Monday, March 3, 2008

twilight a calling

The scene had a dreamlike quality. Twenty-five people standing in a grove of cedars at twilight, all being as still and quiet as their collective human natures would allow. Meeting at Ijams Nature Center, they had traveled to a nearby wildlife area and slogged through a muddy wetland to get there. The expectant group was assembled in the hope of hearing, perhaps even seeing, a secretive chunky ground bird with a long, probing bill; an odd little thing really, not sleek and sculpted like most birds, but squat like a toad.

To their left and right were open soppy spaces. If they had guessed a correct location, a male American woodcock might call for a mate from one of the bare spots of damp terrain. Woodcocks are chubby members of the sandpiper family with camouflaged plumage to blend into the dead leaves and thick grasses of forest edges. But their camo works so well, how do they find each other during mating season? It’s simply, the male must call out and advertise his location, in the hopes that a female will take note and come visit. But it’s a dangerous affair with foxes about, so he only sings for about 20 minutes at dusk, when there’s just enough light to be seen, but only barely. On this night, the group of clustered humans was lucky. At exactly 6:47 p.m., shortly after sunset, a male began to pelt out his “peent” song for all to hear.

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