Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Night beesties

When I was growing up in Georgia, spending all my free time chasing birds around the woods and fields and swamps, one of the things I always loved coming across was woodcock displaying in the first dawn twilight of a clear early winter morning. This wasn't something I'd find very often; only when I made an effort to get well out of Atlanta to be at some marsh or swamp somewhere as the sky first lightened. It's one of those ingrained experiences of the small secret mysteries of wilderness back here in the well-trammeled East; a private thing that most people never know of nor would understand. It's a simple thing really: as the eastern sky acquires the first hint of orange, a nearly invisible bird circles high overhead against the indigo sky. Every few minutes he plunges in a death-defying dive, and as he pulls out at the bottom his wings sing a delicate tinkling song. If he is lucky, there is a female hidden away in the weeds watching him and calling up to him with a buzzy little voice.

A few days ago, I got home from a pre-dawn errand on a clear, cold morning. As I walked from the truck to the house, I heard the courtship song of a woodcock. In the sky over our weedy orchard, right in our yard, the woodcock were displaying.

Another reminder why the annoyance, inconvenience, and poverty of this life are worth it.


A few nights later, when we pulled into our yard in the evening, our headlights revealed a strange creature hopping through the grass and leaves. It took me a second to realize that it was a woodcock. There have been very few times I've ever seen one on the ground before. They're a secretive, well-camoflauged nocturnal beeste of brambles, thickets, and marshes. Usually they're seen when they fly up suddenly from right underfoot, having remained invisible to the last second.


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