Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Woodcocks and robins at the reservoir

Friday night was going to be a full moon, so I decided to go back over to the Ridgewood Reservoir at the end of the day. The weather forecast called for clear sky and I thought the moonshine would make a nice backdrop for observing the woodcock courtship.

I arrived about an hour before sunset and strolled around the running path for about 20 minutes. Red-winged Blackbirds have just returned and the reeds that surround basin #2's lake were ringing with choruses of "conk-a-ree, conk-a-ree". American Robins have also returned and invaded the reservoir in astonishing numbers. There were so many vocalizing birds present that I heard them well before I saw them. Along the grass hillside parallel to Highland Boulevard, at the edges of the running path, in the parking lot on Vermont Place and perched in nearly every tree, there were robins. Some were singing the familiar "cheerily, cheerio, cheerily" Spring anthem, but most were making nervous "whinnies" and "tut, tut, tuts". Maybe they weren't in the cheery Spring spirit yet because of the cold wind blowing across the top of the ridge.

Much of basin #3's understory is dominated by weedy plants, but there are a few scattered damp, grassy meadows. Before it was too dark, I headed for one near the basin's north half. As I approached the opening a woodcock flew ahead of me. I found a spot at the edge of the grass that wouldn't disrupt the birds display routines. In retrospect, since I've never been a woodcock, I might have unknowingly sat down in center stage.

While I was waiting to hear the first nasal "peent", several dozen panicked robins began scattering through the woods. A Sharp-shinned Hawk had snuck in from the east side of the basin and was cruising through the trees looking for dinner. She made a tight right turn in front of me and continued flying towards the north end of the basin.

At around 6:30PM I heard the first male woodcock calling from an area about 50 yards to my right. There was a curtain of dried mugwort plants between us, so I couldn't see him or the object of his affection. A moment later something landed in the grass a couple of yards from my outstretched legs. It was a woodcock. She glanced over at me a few times, but just went about her business probing the soil for worms. As the forest descended into darkness I caught a glimpse of two or three more silhouettes fluttering to the ground on my left.

The moon didn't rise early enough that it created much illumination within the basin. Even if it did, I wouldn't have been able to see much of the display's climax. The wind had been gusting from the west across the top of the basins. The woodcock's normally vertical flights had been replaced by an improvised horizontal choreography. Several times I saw them rocketing past my seat at the edge of the meadow. I'm surprised that they didn't collide with any trees.

On my way back to the subway I stopped to stare at the brilliant orange-pink moon reflecting off of basin #2's lake. At 7:08PM the Red-winged Blackbirds were still singing and it reminded me of summer's long days.

by Rob Jett for "The City Birder"

2 comments:

Marie said...

Rob - what is the audio with this post? There's a bluejay in the background...

I had no idea we had woodcocks in the park...

And in the last three days I have seen your March 23rd cherry every day!

Rob Jett said...

The audio you were hearing was a bit of bad programming on my part. My March 11th posting has a video of a woodcock feeding. By accident, it was set to automatically begin playing as soon as the page loaded in your browser (instead of when you click the play button). The audio was just ambient sound from when the video was recorded. I didn't notice the mistake, thank you for pointing it out.

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