Every now and then while grouse hunting in our mountains my dog will point, I’ll flush, and usually flub a shot at one of these birds. As with the grouse, the woodcock is losing habitat to development and poor land management.
While visiting the Ruffed Grouse Society headquarters in April many years ago, one evening a staff member took a group of us, including other staff and their families, out to a local “singing” ground around dusk. He told us there were about four such areas close to the headquarters, now down to this one due to development. We stood quietly on a trail listening to the plaintive “bleat” made by the male of the species as he tried to attract the attention of females sitting quietly in the area. From our position we could here four different males calling. Then things got interesting.
After several minutes of calling, the males then took flight as they saw fit, continuing the “bleat” in rapid succession while flying straight up in a corkscrew pattern. When he reached an altitude between two and four hundred feet he cupped his wings and glided back down in that same circular pattern to the exact spot from which he took off. The wind passing through the cupped wings makes a singing sound, thus the name for the area. Once on the ground he starts the sequence again, calling and sky dancing until he attracts a female. On a moonlit night he will continue all night until he mates. We listened and watched this mating ritual for nearly an hour, until it got too dark to see the little bird in its spiraling flight.
After it was over several thoughts passed my mind. First, as human development destroys wildlife habitat we have a responsibility to do what we can to establish more where we can. That is the mission of the Ruffed Grouse Society and other conservation organizations. Since grouse and woodcock habitat overlap, both need young forest growth which usually means cutting trees for forest regeneration. Remember, little trees need hugging too. (Tree hugging, get it?)
Second, as people who enjoy hunting and fishing, we should always take opportunities to not only hunt and fish but also observe wildlife during our travels. Had I not been in the right place at the right time I would not have had this opportunity. Talking to several hunting buddies after my return, none of them had ever watched the woodcock mating ritual. They are long-time dedicated bird hunters. Third, it doesn’t matter where the male is in the animal kingdom, feather, fur, or human, he will make a fool of himself and go through wild gyrations to attract a mate. Didn’t see that one coming did you?
Speaking of the Ruffed Grouse Society, the Southern Appalachian Chapter (Asheville) annual fundraising banquet is coming up on August 20th. This is their 30th Anniversary and big things are planned. We have registration forms at the store or you can download at www.ruffedgrousesociety.org, click on Membership/Chapters at top of the page, then on Events, and scroll down to August 20th. The link to the download form is on the right.
I was coming home from an event last week and crossed the French Broad River. I was shocked at how low and dingy the water level is. I knew we were in a drought but do not remember seeing the river that low. Rocky shoals that I had never seen before were everywhere. That’s got to make drift fishing for smallmouth difficult. However, for the wade angler it has probably concentrated the fish and early morning/late evening fishing may be easier. From all reports I see the trout streams seem to be doing pretty good. I guess the occasional thunderstorm keeps the small streams at a good level. May have to go wade the French Broad this week!
Don Mallicoat owns Wings & Clays Guns and Gear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.633.1806