It was Friday night so what did I do? I went birding. Wait, on a Friday night? Yeah, say what you will, but I was out looking for my first Timberdoodles of the year. The cute, chunky, cryptically-colored, snipe-like, short-legged, long-billed, crepuscular, dancing and displaying bird had already been reported in the area and I was eager to get reacquainted.  American Woodcocks: a birder’s bird!

Will and I drove down to his in-laws in Coeyman’s Hollow in southern Albany County and walked out to their back fields as the sun was setting. We watched robins and blackbirds foraging before nightfall and tried to keep our feet dry in the muddy, slushy, almost completely melted fields. We added a new yard-bird to the list Will keeps there when two Common Mergansers flew overhead (we assume coming from the Alcove Reservoir, going to the Hudson River). We added another yard-bird (and NY year bird) when two Great Horned Owls started hooting back and forth to each other. A very early for upstate New York Tree Swallow surprised the heck out of us when it flew over and a low flying bat surprised us even more! There was still snow on the ground!

While all of the birds (and bat) were nice we were wishing for American Woodcocks, aka Timberdoodles, the marvelous little birds that repeatedly make a nasally “peent” call before showing off for the ladies by flying up very high and then plummeting to earth like a stone. Their flight feathers, specially adapted for this display, make eerie and unmistakable whistling noises as they come down to earth. When they land they do a little two-step and start the cycle over again until they have won their lady’s heart. To hear and see a Timberdoodle in action go see Birdchick’s video.

Will and I could plainly see many woodcock tracks all over the remaining snow so we knew they were around somewhere. Once the sun went down we didn’t have to wait for long. Oddly, our first sign that they were out and about was hearing the display flight. Every other time I’ve encountered them I first picked up on the “peent” call. We moved closer and eventually managed to get the eye-shine of a woodcock in Will’s new super-bright flashlight. As we were getting chilly and we still had more birding to do we let the woodcocks be and walked back to the house.

Once we gathered Will’s wife, Danika, we were off the western Albany County with the hope of getting Danika’s life Saw-whet Owl. Alas, it was not to be as the road we wanted was still impassable with winter’s snows. We tried other locations but came up with nothing. Nothing, that is, except for two more Great Horned Owls and the distant, but recognizable, hooting of a Barred Owl.

Most people would probably be good with two owl species for a single night but we still had one more to try for, the elusive Eastern Screech-Owl. We made numerous stops in places we had encountered them before and in other likely habitat but never managed to hear one or get one to respond. To our respective homes we went, exhausted from a Friday night’s owling and timberdoodling…and how did you spend your Friday night?

By the way, Jochen (who also has been striking out on screech-owls) at Bell Tower Birding has a post giving two reasons he doesn’t want to be an owl. I urge you to check it out as a window on the perils of owlness.

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.