One of my favorite parts of spring is the Woodcock Singing Ground Survey Steve and I have been a part of for more than a decade. We added the Lambert Lake route this year, and our most interesting event happened on that route. Being an avid turkey hunter, I was excited to hear commotion in the tree tops and assumed it was a turkey going up to roost for the night. It wasn’t. It was a northern hawk owl chasing a small bird.
I asked biologist Maury Mills, the leader of the Singing Ground Survey, if I could tag along to band woodcock in Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. Taylor’s home from college and went with me. She’s volunteering in the refuge this summer. Twenty-four students from UMaine Orono joined us.
There are a few large holes made by owls in the nets. The nylon mesh is light weight and delicate to let birds larger than woodcock through without getting tangled. The nets are 10 feet tall and approximately 20 feet wide.
The woodcock flew three times, missing the net and landing in the same spot each time. It was time to push this process along. Chris, one of the UMaine students, walked through the trees at the edge of the road. This time the woodcock flew into the net.
I’ve scared up many a woodcock in my walks. They fly straight up first, usually a few feet from my face, and make me screech in surprise like nothing else in the woods. You don’t get a good look at them when that happens. Seeing them from a distance hadn’t given me an accurate idea of their size. Seeing this bird filled in my missing details.
Once freed he was placed in a cotton bag and closed in with a draw string. Taylor held the bag while we raised the nets and wound them up. We helped Team 3 wind up the next set up nets (no woodcock) and met in the middle to band our bird. Team 1 caught one male quickly, banded and released it before we returned. Our Team 4 bird is a year old. We were shown how to age and sex him, measure his beak, weigh him, and watched while the band was placed and its number recorded.
Everyone who wanted to hold the bird had a turn. I was surprised at how calm the woodcock was as it was passed around. I’ve held nervous and frightened birds. Their hearts race and they struggle to break loose. This bird did neither. After all these years I had him in my hands and I was reluctant to give him up.
Team 2 brought in one male and the banding process was repeated. That bird was let go and we returned to the headquarters of Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. I enjoyed the evening and appreciate the opportunity to be there with biologists Ray Brown, Maury Mills and Dan McAuley.