Sunday, May 19, 2013

Woodcock, Teal, Turtles and Other Recent Sightings

The American Woodcock calls on the ground before his aerial flight display
 The American Woodcocks began courtship display flights in late March and they have continued right up until this week. Over the last decade the breeding grounds at the nature preserve have expanded for this species as fields have grown in and become brushy meadow and young forest habitat. The beavers have done their part to keep the Woodcocks' favorite field at a stage where it remains viable breeding habitat; as they continue to harvest  larger pioneer saplings, they keep much of the field in a perpetual brushy state, which the woodcocks can utilize.
As he calls on the ground, the Woodcock turns in a circle in order to address the entire meadow
The "chunky" American Woodcock is probably our most bizarre looking shorebird
At dusk the Woodcocks begin to assemble on their staging grounds. Loud nasal "peent" calls begin to emanate from the meadow - and that's usually the first indication that the birds are there, that is unless you're lucky enough to see them fly in. The calls from a single individual vary in volume; this is because the male is turning to face different directions as he calls. After a while, as he continues to turn in place, he begins to flash his tail feathers - revealing white under-tail spots that are normally invisible on the resting bird. When it's dark enough the male launches from the ground, quickly gains altitude and begins to describe a wide circle over the meadow. In the quickly fading light, it is usually possible to pick out his silhouette against the sky. His relatively slow fluttering flight reminds me of a fat bat, or even a huge moth. Often enough, you won't be able to see him - you'll only hear the twittering sound that is produced by his outer primary wing feathers as moving air makes them vibrate.
Pictured against a darkening sky, the Woodcock may fly as high as 300 yards
At the crescendo of his flight display the male woodcock begins banking from side to side, and this creates a weaving or zig-zagging flight pattern. At this point he begins to descend and the twittering wing sound is augmented by some repetitive piping vocalizations. The flight display ends with the bird’s rapid descent to the ground and then, almost immediately, he resumes giving nasal “peent” calls. With any luck, a female woodcock had been observing this spectacle and was duly impressed.
Sitting on her nest at the base of an Aspen tree, the female woodcock relies on her camouflage 
Large eyes  placed high on her head allow the woodcock to see directly behind her
Apparently at least one female was captivated by the male's performance, because a week ago I found a female woodcock sitting on a nest in a nearby meadow. The woodcock’s excellent camouflage makes them just about impossible to pick out against the surrounding vegetation. The birds’ relatively large eggs are brownish and heavily blotched with dark spots so they too blend in with their surroundings, which is an important safeguard for whenever the female has to leave the nest in order to feed.
A Pair of Blue-winged Teal - the male shows a crescent moon on the side of his face

At one of our beaver ponds it looked for a little while like pair of Blue-winged Teal were going to nest. They spent over a week at the location and courtship and mating behavior was witnessed. The Blue-winged Teal is a very small duck – about half the size of a Mallard. They do nest in the region but they are by no means common here. The shoulder portion of the leading edge of their wings are light blue and that gives the species its common name. The Blue-winged Teal is sometimes a long distance migrant, wintering as far south as South America.
This Painted Turtle laid her eggs in a chicken coop!
2 painted Turtles bask in the morning sun
Lately turtles have been very much in evidence at the nature preserve. In a few cases, some female Painted Turtles have been traveling far away from their wetland habitat in order to find suitable places to lay their eggs. However, sometimes these turtles find the most inappropriate places to lay. At her own home, one of Spring Farm CARES’ employees found a Painted Turtle in the midst of laying its eggs in a hole that it excavated inside of a chicken coop. It’s likely that the resident chicken will be surprised when baby turtles start to emerge from the ground. The mother turtle was brought to the preserve for release. She joins a healthy population of Paints and other turtles at our turtle/frog pond.
Red Baneberry
Woodland Wildflowers continue to bloom around the nature preserve, though the ongoing dry weather and near constant browsing by deer have presented a great challenge to most of them.
Rue Anemone
Long-spurred Violet
Canada Violet
Marsh Marigold
False Bishop's Cap

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