While looking for Wood Thrush in a small obscure section of Martin State Forest this morning I ran into a nice forester from IDNR. We chatted for a while and he mentioned something about getting to experience “backwoods Kentukiana”. It seemed kind of strange since I had mostly been working in well known human populated forests and state parks around Bloomington (a college town). He gave me a map of the property boundaries and said that he had flagged them. And I went on my way, looking for Wood Thrushes.
When I got back to my car a very old beat up Ford truck came down the road and stopped. Reluctantly, I rolled down my window to chat with the men in the truck. I thought to myself, I’ll just say that I work for IDNR. “Are you one of them IDNR folks counting trees?” the driver asked. (Thinking to myself, scratch that, play dumb!) “No, I’m counting birds.” He asked me what kind, and I told him Wood Thrushes, which of course he had never heard of. Then he proceeded to tell me that the tree counter was on his property because he didn't know how to read a map and he REALLLY didn’t seem to like that. I promised him I would not count birds on his property. Then he told me that he sees a lot of birds that look just like quail but have 6 inch long flat beaks like a duck but they have a ball at the end. They nest on the ground in the woods. Having really no idea what the heck he was talking about, I told him I wasn’t sure what he was seeing. They decided that it must have been what those “science people” call evolution (it look him a while to come up with the word) or something that NSA Crane (nearby Navy Base) had created. Haha, must be, I said…
He finally told me to “be careful”, since I’m a “real long way from home” (I was in my car with DE tags).
Now I know what the nice forester meant by experiencing “backwoods Kentuckiana”. Reminds me of the time I told a guy in Kisatchie National Forest I was counting birds and he asked me if I wanted to come back to his ranch, go horseback riding and see the "peckers" on is property. Hmm...nope, no thanks.
In hindsight, I think the man was talking about seeing an American Woodcock, sometimes referred to as the Timberdoodle. It’s a small chunky bird in the shorebird family found primarily in the eastern half of North America. It’s fairly well known for the male’s elaborate aerial display to attract females in early spring. Woodcock spend most of their time on the ground in brushy, young-forest habitats, where their plumage provides great camouflage. Kind of surprised the man didn’t know what it was though—since it’s also a popular game bird.
But you never know…maybe the folks at Crane ARE creating some strange duck/quail hybrid for the locals to hunt on the base, but several of them escaped. And its only a matter of time before the science people discover this strange new species.