With Darkness Comes Sadness

Before I get into the heart of this post, I wanted to congratulate our little fur covered bundle of energy on his first birthday a week ago Sunday!

Ruger 1 year old

A surprising thing happened the day before his birthday. Linda and I were enjoying our breakfast at the kitchen table when Ruger came bounding in like Tigger. Raven had reminded him the next day he would be turning the big 1. Ruger goes to a chair at the end of the table, nudges it out a foot or so and then proceeds to go back into the living room, puts his butt against a small stool and pushes it all the way into the kitchen – quite the struggle until he finally gets it off the rug and onto the slicker tile flooring. With the stool in position next to the table, he backs up, bolts forward, leaps to the top of the stood and then launches himself up to the seat of the pulled out chair – pretty sure he muttered some older than 1 year old words regarding how high our kitchen table is. Now comfortably situated, he leans on the table with his paws and announces “I want a play date with Happy [his Poodle friend] for my birthday present!!!”. Linda and I looked at each other with open mouths, blinked a couple of times, looked back at Ruger and then glanced back at each other quite shocked – we thought for sure he would say “bouncy house party”. Goes to show you, you never really know what goes on inside the mind of a Poodle. Note, I did point out that there was a step ladder like 5 feet from the table that would have been a lot easier to use. Called up Happy’s mom, relayed the request and received confirmation – now we rock in Ruger’s eyes. A little concerned about what next year’s request is going to be ha!

Anyway, a small bright moment to start off the post of what is a rather sad post. I was looking through the image queue for a good topic to cover today. After perusing through a number of sets I opted for my latest field adventure. To be honest I almost Titled this post “Technical Limbo: How Low Can You Go”. I thought I had lowered the technical bar pretty far with my previous Bat post, but this adds a whole new level of sadness.

American Woodcock at Tawny Oaks Field Station, Edelstein IL in March 2022

If I dipped a craft brush in a bottle of black paint and flung it at a blue wall I could probably get a blob that looks at least as good as these first few shots. That would have been the easy approach, instead I spent 2 hours in a cold field starting at dusk playing “Hunt the Wumpus” until my fingers were stinging so badly it hurt to push the shutter down. Just to set the record straight, there were ten other people with me so I was NOT the only crazy person in Edelstein, IL that night.

Hit the jump for more splotches… and some surprises (good and sad)

American Woodcock at Tawny Oaks Field Station, Edelstein IL in March 2022

Why were the lunatics on the grass at the dark side of the field? To watch the courtship of the Timberdoodle, of course! After their first 20 minutes or so the show really becomes more of a “listen” to the doodle dance as it becomes too damn dark to see anything. So there I was at the Tawny Oaks visitor center with Linda’s D810 and a super fast 70-200mm glass witnessing the moonlight beat back the last gasps of the day – then a loud “peent” rang out across the field, then another and another the dance had begun!

American Woodcock at Tawny Oaks Field Station, Edelstein IL in March 2022

For those of you not familiar with the American Woodcock, they are a quite the entertaining bird. First off, they look like a feathered softball that some kid Mr. Potato Head’ed funny appendages on. Slap a long bill, short stubby tail and some skinny sticks for legs and presto, Woodcock, or their other namesake, Timberdoodle. My theory is like Cyrano they hold their courtship in the dark so their mates can’t get a good look at their goofy features – “my what a big appendage you have .. wait, that’s your NOSE WTF?”. To impress the ladies, it will make its distinct peent calls before launching into the air climbing to impressive heights before plummeting back to the ground. The winds whipping through their tail feathers make a unique twittering sound as Cornell aptly references it. Your task, triangulate the call and then try your best to see the silhouette when it gets above the tree line. There I stood armed with Linda’s high ISO baby and the fastest zoom we had trying to get something recognizable in the tin, so I could officially get the tick for this year’s average bird count. Pretty sad shots, but given the conditions I’ll take it.

