The morning ride immediately took a somber tone when I caught a glimpse of a dead bird along the side of the road. I doubled back to find a dead woodcock that had probably been hit a few hours earlier. It was terribly upsetting to see the perfectly intact bird lying lifeless on the side of the road. I started to wonder if this would be the only woodcock that I would see this year, and I hoped dearly that this would not be the case.
For those that aren't intimately familiar with woodcocks, let me just describe them as a sandpiper that lives in the woods. They are amazingly well camouflaged, and as a result they are most easily observed when the males perform their mating ritual. The male puffs himself up and repeatedly utters a "PEEENT" sound while turning in slow circles. After a few seconds of this, he leaps into the air and flies in a wide spiral upwards while making additional chattering noises. After a few sweeps that carry him maybe 150 feet closer to the stratosphere, he stops fluttering and quickly falls back down towards the ground where he repeats the entire process. This short video will give you an idea of the ritual. The point is that woodcocks are really cool.
This evening I decided to make my first evening foray on the bike. Sunset was around 5:45, so I left the house at 5:00 to head out to find a place in the National Forest to look for displaying woodcocks. I found what looked to be a perfect area after about 15 minutes. It was an area off the main road that had been either burned or cut some time ago. Long grasses now filled this void in the mixed deciduous and coniferous forest. About 30 minutes after sundown, I saw a woodcock (#139!) fly out of the woods and out into the grassy area. Soon I began hearing several males doing their rituals. I enjoyed the theater until just after dark when I reluctantly decided to start the 1.5-mile ride home. It was a very satisfying first nocturnal outing. Here is a photo of me at the location just before sunset. Earlier in the day I added Brown Pelican (#137) and Yellow-bellied sapsucker (#138) to the year's list.
It was really relaxing to just stand around and wait for the woodcocks to appear. No one had tipped me off to this location, I just figured it was perfect. All told, I spent an hour and a half just standing on a little rise next to the dirt road off of which I had pulled my bike. I had a decent view of the open area as the sun sank behind the main body of the refuge off to the west. When I am riding the bicycle, I am usually focused on where I am going versus where I am currently. This evening was a nice contrast to that as I had already arrived at my place of refuge and had instead taken this excursion from that nearby base. I was content to simply let the day end without worry if I would reach my endpoint before dark. There were what sounded like thousands of chirping frogs in the area, and they provided the perfect soundtrack as the lingering clouds gave way to the setting sun. Even though I had only ventured a half mile off the main, paved road, it felt as though I had just faded into some exquisitely natural setting. My time at this spot seemed to pass too quickly as it always seems to do under perfect circumstances such as these. Luckily, I will have many more opportunities to experience moments such as this in the coming months.