Studying the American Woodcock

Imported from first blog: Peregrination Notebook.

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Wildlife Management Techniques.  The exciting part of it is that we get to conduct a term-long research project with fieldwork.  For the lab, we take a trip on the county roads and each group does vegetation sampling and American Woodcock detection.

This week I saw my first woodcock up close.  He (I’m assuming since the males are the ones that use the fields) landed along the creek about 15-20 feet from the tree I sat in.

American Woodcock (Scolopax minor)

Imported from first blog: Peregrination Notebook.

Allow me to back up for a moment.  I’m not a hunter, so the American woodcock, or  Scolopax minor, is not a bird I was familiar with prior to this class.  It’s a little-known game bird averaging less than a foot in body stature and around 17 inched wingspans.  My professor, who specializes in them, affectionately calls them “a confused shorebird”.  They’re built like other small waders such as sandpipers but they don’t hang out near shores.  As their other names of bog suckers, timberdoodles, wood snipes, and others suggest, they like wet and forested areas where there are LOTS of worms.  Their lives revolve around just a few species of European-immigrant worms.

This is the first class I’ve taken that goes outside and has students that like to go outside.  Just about everyone is an environmental science major.  The fields that we use for our project are public land, not that that means much to everyone.

We were informed that a few meth labs were found in the area recently—not that we should worry as long as we stay in groups and don’t venture into caves.  That doesn’t stop us from being prepared.  Me?  I brought a flashlight as large as a police baton.  You also know you’re in the right crowd when you pack enough food, water, and layers in case something goes wrong and you end up stuck out there for the night—and so did half the class.  And no one’s worried about the thought.

Sometimes when public land borders a private home, conflict arises without much warning.  Ever had permission to use a friend’s property, only to find that your friend’s neighbor is overly suspicious of strangers?  Half the class had a version of that tale.  If an angry person has a gun, you don’t argue with them!  The graduate student who drove our van once worked on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land.  However, cattle ranchers tend to use that land, and sometimes they forget it’s not theirs.  They approach strangers with their hands on their rifles.  Having grown up in the West, I have to say this isn’t an unusual story.  Having uncles in the police force also enlightens me on how common meth labs are.

Not a dull moment hanging out with country kids, or the grad student.  It didn’t matter how old the van was, he managed to pound all the major potholes and grind the outer boundary of the road.


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