Long-time followers of this blog will know that the American Woodcock has become a bit of a nemesis bird for me. After my first, phenomenal close encounter with the species, over a decade went with nothing but a single windowstrike and other people’s anecdotes to prove to me that the species even existed.
Still, I lived in hope. Every spring, every park, every muddy patch I got my feet wet in made me think: “Hmmmm…. Woodcock?” After all, like the man said, if you live long enough the bird comes to you.
So it was with wistful regrets for Woodcocks, among other migrants, that I agreed to accompany the Inimitable Todd on a bike trip to Queens to visit friends. It’s difficult to bird with non-birding acquaintances along. Interrupting a conversation to stare over someone’s shoulder and then say “Oh! A Song Sparrow!” is generally considered a faux pas unless you’re with fellow birders.
Still, when we entered the Kissena corridor, and I spotted a male Ring-necked Pheasant just strolling along the lawn near some bushy cover, I hesitated a minute. But hey, Ring-necked Pheasant! I poked the IT and broke up the conversation.
Happily, a male Ring-necked Pheasant is a sufficiently shiny (in both the strictly literal and the metaphorical sense) that my non-birding companions were awed rather than annoyed. We tried to take some pictures (this went poorly) and observed the bird until it retreated to cover.
So I felt I had established some credibility. Still, I was bracing myself to take a social risk. We were headed to the Velodrome, which is a circle for people to bicycle extremely fast around. Ever since my little mishap last fall I have not had much interest in bicycling extremely fast, but the rest of the party did not share this handicap.
Behind/ alongside the Velodrome, there is a brushy area filled with reedy weeds and patches of hardy tree (say it five times fast!) and muck. On our way to the Owl Prowl we had biked by this area, and I’d thought to myself, looks like a place that a migrating Woodcock might chill. So while the others waiting for their turn on the circle, I disappeared into the brush.
Not long after I started down the path, I began to think that I’d made a poor decision. There was standing water and deep mud at several points in the trail, while the weeds and brush were over my head and seemed like a good place for anybody with an antisocial tendency to kill witnesses to lurk. And there weren’t many birds. And most of the birds there were were Robins.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Robins. Especially this time of year, when their songs, although not all that impressive for a thrush, are one of the better things going in the urban soundscape. Still, as I flushed Robin after Robin (and got stabbed and scratched by spiky weed after spiky weed) I began to wonder if perhaps going around in circles fast mightn’t have been the better option.
Then suddenly I flushed something that wasn’t a Robin.
Two somethings in fact. Oddly enough, my first impression was “That’s a weird bill for a Flicker”, perhaps because of the warm coloration. Then I realized what I was seeing…
The Woodcocks executed a tight spiral and came down nearby, obviously not wanting to foresake this nice wet lonely place for the unforgiving streets of Queens. I tried to get a better view of them with stealth, but only succeeded in flushing them a second time. At least I was able to get better looks as I followed their flight – and appreciate the excellence of their camouflage when they landed.
I this point I decided that enough was enough and that I should let them go about their day. And I went about mine, biking around Queens, spotting Downy Woodpeckers, Ruddy Ducks, and my first-of-season Laughing Gulls along the way. I can only hope that having broken this curse, Woodcocks will be as common for me as Pine Siskins have been the past month… but that might be asking a little much.