Depending on where you are in northern Michigan and who you talk to, the annual migratory flight of the American woodcock (Scolopax minor) has either already peaked or soon will. Although the unseasonably warm October and mild conditions appear to have reduced their sense of urgency, these wonderful birds know that the shorter days mean that this is no time to be deceived by Fall’s fool’s gold and languish overlong in Ontario and Michigan’s upper peninsula.
A fun tool to use for viewing the anecdotal reporting of woodcock migration can once again be found at the Ruffed Grouse Society website. The woodcock migratory map has been brought back by RGS and includes maps beginning with the fall of 2012 and continuing through the 2013 season. These maps include color coded entries which catagorize woodcock migration activity from “low activity” to “peak.”
For those who celebrate both their return and their departure, mid-to-late October can be viewed as Timberdoodle Holy Season. Unlike the spring when their aerial mating dance is viewed from afar, autumn is a time for more up-close and personal contact.
As many have penned before, these little birds which appear to have been designed by a congressional committee seem to be convinced that they are invisible to both man and dog. Unlike the sometimes-running-but-more-often-flushing ruffed grouse, these long-billed ground probers remain motionless until nearly trod upon.
With their habitat in decline and populations decreasing at an estimated 1% annually, an increasing number of sportsmen have their own self-imposed bag limits which are frequently well below those allowed by our public wildlife management agencies. For many others, their hunt ends with their dog on a solid point and a ceremonial flush.
To learn more about what you can do to promote and preserve woodcock habitat, several publications are available including one from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service which can be retrieved by clicking here. Information is also available through a project of the Wildlife Management Institute called timberdoodle.org.