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Conserve, steward, and advocate for the unique rural landscape of the Eastern Shore.

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Wandering for Woodcock at Pickering Creek

In the twilight of an early March evening, a group of people huddle in the middle of a field to see an elusive sight. The sound of “peent” echoes across the field, followed quickly by a rapid series of chirps. Excitement ensues, as something flies by, wobbling in flight. As the group closes in on one of the “peent” callers, the group’s guide shines a flashlight on the trail, outlining something few non-hunters get to see. Excitement is renewed, as the target of their search has been found: the American woodcock.

This was the scene earlier this month at Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Talbot County, which acted as host to ESLC’s first event of the 2023 Bird Conservation Series.

While the main draw of the tour was an opportunity to see the American woodcock, the event also highlighted many of the restoration projects that Pickering Creek staff have completed on the Center’s property, including reforestation efforts, non-tidal wetland restoration through USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and grassland restoration.

The grassland restoration work is the draw for woodcock and the source of their slowly growing local population. This is marked by an increase in the number of courting males, heard only in the twilight of late winter-early spring evenings. On the ground, the males use the “peent” call to catch the attention of potential mates, before launching into the air for a spiraling flight to dizzying height, varying the tempo and pattern of chirps as they do so. At the peak, they flutter back toward the ground, leveling out at the last minute to land safely and begin the cycle again. If you would like to see this strange bird in action, we recommend checking out the infrared video of this courting display on the Audubon’s website.

ESLC would like to thank our hosts for this event, the Pickering Creek Audubon Center, and especially Mark, Mary Helen, and Samantha from their staff, who helped to make this a memorable excursion for all involved. ELSC is planning two more events in the Bird Conservation series this spring, including bird banding at the Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory on April 18th and a tour of Conquest Preserve with Dan Small from the Natural Lands Project on May 9th, focused on the restoration for grassland wildlife species. Both of these free events are by registration only and are likely to fill up quickly. If you are interested in attending, we recommend visiting ESLC’s events page.

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