This evening, I joined a group from the Three Rivers Birding Club to go see displaying American woodcocks in a field in Harmar Township (part of Allegheny County). I was very excited to see this as I have actually never seen displaying woodcocks before.
The group met in the parking lot of a Primanti Bros in Harmar. This spot was chosen due to the fact that it is right next to a small wetlands which usually holds some good birds. This evening was no exception. The first good bird we noticed were two red-necked grebes. This year has been a banner year for red-necked grebes in PA and these birds were evidence of it.
Next to the grebes was a group of nine hooded mergansers. These beautiful ducks are birds that I will never tire of seeing. Apparently this group has been displaying recently, sadly however, they weren’t when we were there.
The last good bird we saw here was a single gadwall in a group of mallards. I was quite happy to see this bird as it is a county first for me.
From there we went on to a heron rookery on an island in the Allegheny River. We could see many nest in a sycamore on the island however, only one of them was occupied (as far as we could tell).
After that quick stop we continued on to the woodcock spot. This spot is an old farm field which is no longer in use and is thus overgrown. This spot has historically been very good for woodcocks so we were hoping that it would once again be a success.
We parked the cars and walked out into the field along a dirt track which runs through it. Once we were there, we stopped and waited to listen for any woodcocks calling. It took about 15 minutes but sure enough, we heard a woodcock peenting off to our left. It didn’t call for long however, and it was another five minutes before it called again (this time with a second bird calling as well). A few minutes after that, many birds in the field were calling in earnest. A few were also flying up from the grass and moving to another location where they settled down again. However, in a few more minutes, one decided to start displaying. It burst out of the grass, giving the strange winnowing sound that their wings make, and began to circle up. It got so high that it was hard to make out without binoculars. Then, once it had reached a certain height, it began to circle down again. Once this first one landed, more began to join in, flying up, wings winnowing the whole way, and then dropping back down again. It really was a beautiful sight to see. We stood there mesmerized for a good fifteen minutes watching them fly up and then back down before we decided it was too cold to stay much longer and retreated to the cars.