Friday, March 4, 2011

The Timberdoodle

This e-mail came across my desk this morning. Always something interesting from these folks out Boston-way. A little spotlight on Wildlife at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA:

The Am
erican Woodcock By Robert H. Stymeist

It's hard to believe the American Woodcock is a member of the shorebird family, this plump shorebird is rarely found near the shore instead it prefers the forest and open fields. Although Mount Auburn seems like a very unlikely spot to find one - every year in March and early April the visiting birder or the occasional visitor out walking in the Cemetery may encounter this unique bird. The American Woodcock is an extremely distinctive bird both in its appearance and in its behavior. It has a long straight bill which almost looks like a pencil jutting out of its head. Woodcocks have large eyes located high in the head so they can see all around including what may be behind them and very short pink legs. Its plumage is a complex pattern of cinnamon brown which helps in making this bird blend in to its natural surroundings; both males and females look alike. The Woodcock arrives sometimes as early as late February and way before the first official day of spring risking snowstorms and frigid weather that is not unusual here in the northeast. It is the mating behavior that many birders can't wait to experience each late winter evening. The sky dance of the woodcock is one of the best avian displays we can witness from the cold evenings of early March right up to the end of May. Mount Auburn is not the place to watch the show though I have seen the aerial flight show from the Catholic Cemetery adjacent to Mount Auburn which provides an open display area. Some of the areas nearby Mount Auburn to see this free show include Rock Meadow in Belmont, Great Meadows in Arlington, and Nahanton Park in Newton. As the sun sets listen for a nasal sounding "peent," the bird will repeat this sound several times and then the real show begins. The woodcock rockets upward, the wings produce a twittering sound, the bird makes loops and arcs going so high you will lose sight of it until you hear the descent: a series of almost flute-like calls as the bird literally plummets to the ground and begins another series of " peents" before the next flight; this will go on for several minutes. Though you may never experience the sky dance of the "Timberdoodle" at Mount Auburn you have a chance to find him anywhere on the grounds before the first crocus appears.

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