True Sign of Spring
Forget the first robin of spring, the budding crocus, the sibilant spring peeper! The true first sign of spring around Indigo Hill, our old ridgetop farm in southeastern Ohio, is the return of the first male American woodcock. And his first peent!
Last night I wandered out onto the back deck for a moment of fresh air and solitude, but my reverie was broken by the nasal peent of our most loyal timberdoodle. This old boy is the first back each spring and, after five years or more of his performances, I know his routine by heart.
He starts well before deep dusk, peenting from the seeping, spring-soaked paths in the dell below the house. Inconsistent utterings, lackadaisical compared to his later efforts, drift up to our ears, until the precise foot-candle-power of daylight remains, at which point he twitter-flies up and into the meadow. How he knows when the light is just right, I can't say. Is it when it's just too dark for a late-lingering Cooper's hawk to see him clearly? It can't be calculated on the visual powers of owls, which can see and hear clearly in the deepest, blackest night. Or is it when he knows he'll look his swanky best for any female woodcocks foraging nearby?
All I DO know is that the performance of the dominant male woodcock in our meadow, and several other pretenders to the throne peenting from the fringe, is the most regular first sign of spring I see each February. And it seems to occur just when we're getting a bit hopeless that winter will ever decide to pack it in and leave. Spring slides her foot in the door, and it's all but written in the stars that the wheel of seasons has surely turned.
Last April I videotaped our male woodcock peenting his very best. I used a Canon Powershot 520A through my Swarovski 65mm spotting scope. Digi-videoing you might say.
This spring I hope to capture his whole sky dance on tape, if the gods are smiling and with me.
Tonight my parents came out for dinner and Mr. Woodcock started his serenade from the woods. But when it was time for him to take the main stage in the meadow path, he jilted us and flew across the woods and far away. Perhaps he was not 'feeling it' tonight and needed to make the scene somewhere else. Was his backstage buffet not enough. Did his handlers forget to fill his brandy snifter full of juicy earthworms?
The moon is bright enough that he might sky dance all night long, in which case, a show at dusk is not mandatory. No matter. I'll be outside in the gloaming tomorrow night, waiting for his nocturne. And I'll be smiling in the knowledge that spring, once again, has the upper hand.