Walking through the woods down to the beach this morning produced my first woodcock of the autumn. If I leave the narrow path, and clap my hands, I can usually flush one or two, and there will be many in the valley during the winter months. Perfectly camouflaged on the woodland floor, they are grossly overlooked, most are found by hunters who bag good numbers in favoured woods over the winter months. It’s ironic that woodcock is still legally considered a game bird, in spite of the fact that it has declined dramatically as a breeding species over the last few years; it’s now included on the amber list of species of conservation concern. However the large numbers that are bagged after ‘The Glorious 12th’ are mostly of Russian origin, spending their winters in the UK.
Woodcock are primarily nocturnal, remaining still on the woodland floor during daylight, but I was lucky today. The two I flushed moved only short distances, and with great care I’m able to find one of them again, and watch at close quarters as it pokes its long straight bill into the newly fallen leave litter.
Catching woodcocks is a bit hit and miss, and I haven’t tried for years. Knowing the right woodland, and setting plenty of nets well before dusk can reap rewards, but a good catch never exceeds more than a handful. Ironically again, most information we have about woodcock movements comes from ringing returns of birds killed by hunters.