Birding Ohio – Skydance (American Woodcock)


Saturday March 20th, Dakota and I (Jennie) visited the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Magee Marsh Wildlife Area in Northwest Ohio for the first time (but not the last!!). We were there to attend a program and field trip on the American Woodcock and got there early for some chilly spring birding.

It couldn’t have been more than forty or fifty degrees and I would describe the wind as fierce. A mile-long boardwalk trail gifted us our very first Ohio Brown Creepers and Fox Sparrows, and we witnessed Downy Woodpeckers squabbling over mates and territories. Dakota pointed out a Mink (we think!) and some sunning turtles.

Downy Woodpecker female – Photo by Dakota
Downy Woodpecker

Lake Erie was beautiful and cold, but we took the beach trail anyway. Dakota was in search of small animal bones but after about twenty minutes we decided enough with wind and headed back.

Dakota and chilly Lake Erie
Dakota - Lake Erie

The marsh was great; we found swans, Great Blue Herons, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots and some groups of waterfowl too far out to identify. By seven we headed over to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO).

The American Woodcock program was great. Such a nondescript bird, but what a display it puts on! Mark Shieldcastle, Master Bander and Research Director of the BSBO, gave us the low down on the species and then led us out into the twilight.

We were not disappointed! In addition to seeing the bird in flight and hearing the calls, our entire group would see it land ten or fifteen feet in front of us directly on the walking path! It was an amazing sight. I could not describe this bird as well as Aldo Leopold, so I decided to include the excerpt from A Sand County Almanac below:

“Knowing the place and the hour, you seat yourself under a bush to the east of the dance floor and wait, watching against the sunset for the woodcock’s arrival. He flies in low from some neighboring thicket, alights on the bare moss, and at once begins the overture: a series of queer throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart, and sounding much like the summer call of the nighthawk… Suddenly the peenting ceases and the bird flutters skyward in a series of wide spirals, emitting a musical twitter. Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.”

It is with utmost excitement that I encourage anyone and everyone to take a trip out to this area. In addition to Magee Marsh, next door is the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. No lack of birding and conservation here! When I am missing Illinois and the trips to Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin, I will feel very at home visiting these places.

Good birding!

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