Friday, March 19, 2010

Citations from Lytle Blankenship on nesting Woodcock Behavior

Lytle Blankenship, one of our resident Texas experts on Woodcocks sent me the following which pretty much confirms a breeding bird as most of this behavior was seen or heard today including that described in the last 2-3 paragraphs. I may return if I can relocate the exact spot, though I would very much hate to draw predators to the location with my scent. From what Lytle sent I may well have been standing on the birds.

Here is what Lytle sent: Wow!.........................................

You may not have Dr. Sheldon's book "The American Woodcock" so thought I would copy some comments. I vaguely remembered some of these comments from a much earlier time in my life and some similar actions I noted by the Woodcock.

Page 72: "The hen flew 20 feet with her tail depressed and legs hanging. She alighted on a nearby road and feigned injury, crying not unlike a Ruffed Grouse hen disturbed with a brood. I left the scene and returned an hour later; the hen had returned to the nest, where I flushed her again. .......Concealing myself, I watched her return to the nest; she walked across a dirt road in front of me. Her gait was measured, with the waltzing and bobbing motion usual when a woodcock is nervous or disturbed. When she reached cover across the road, she sneaked to the nest, reoccupying it 20 minutes after I had flushed her."

Page 75: "The mother woodcock is very solicitous of her offspring (Figure 28). A hen brooding her chicks can be caught with a hand net, so reluctant is she to move. When flushed from her brood she makes a labored flight with her legs hanging and her tail depressed (Figure 29). I have seen her lead a dog away, keeping just ahead of him. When she has lured an enemy 100 yards or more from her chicks, she resumes rapid flight, rising swiftly. Then quickly circling around, she lights within a few feet of her brood. If the chicks are a week or more old and off the nest, she calls them with a low chur-chur."

Similar comments were made by Dr. Andy Ammann in "A Guide to Capturing and Banding American Woodcock."
Page 11: "If nothing happens or a bird flushes practically under your feet, you've probably got yourself a brood or a nest. If the bird's flight (assuming it flushed) is slow and laborious, with legs and tail dangling and it flies only a short distance (10 to 15 yards), you can be sure of it. Then, after alighting, the hen may go through elaborate injury-feigning tactics which will sorely tempt your dog to chase her (but don't let him). A hen flushed from a nest may also exhibit such decoying behaviour, but to a lesser degree, and will usually fly farther."

If you bear with me, I have one more author's comments (Henry Marion Hall - "Woodcock Ways"). Pp 22-23: "When I stepped within a foot of her treasures, this brave little bird fluttered up and made off in a ludicrous manner, her tail only just topping the weeds, her bill and body nearly vertical, and the beat of her wings simulating helplessness. Woodcock and grouse will often roll over or scuffle, pretending to trail a broken wing, to lure an intruder away from her chicks, but this is the only case in which I have seen a bird show such solicitude concerning mere eggs............Suddenly a woodcock faltered up at my feet without making the usual twitter. Instead, it hovered within a foot of my face, buzzing its pinions like a hummingbird, and whirling as if held back by the encompassing branches. This bird may have been tempting me to snatch at it in mid-air. When I failed to budge, it presently dropped into the undergrowth, still registering helplessness and flapping spasmodically. As she retreated I glanced down and discovered four young, not quite half grown...................."

Not sure if these are of any value but here they are anyway. Thanks for your records and descriptions.

Lytle (

Breeding Woodcock, Golden Plovers, loving that mowing!

Got up early to beat the breeze. Drank my 3-4 cups of java and without anything better to do hopped the fence to the ranch behind the house and to the pond back there a bit. I had not been back there in well over a year and the flowers, especially the Bluebonnets were nice though not at their prime just yet. There were none last year due to the drought. Had several early butterflies and lots of swallows going overhead. I was was surprised at the numbers of Falcated Orange-tipped Butterflies there were after last year's drought.

I heard a pick-up coming from the south through the pasture so instead of being found on the property and running through that explanation, I cut off into the woods on the old over grown pasture road. I have the OK to be on the property but just was not in the mood for a surprise conversation with whomever was in the truck be it the landowner so someone else. Not a problem. So I was meandering my way back toward the house , zig-zaging through the woods as there is no direct path anymore, when suddenly there was a violent commotion in the brush and leaf litter of the understory a mere 15 feet or so to my left. All I could see was an animal thrashing about , quivering and making the strangest call notes. It took me a moment but I realized it was a Woodcock! A Woodcock and it was trying to distract me from a nest nor young birds!....I have never seen this behavior in my life but it is really no so different than that of a plover, say a Killdeer . She held out one wing and had her tail spread out broadly and was shaking and quivering to beat the band. She was making a sound I have never heard coming from a Woodcock either. It had sort of towhee, Hermit Thrush "moan" to it...I can not really describe it.

