Last night we headed up to Beagle Gap in Shenandoah National Park to try to hear the Saw-whet Owl that has been wintering there. When we got there it was still light, so we walked around a nearby meadow that was outside the boundaries of the park for a while, looking for any American Woodcocks or other birds. We were alone in the silent meadow, enjoying the pink light falling on the mountains in the distance and the golden glow of the meadow grasses. Suddenly we heard a dry, harsh “peeent” call from the bushes beside the field. As we walked toward the spot where the Woodcock had been calling, it suddenly erupted out of the grass by our feet. I hate how they do that! I was able to get it in my binoculars and had a decent look. Soon there were “peeents” coming from all directions – there must have been more than five! The males would sit out in the field “peeenting” and then suddenly pop into flight. Then you could hear their rapid twitter as they flew overhead.
Woodcock photo I took in Ohio last Spring, not at Beagle Gap.
As the last “peeents” dwindled, an Eastern Screech Owl called from the distance. Its eerie trill fading to nothing as the meadow once again went silent. After waiting a little bit, we played the Saw-whet call in hopes that it would respond. After a couple of rounds of playing and then waiting for a few minutes we finally heard, somewhat distantly, but clearly, the wail-like call of the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. It called just three times, but it felt almost as good as seeing it. By then it was freezing cold so we left the mountain in a hurry.