Recently, the weather hasn’t been particularly pleasant here in Bangor, Maine. But in between the rain and snow, the sun did peek through the clouds just enough to encourage me to take a walk with my camera.
I visited Essex Woods, which has become one of my favorite local spots to watch wildlife. By Oct. 26, many of the birds of the bog had already flown south for the winter, but right away I was encouraged by the eastern phoebes perched on the kiosk at one of the trailheads.
Adult male mallards, with their shiny emerald heads, glided along the surface of the bog, which was flooded from days of rain. Their less flashy female counterparts followed suit, preening their feathers and swimming about, seemingly idle.
After about an hour of walking and watching, I figured that’s all I’d see — content mallards that didn’t seem to pay me any mind. Then, the clouds rolled in and it started to sprinkle, so I ducked into the woods and sat under a maple tree, which still hadn’t lost its fall foliage and sheltered me quite well. There, I waited for the rain to pass, watched a gray squirrel, thought some thoughts. It was nice.
The small bird had an extremely long, narrow beak. It’s dramatic feather pattern of black, white and brown feathers formed white stripes that started on the birds head and ran down the length of its back to its stubby tail. It stood stock still, its pale yellow legs almost completely submerged in water, and the bird appeared to be staring at me with one black beady eye.
Sensing that the bird might be uncomfortable, I took a few photos and moved on. Then, farther down the trail, I ran into a woman who was birding. We got to talking, and I showed her the photo. We both guessed that the bird was an American woodcock.
“I’ve never seen a woodcock,” I told her, though I’ve seen photos of them and knew their beaks were quite long.
We weren’t certain with the identification, so when I got home, I visited the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website and looked up American woodcock. A quick comparison told me that what I’d seen wasn’t a woodcock, it was a Wilson’s Snipe — a look-alike, but with some subtle differences.
Woodcocks have slightly different shaped heads, and they have a slightly different (less bold) feather pattern. But I think the most obvious difference is that a woodcock has shorter, brown legs.
So I’ve yet to find a woodcock, but I’m certainly happy with the surprise snipe. These shorebirds are seen in New England and Canada in the summer, then migrate to warmer climates for the winter.
To learn about the Wilson’s Snipe, visit www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Wilsons_Snipe/id.