around, so I just listened as the bird alternated between two different openings in the field. I did manage two shots of his display flight. Check out Tim’s post from last year over at Thermal Birding about woodcock at Scotia….he was much more successful than I was at getting a ground shot!