One of the highlights for me of The Biggest Week in American Birding was coming across a nest of newly hatched American Woodcocks near the parking lot at Magee Marsh. Fellow New Mexican Donna Madrid-Simonetti and I stayed well back from the birds and photographed them with our 400 mm lenses.
When we first saw them, they were snuggled up under a log. This photo is heavily cropped, as we did not want to disturb them.
There was caution tape around the area where the birds were sheltering, and birders and photographers kept a respectful distance as we admired the Woodhen and her fuzzy chicks.
Not far away I found the empty eggshells. The tiny chicks had hatched only that morning. The nest where the Woodhen had incubated her eggs was little more than a slight depression in the leaves, and the eggs had blended in perfectly with the detritus on the forest floor.
I left the area to do some birding elsewhere. When I came back later that day, the little family was out for a stroll.
I was backing up as I took this photo.
I had stayed far back from the birds. These images were taken with a 400 mm lens, and they are heavily cropped. But at this point, quite a few people started crowding around the poor Woodhen and her chicks. People were thrusting point and shoot cameras and cell phone cameras right in their faces. The chicks became confused, and the mother Woodhen became distressed. Concerned birders started trying to move people away from the birds, but the babies became scattered. Finally, the babies were coaxed back to the mother and people backed away from the birds. The whole episode was distressing to watch.
Kim Claire Smith wrote about a similar situation with a Kirtland’s Warbler on her blog here. These situations highlight how important it is to be respectful of wildlife, particularly when they are taking care of their young. No photo is worth causing the stress to birds that I observed in this instance.
I am happy to say that the next morning it was reported that the American Woodcock family had crossed the parking lot and was safely in the woods. Here is a video that I took of them before the crowds of people descended. Please note that this small group of birders was far back from the birds. You can see how close the birds were to the parking lot.