On Stage

On Stage

This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.


Five months ago, we saw the departure of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Woodcock. Well, they are back. Their return is a happy enough event in itself, for they are a very pleasant couple, but their early spring antics can easily claim to be the most phenomenal performance of the season. When it comes to romance, Mr. Woodcock is a spectacular performer.

He and his lady are creatures of the twilight. That is to say, they are crepuscular in habit. The theater is cool and damp and is usually close to an alder patch in a small clearing or a field. Spectator seating on the soft, early April ground is roomy but sometimes a bit damp, and theater etiquette does not preclude lying down – a good thing, because the woodcock’s stage fright sometimes gets the better of him and the audience might be required to wait a while before the curtain goes up.

If it’s a good night, not only do the actors show up on time, but the Moon might come up as well to illuminate the performance.

The sun has set and darkness settles over the meadow. The audience is silent. Then there comes a startling sound, emanating from somewhere right up front. Often described as a “peent,” it actually sounds like a very dry Bronx cheer – really – an unexpected way for the best performance of the season to begin.

It is Mr. Woodcock himself. He has noted over the years that his lady friend is a rather earthy type, and he, having her favors uppermost in his mind, unabashedly calls out in a way that will most likely attract her attention. He paces around for several minutes, sounding off in all directions, and once he feels quite certain she must have heard his overtures, he does something even more startling.

With no warning whatsoever, he launches himself into the air with a shrill, fast-beat whistling sound. This is created by the air passing over the first three primary feathers on his wings. These feathers are very narrow and quite stiff. So, they reverberate loudly with his passionate wingbeat. Ascending in a tightening spiral to a height that seems like hundreds of feet into the young night air, he reaches a peak and, for a suspenseful moment of silence, hangs there.

Then again there is the urgent sound of his whistling wings, more regulated now, plummeting down, down out of the darkening night. Searching eyes catch sight of a small, feathered body hurtling earthward across the face of the Moon… twisting, turning… and to all appearances, out of control. Any lady woodcock would have to be impressed. The audience certainly is. At last he breaks his fall and makes a flaring circuit off the stage before coming in for a landing on precisely the spot he left an action-filled minute ago.

After regaining his composure and allowing the object of his affections, wherever she might be, to fully digest his magnificence, Mr. Woodcock starts his performance all over again. With the full Moon, it could well be a night of encores. It’s a wonderful show, audience or no audience, and it’s a terrible shame to miss it.

American woodcock strolling through leaf litter


Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. On October 7, 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.

Top photo courtesy of Fyn Kind via Flickr (CC by 2.0)