Then I got to thinking – there is a similar looking setting, open field surrounded by thick timber, at Jubilee College State Park. A lot closer than the 20 minutes I had to drive to get to Edelstein. A couple of days later, grabbed the same rig and headed over to the park. For those wondering, it takes a near act of god (or bribes) to convince Linda to let me use her camera!

American Woodcock at Jubilee College State Park, Brimfield, IL in March 2022

Sure enough, as soon as the sun set, a few peents rang out over the large field I was standing in – this time absolutely alone and hoping like hell white vans with straightjackets didn’t show up to cart me away – “you lock the door – and throw away the key – there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me”. Two flew directly over my head – even the 124K ISO used for the Tawny night could pull anything out from that blackness. Undeterred, I went back the next night – this time with Linda to help me out (and so there would be TWO people in the field calming fears of being carted off to a padded cell). With the extra set of ears, we were able to locate a few of them in the back portion of the field. Again, one flew over our heads and this time I was able to get a press and pray flash shot off (there is nothing for the auto-focus to work on). At least you can make out the body and get a feel for the wings and bill. Then we heard a couple more peenting away on the ground by the timberline. Slowly tried to make our way over there while trying to keep from breaking our ankles in the dark.

American Woodcock at Jubilee College State Park, Brimfield, IL in March 2022

You thought the Bat escapade was comedic gold – what followed that night was “if you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding” level craziness (yes, I switched albums for those of you catching on). Randomly set a focus distance then blasting a flash shot toward something hopefully lurking in the tall grass. To my complete surprise, we were able to capture some ground shots.

American Woodcock at Jubilee College State Park, Brimfield, IL in March 2022

HIGHLY processed in the digital darkroom, but this is the first time I have ever seen what these creatures look like in the wild. Kudos to the specimen in these shots that didn’t give one ounce of concern there were random beams of light appearing out of nowhere. After each shot, it would simply dance in the darkness before thankfully giving us another call to help the next guess.

American Woodcock at Jubilee College State Park, Brimfield, IL in March 2022

I will admit that I had to do some major manipulation of the eyes in these shots – those familiar with flash and animals are already aware you get a white hot burn in your image where the eye is supposed to be – similar to the red-eye you get with straight on flash and human eyes. Carefully did some cloning, burning, smudging and called it good enough for the poor technical quality of these shots. Like with the Bat, I am elated I was able to get anything in the tin at all, much less the extra detail in the feather coloring.

American Woodcock at Jubilee College State Park, Brimfield, IL in March 2022

As a test, I walked about 20 feet away from the computer screen and the images look much better… sorry, make that 25 feet hehehe. Some quick facts before I close with another reason for the selected title. The American Woodcock often sticks a foot out in front and rocks back and forth while foraging on the ground for worms. This is the “doodle” dance they are referring to with their Timberdoodle alias. Cornell hypothesized that this may stir the worms making them easier to locate. Their courtship ritual can take them spiraling upwards to 350 feet before plummeting back down to their potential mate on the ground. Lastly, their eyes are positioned high on their skulls enabling them to watch for dangers above while they are probing the grounds with their large bills. This specimen must have been laughing its doodle heinie off watching us try to keep from being noticed while getting within flash range.

American Woodcock at Jubilee College State Park, Brimfield, IL in March 2022

Okay, now for the difficult part. Today’s post title was more than a reference to how “sad” my technical execution was on these shots. Unfortunately, my family was hit with extremely sad news this last weekend. As a result, I need to step away from blogging for an unknown amount of time while we cope with the situation. I am truly appreciative of all my visitors and didn’t want my sites (the Intrigued mothership and its wildlife sister) going dark without giving you a heads up. I cherish your comments and apologize ahead of time for delays in responding to those as well as keeping up on the great posts from my extended blogger family. I’ll come back with additional details – until then, thank you for your time, your interest and your support over these many years.

Linda, Brian, Raven, Benji and Ruger.

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