In another month or so I'll be listening for several familiar sounds as I walk the woods. One will be the low muffled drumbeat of a displaying male ruffed grouse. Sometimes I think I feel it more than hear it.
The other sounds I anticipate are the vocalizations of displaying male American woodcock. It begins at dusk with a nasal "Peent!" and culminates with twittering calls and wing whistles as the bird descends from the apex of its display flight, what Aldo Leopold called the "sky dance."
Whether carrying a shotgun or binoculars, there are few greater thrills than flushing one of these cryptically colored upland game birds. And to an unsuspecting beginner, flushing a grouse or woodcock can be unnerving because they often sit tight until almost stepped upon.
Since 1961 the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) has championed these two young forest species, but the grouse always seemed to get top billing. RGS recently announced the creation of the American Woodcock Society (AWS) as a branch of the main group.
"The RGS has been a leader in woodcock conservation for decades. The creation of the AWS allows us to expand our work because woodcock are migratory birds," said RGS/AWS president and CEO John Eichinger. "Grouse and woodcock don't coexist across their entire ranges, especially in the South, so the AWS will allow us to expand our influence into new areas. Furthermore, the work we do benefits not just grouse and woodcock, but all forest wildlife, including many songbirds."
The value of the RGS and AWS will be evident to upland game bird hunters so this new initiative should increase membership. But membership is open to anyone who values forest wildlife. Dues for each organization are $35 per year, and Eichinger told me a lower priced double membership is planned. For details contact the Coraopolis-based organizations at 412-262-4044 or www.ruffedgrousesociety.org.
To witness the woodcock sky dance, mark March 19, March 26, April 9 and April 16 on your calendar. The Three Rivers Birding Club (www.3rbc.org) will host woodcock walks on those dates. Contact Tommy Byrnes (724-715-7184) for details.
Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.