The first bird hike of my Naturalist Training Program, at the Koffler Scientific Reserve, was led by Mark Peck, a Royal Ontario Museum technician in the Natural History History Department, where he oversees the ornithology collection. Mark is pictured (right) before we set out looking for what I thought would be the usual suspects. We did, indeed, see the usual suspects, everything from Red-tailed Hawk to the ubiquitous Chickadee. A little further along: a Turkey Vulture and then a Brown Creeper...and so it went. After a while, Mark stopped beside a low-lying grove of alders and instructed our group to spread out and proceed slowly though the trees in an attempt to flush out American Woodcocks. He said the wettish alder grove looked like perfect habitat for American Woodcocks. I haven't seen a woodcock for ages and it was only April 2nd, so was I was quietly skeptical. Within a minute we flushed up five woodcocks! Everyone got a good, if not long, look at these fast flyers and for many if was their first time seeing this interesting species. Mark said that woodcocks, along with the Kildeer, are often the first shorebirds to return in the spring. Apparently, as long as the ground has thawed, woodcocks can probe with their long, tapering bills, into soft soil or mud looking for earthworms. The photo below, from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, shows the distinctive colouring, markings and shape of this plump, little gamebird (10-12"), with the large dark eyes set high on the forehead. Females are considerably larger than males. Much discussion about woodcocks ensued and then I learned that this bird is also commonly called a "Timberdoodle". I'm good at remembering the important stuff.
I'm really liking this course. BtheB