Jim Bennett

I’m excited about April. My new pointing puppy, a Small Munsterlander is expected April fool’s Day. I’ve got my spring turkey permits and roots plants can go in the ground mid month. Spring bird songs are tuning up and some early migrants are back. Dandelions will be popping too and some of the earliest will make it into our salad greens. Leopard frogs will be leaving their lake bottom hibernation spots and painted turtles will be sunning on warm logs and rocks. Momma goose will soon be choosing her nest site, often close to where she hatched!

I haven’t seen any bluebirds, tree swallows or chickadees cleaning out any nesting cavities in dead trees but I’m watching a pair of white breasted nuthatches taking in one leaf at a time in a cavity in our ancient box elder. Wood ducks will soon be laying eggs as other migrant waterfowl return. I’m getting reports of snow geese piling into the Dakotas. I’m also hearing water levels in the western prairie pothole region of the Dakotas are low. Soon the call of the north will echo across opening lakes as loons arrive. I spotted my first night crawler in the driveway after all the recent rain. That news should put smiles on robin’s beaks because if you pay attention to them you’ve noticed they’re gathering nesting materials.

My favorite April happening is the “Sky Dance” of the Woodcock. The little timber doodle, as it is lovingly called by hunters are here although hard to spot. This time of year as the smallest game bird returns from the Gulf at speeds ranging from 5 to 28 mph as they fly north at night. 

Aldo Leopold reports in his Great Book, “A SAND COUNATY ALMANAC,”  “As the show begins on the first warm evening in April at exactly 6:50 PM and goes up one minute later until June 1 when the time is 7:50. This sliding scale is dictated by vanity, the dancer demanding a romantic light intensity of exactly 0.05 foot-candles. Do not be late, and sit quietly, lest he fly away in a huff.”

Leopold adds, the male timber doodle needs a clear dance floor, a small amphitheatre of moss, sand or bare earth that allows the male woodcock to strut once he lands due to his short legs. He flies in low and begins to sing. A sound described as peents spaced two seconds apart. Suddenly he flies skywards in wide spirals high into the heavens until he is only a speck in the sky. Suddenly he dives towards the ground looking like a crippled plane, wings whistling. Just before a crash landing he levels off to a soft landing on his peenting grounds and does his dance before another high rise flight and headlong dive. The next morning he repeats the show starting precisely at 5:15 AM starting 2 minutes later each morning until he attracts a mate. This is one of my favorite little dramas that occur in the spring woods that get missed by most.

Jim Bennett is an outdoorsman who lives and worked in the St. Croix River Valley and can be reached at jamesbennett24@gmail.com

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