A clump of dirt? A rock? A piece of tree branch?
Chris jams on the brakes.
Then he sees it too.
“It’s a bird,” he says.
“A woodcock?” I say, hesitantly. Yes, definitely a woodcock. A squat, plump bird, long beak, no neck to speak of. “What’s he doing in the middle of the laneway?”
We’ve never seen one in the daytime, only in the meadow at dusk, and then only as a silhouette against the darkening sky. They crouch in the long grass, you can’t see them, but there’s no mistaking their loud, plaintive “bzeep, bzeep, bzeep.” Suddenly one will burst from cover, fly straight up in the air, almost out of sight. Silence. Wait for it. Wait for it. A soft chippering and twittering, faint as first, then louder and louder as the bird plummets to the ground. Silence for a minute. Then “bzeep, bzeep.”
But this one crouches silently in the middle of the laneway. Slowly I get out of the car, walk towards him. He hunches down, trying to hide.
“You need to move,” I say softly, but he doesn’t. Closer, closer than I would have thought possible. Is he hurt? Finally he gets up, stumbles to the shoulder of the road on his stubby legs, clambers over a couple of twigs, nestles down in the snow. That’s as far as he’s going.
It’s been six weeks now since we left the boat. We were expecting to come back to some cool weather—I was looking forward to watching spring unfold in the meadow. But it’s not happening. Day after day we wake to gray skies, the ground covered with frost or even snow. That is, if it’s not raining steadily. Most nights it goes below freezing, Chris gets up every couple of hours to feed the fire. We spend our days splitting and hauling wood.
But we’re happy enough. Sailing in Cuba was good practice for social isolation, moving from one remote anchorage to the next. We’d often go a couple of weeks without seeing another person. And we’re well used to provisioning for long periods of time. Two weeks is nothing!
But it’s different being close to people you love and not being able to see them. In fact, not seeing people at all makes us more fearful when we do go out. And not knowing what’s ahead also takes a toll. Will we get through the pandemic unscathed? Will our friends and family? Will we ever be able to get back to the boat?
The isolation is a little easier to take now that spring migration is in full swing. We’ve put out feeders and each morning we’re visited by flocks of goldfinches, chickadees, blue jays, sparrows, so many kinds of sparrows. The chipping sparrows that nest in the small pine tree just outside our window are back. Will they never learn? They’ve yet to successfully fledge a brood. Or even a single chick. Some predator has its eye on them.
The birds who come to the feeder seem to be doing okay, but I’m a little worried about the other birds. Yesterday I watched a pair of thrashers rummaging through the leaf litter at the edge of the laneway, looking for little bugs and not having much luck, near as I could tell. The bluebirds sit on the top of the workshop all day, looking for flying insects to nab, but seldom leave their perch. It’s too cold for bugs. The robins peck at the hard ground in vain, where are the worms?
I don’t know what to do about the woodcock. Where is he this morning? He’ll be cold and weak and probably very hungry. A woodcock will eat its weight in earthworms in a day. If he can find them. Maybe he’ll eat birdseed in a pinch.
I put on my boots and winter coat, my hat and mitts, go outside and shake a handful of seed out of the feeder, walk down the lane spread it on a low rock near where we saw him.
Hang on buddy, I murmur. We’re all tired of this. It won’t be long now.