Authored by John Connors
Wake Audubon volunteers and students from the NC State College of Natural Resources spent Saturday morning clearing saplings from a half-acre plot at Schenck Forest. Our goal was simple…to maintain a setting for woodcock courtship next spring. Although it was cold, the shining sun warmed us quickly as we clipped blackberry vines, small pines and hardwoods leaving intact a broomsedge-dominated opening.
Here we are at the start of the morning.
Schenck Forest is an outdoor teaching lab for the Department of Forestry at NC State University. Much of it is managed as pine forest, but in a recent agreement with Wake Audubon, sections will be maintained as early successional forest to improve wildlife habitat and viewing opportunities associated with them.
John Connors, Wake Audubon’s Woodcock expert, explained that cutting trees in a forest can have benefits for some wildlife species- and that it is essential for species like American Woodcock. John was both a Forestry student and a Wildlife student at NCSU, and studied woodcock at Schenck Forest during that time. “I think it’s great that we can use Schenck as a setting where we showcase the benefits of forest management for both wood products, and wildlife. It’s great for the students to see this. It’s great for the public who like to see the woodcock perform their weird courtship antics. And it’s great for the birds. I’ve led woodcock walks for 35 years here in Raleigh…thousands of people…but this is the first time we’ve been able to give back to the birds who’ve provided so much entertainment. I really appreciate that the managers at Schenck will work with us on this!”
Woodcock is a species of shorebird that has taken to living in the wet, wooded thickets across North Carolina. They are hard to spot because they are medium-sized mottled brown birds that spend their time searching for earthworms in the forest soil and leaf litter. They are extremely well camouflaged.
The best time to observe Woodcock is during their courtship displays. Wake Audubon schedules its annual walk to coincide with Valentine’s Day in February. The males make a strange ‘peenting’ sound on the courtship ground. They then launch into the sky, with wings whistling, as they fly upward. As they reach a height where they are barely visible, the descent begins. They voice a soft, liquid warble until they approach the original launch pad. Then the process begins anew. These courtship displays occur for 20 minutes at dusk and dawn. Look on the Wake Audubon calendar for the next Woodcock walk – sometime next February at Schenck.
Here are before and after pictures.