Saturday, 12 December 2015

Woodcock - Countdown to Classes - 24 Days to Go!

Today the Yorkshire Post have printed my photograph of a Woodcock. This was taken after a 1st of January at Potteric Carr, before I knew that this was the worst possible day of the year to visit any very popular reserve. The reason is "Year Listers", which probably means nothing to those who are more relaxed about their birdwatching. For some reason on our return we drove round the cemetery, and we spotted a Woodcock flying along and then landing in a pile of leaves not far from the main road. On searching we saw the bird, but it was an extremely dark afternoon, so some of the photos were blurred. However, on examination just one of the many photos taken was quite sharp!

Blurred Attempt of the same Woodcock
When disturbed a Woodcock will often attempt to appear larger to potential predators
2016 will be the year that hopefully one of the attendees, Bruce Woodcock, will have his first decent view of this species. For many years he taught Shakespeare at the University of Hull, and was rather annoyed by the bard's disparaging remarks about this bird, such as in "The Taming of the Shrew": "O this Woodcock what an ass it is." Unfortunately, Bruce was on holiday a fortnight ago when his Wednesday afternoon class were the only group to have excellent views of 2 individuals at Tophill Low. Every class will be visiting this venue in the New Year, so there is always the chance of seeing them again, plus we may also come across them at other venues. 
One of the Woodcock at Tophill recently
 2 Woodcock at Tophill during a previous year
We have seen silhouettes of Woodcock at dusk performing their roding flights in spring, but it isn't possible to see any details of plumage in those crepuscular circumstances. Woodcock have this wonderful cryptic plumage, which is perfect for blending into the woodland floor where they breed and also nest. They are the only wading species, which can be regularly found in dense woodland. They prefer damp conditions, because that makes it easier to probe soft mud, and locate their food. 
Woodcock 'roding'
 Making the loud click sound
 Through glass at Tophill Low
A few breed locally, but there are many more Woodcock in winter, which flood in from Russia, and other areas of Northern Europe mainly from late October and through November. Occasionally massive numbers of exhausted migrant Woodcock may be encountered on the coast. The Thursday afternoon class was once at Danes' Dyke when an exhausted bird landed on a pile of mud under the chalky cliffs. 
On the Board Walk!
In the snowy winter of recent years we came across several in our local cemetery, where they had searched the soft earth in corners not reached by the snow. It was at these moments when I was able to take photos of the species flying alongside a high brick wall. 
Along the wall
 Back at Tophill through glass

Unlike Waxwings, Woodcock have not yet been seen in massive numbers during my classes, but there is no doubt that so far Tophill Low has been far and away the best place locally to get decent, prolonged views of this enigmatic birds.  I remain hopeful that most classes will connect with this species, and especially Bruce Woodcock! 

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