I knew within an area of 10' X 10' of where the bird started this display, (though she may have moved there before I got to the location) and despite squinting at every damn inch of ground and leaf clutter, I could find no sign of eggs or cryptic young. Nothing. By now calmed a little but she still remained off in the thicket quivering and occasionally spreading tail or wing to keep my attention. There was no way I could have followed her anyway unless I was an Armadillo given the dense brush and brier there. I very carefully backed out of the area watching my every step so as not to step on any eggs or young and circumvented the area widely. This is my first encounter with a nesting woodcock in Bastrop county and all less than 125 yards of my back fence!

The Blue-headed Vireo continues to sing in the mornings....I wonderful sound and I could hear the Black-and White Warblers singing from the canyon along with a parula.

I came back to the house drank some more coffee and decided to give Betty's grass farm a shot as the roads should have been dry enough by now. The place was a dead as a sheet of glass, I don't understand it. I recall a time (maybe Glenn does as well) when this was shorebirdville this time of year. No more. Ever since the King Ranch took this place over it has been nothing but an industrial complex with rarely a single Killdeer to be seen. I drove the entire place which is about 750 acres and almost got excited when a Savannah Sparrow flew up. I know why this place is so sterile now. There are for sure no fire ants anymore, and there are no fire ants because the soil has been saturated with potent pesticides the likes of which must be akin to Agent Orange.
I can remember after a good rain there would be 700 acres of earthworm castings covering the surface. The place had billions of earthworms. Now after the good rain of two days ago I could not find a single pile of castings.

I can tell you there is not a "weed" , a fire ant mound or a blade of grass 1/2 taller than the
others. It is as sterile, lifeless as the Sahara except for the grass, constantly mowed and manicured. It sucks compared to the old days before the King Ranch took it over. And far more busy. I counted 19 workers out there today and far busier than it used to be with constant mowing and spraying. And the King Ranch always claims to be so concerned about our migrant bird species. I wonder how many have died from the pesticides on this turf farm alone.

Still in one tiny corner , near a leaky pipe where a few Killdeer had congregated there were 8 Am. Golden Plovers. My FOS Bastrop Co. birds. Off 969 in the huge hayfields where some allow the new airport will be were far more, maybe 28 birds but they were so far out I am not sure all were Goldens, though they flew a couple of times and none looked like Killdeer. I don't have access to this property.

Tried Riverside Terrace road again. This would make such a great walk in the mornings but when one gets right down to the very best part, there is a mobile home with 5 football (punting) sized dogs, that just drive you insane with their barking, while the owner just looks slack-jawed at you as though it was perfectly normal to be an asshole with his moronic kick toys. I need a dart gun. But despite these damn animals I could hear the Prothonotary Warbler just belting it out behind the trailer house in the trees along the river...Maybe he will move up stream to Webberville Park and the special houses erected there for the species, but I sure would not blame him if he didn't.

Ok, turn the dial now if you wish, as I am gonna really get grumpy.....Speaking of Webberville Park, I figured that after 3 days of senseless, stupid and moronic mowing at Big Webberville park, by 1:00PM today it should be quiet. Perhaps a nice quiet Friday afternoon to bird the park, despite that the wind was up and I very rarely bird in the afternoons, I went over there anyway.... The BIG full blown tractors were weaving in and out of the trees still. In God's name
how can one mow the same damn grass day after day as though trying to clip the antennae off of any chigger that dares to stand up. I just do not get it. It drives me crazy. They are idiots and are destroying the sod in the park and knocking the bark off all the trees with their mowers and weedeaters. Can't take it anymore. I am going to call the county, even though I don't pay Travis Co. property taxes. It is a complete waste of time, this endless mowing . The rest of the guys were doing the mopping up there with Q-tips and tweezers. Sure, I bet they will take the weekend off, but then here come the masses and the hundreds of soccer players on Sunday morning ....Not fit for a birder to be there then for sure......And by gum, it will be Monday again with two whole days of grass growing wildly!....That mowing panic will set in and the gas tanks will fill and the mowing will start again. I especially likely the Monday pressure washing. 5 guys and all this....All on about ~35 acres that two guys could cover well.

I am back home, don't know what to do around here anymore. Birding spots are getting fewer and fewer....I thought about going over to East or Southeast Metropolitan Park, Hornsby Bend or even stepping on a nail but none of that seems like much fun and those places are far away and on a weekend not something that likely would be a wise choice. Is this not Spring Break? Is this not the W/e of the Southwest Music thingy in Austin?

Someone down the road just fired up a chainsaw...Sigh.

I have a really cool moth I found so maybe more later. I hope like heck this blog works as it was a lot of typing for me. I think I have the comment thing partially fixed as I got yours Ladd.