It’s woodcock dancing time

Stand near the entrance to Ryerson Woods at dusk in March, April and May and you might hear the unusual courtship and flight song of an unusual shorebird, the American woodcock. It’s called a shorebird because of and habit of probing into the earth with a long bill to capture its food, as other shorebirds do.

But the woodcock doesn’t live or nest along the shoreline.  It chooses habitat that includes an open field with short grasses next to a wooded area that can be wet in spring.

And, compared with other shorebirds, its legs are quite short, especially in relation to its rotund body.

Woodcocks will stay in the woods during the day, but come nightfall, the males emerge onto a short grassy area to show their dancing and singing skills to females and competing males.

First, the male utters a nasal-sounding, “Peent,” lifting its open bill to the sky. He continues his “peenting” for up to a dozen or more times before spiraling into the sky as high as 100 or more yards, the size of a football field.

As he flies into the air, his wings give a whistling twitter – until he’s so high, you can’t see or hear him. Seconds after you’ve lost him, you’ll hear a chirpy,chirpy,chirpy or kissing sound  he utters as he returns to nearly the exact same place he started peenting. Minutes later, he starts peenting again, then taking off to the sky again.

Sometimes, he’ll peent in all directions, turning after each peent, to broadcast his vocals as far as possible.

Watching woodcocks can strain the eyes – they begin their displays when it is almost dark – just after the last American robin has quit singing for the night and when the spring peepers begin their chorus.  Stand quietly and listen for the unusual sounds and hope for a glimpse of the bird against a moonlit sky.

Here’s a better look at a woodcock:

You can find more videos here.

You’ll notice it has large eyes  on the side of its head – this gives it the chance to look out for predators, while inserting its long bill into the earth searching for a meal of worms.

Woodcocks visit other Lake County Forest Preserves to mate in spring, including Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest and Almond Marsh near Grayslake. You’ll need to enter those preserves to hear the woodcocks. At Ryerson Woods, you can turn into the entrance, then immediately park alongside the road, turn off your car, get out and listen.  If you’re lucky you’ll get to hear and see the birds before the preserve is closed for the night. Or come first thing in the morning before the sun has risen – woodcocks peent and display at dawn as well.

For a special program on woodcocks and a guided tour to hear and see them, you might consider signing up for a class at Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest on  March 27. Click here for more information.

Sheryl DeVore

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Artists explore the rare bobolink in exhibition to open March 8 at Brushwood Center

Artists Ginny Krueger and Ann Blaas present an intimate and varied look at a declining songbird, the bobolink, and its migratory patterns at their exhibition, “The Bobolink Proposition,” which opens March 8 at Brushwood Center, 21850 Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods. The opening reception, held from 1 to 3 p.m., is free and open to the public.

The artists, who have done other shows together, wanted to work within a bird theme.  “We thought the bobolink had that exuberance and childlike rhythm that’s in both of our works,” Blaas said. “The word bobolink has a fun sound. We learned about the bird’s migratory patterns and there are some hints toward that in our paintings. “

The bobolink, one of North America’s fastest declining songbirds, breeds in grasslands including Rollins Savanna, a Lake County Forest Preserve District property near Krueger’s home. During courtship, the male flies close to the surface giving a tinkling sound and showing off its white back to attract females and deter intruders. It migrates to South America for winter. “I’m fascinated that the bobolink’s breast is dark and the back is white,” said Krueger. “It’s usually the reverse in birds.” In field guides, the bobolink has been described as wearing a reverse tuxedo.

Blaas, who teaches art at College of DuPage and Joliet Community College, is creating some of her works on Mylar, a type of drafting paper.“The transparency of the paper allows the artist to work on both front and back surfaces,” she said.

Krueger will display her encaustic paintings of melded wax, resin and pigment on wood. She’ll also showcase two colorful quilts depicting woodland birds, and several ceramic sculptures.

“Brushwood Center is a wonderful venue for artists. It has such intimate spaces,” Krueger said.

Visitors can meet Blaas and Krueger at the March 8 opening. No registration is necessary for the free event. The exhibition continues through May 5. Gallery hours: Monday – Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.brushwoodcenter.org.