Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Woodcock Watch

Shortly after 4 pm, Tom Johnson texted that there were "lots of woodcock out hunting worms on roadsides in Cape May." Shortly thereafter, I saw his car drive by the O'Brien-Zemaitis residence where I was getting a lesson on picture framing. I called Tom to rag on him for not stopping by, so he turned around for a quick visit. We decided to go out and do a good American Woodcock count at dusk, as my lesson was finished. We drove down Stevens St., to Sunset Ave. to near the west end, then back to Cape Ave., down through the circle in Cape May Point, to the State Park, out Sea Grove Ave., then along a variety of roads in West Cape May. In that little bit of mileage (probably less than 15 miles) that we covered in about an hour, we counted 133 Timberdoodles, even picking a live one up off the double-yellow on Sunset at Bayshore (and placing it in a somewhat safer location off Bayshore).

While these times of snow cover and cold temperatures are excellent for woodcock watching, they are not so excellent for the woodcocks. Tom picked up one dead one before arriving at my framing lesson, and we saw at least three road-killed ones during our census. With much less open and unfrozen ground available for foraging, the plowed and/or melted roadsides offer most of the appropriate habitat for these odd shorebirds at such times and cars can take a large toll. Additionally, the birds often do not get enough to eat to sustain them, with many starving to death or becoming much more susceptible to predation. We saw one woodcock fly off after nearly being pounced upon by a cat and watched that same cat eying a second woodcock. While American Woodcock are normally quite able to avoid terrestrial predators, their extreme focus on simply finding enough food to survive can make them less vigilant, thus the various introduced (cats) and native (Coyotes and foxes) predators can wreak havoc.

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