A fairly new tradition of mine is to go out on the first warm, wet night in March and look for frogs and salamanders in the woods behind my house. So far, I haven't been that lucky. Last year I found several different varieties of frogs along with some other interesting organisms such as leeches, crawdads and other interesting creatures that live in or near the creek that runs through the woods. And so this year while I was on my after-dark amphibian hunt along the creek through the woods (with even less success than last year) that I unexpectedly happened upon a nocturnal bird which also happened to be a lifer for me.
Can you guess what it might have been? It wasn't an owl. Or a nightjar. It was- an American Woodcock! After over an hour of combing the creek and woods for frogs and salamanders that weren't there, I was heading back the trail to the house. The ground was wet,and tall weeds were on either side of me, with scattered trees about (I was out of the woods by now). I was walking along when I suddenly noticed a glint that caught my eye near the ground on the side of the trail. I glanced down and noticed that it was an eye. I immediately stopped and looked down, not shining my light directly at the lone eye. I instantly realized that I was not looking at just any eye... I was looking at the eye of an American Woodcock.
I paused for an instant, not knowing what to do. I didn't have the camera, but of course I needed a picture. I contemplated turning and going the opposite way, but that would take too long. It probably wasn't going to be there when I got back anyways, assuming it didn't spook when I walked past it. Shining my light straight ahead of me, I took my eyes off of the bird and walked past- it remained in its spot. Once past, I rushed to the house and retrieved my camera. When I got back it was still there, quite surprisingly.
It took some work to get a photo becuase I didn't want to spook it, and the camera couldn't see in the dark. After several attempts at shooting a photo in the direction of the bird I finally got a clear, zoomed shot. It is posted below:
The bird seemed quite calm as I photographed it, and so after I got a good shot, I tried to slowly move closer. However, my confidence in the birds seemingly calm nature was ill placed, and the bird spooked, flying off down the trail and landing some yards away. At least I got one good shot, which is more than I was expecting.