Wild Words: Our first footer this year was a woodcock

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The first day of 2022, and the night before a new moon, my partner had been driving along the single-track road towards home when his headlights fell on a dark eye, ringed in brightness, right in the middle of the van’s path, writes Kirsteen Bell.

Beyond the verges, the ground here proliferates with trees: birch, willow, and hazel fringe wee fields, oaks grow out of old walls, and alder grows out of ditches.

As their name suggests, woodcock prefer deciduous woodland. I can’t tell you how many might live in the woods that straggle along the road between the crofts and the shoreline.

I only ever glimpse them at dusk, my car headlights often throwing a brief spill of light onto a cooried creature on the verge, a blink at the dark stripe running from the back of its head to a long, straight beak, before my foot on the pedal sweeps the car on, leaving the bird to, hopefully, return into the safety of night.

This one, though, stood immobile in the glare of the van lights. My partner tried to encourage it off the road, but it remained frozen. In the end, he had to pick it up and bring it to the house, cradled in the lap of his boiler suit.

While I googled what to do with our visitor – who we guessed was in shock from a knock from another vehicle – the children came closer.

Our fluorescent kitchen light slid along intricate bands of bronze and brown, giving definition to the downy grey feathers ruffled and visible along one flank.

The woodcock’s eyes fixed on them, assessing for threat presumably – though its apparent shock made the look seem steady and sure.

‘A comfortable dark box to rest and recover in’ was the advice given, where it would either die from its injuries or revive sufficiently to be returned outside.

So, in hope, I grabbed a box and ran out to tear wet grass and moss from the bank. I was on my way back in when the bird decided it had had enough: it whirred up and out of my partner’s arms, leaving a trail of feathers across the table.

We stood, looking at the bird, looking at each other, at a complete loss. There was a woodcock under our table.

I followed it slowly, shushing as I might a child. As we watched the creature dip and weave over the hard laminate flooring, leaving little white squitty splats of poo in its wake, I questioned, who was first-footing who? Who took the first step into whose home? Who belongs here more?

We opened the back door, which leads onto our unfenced garden, bordered only by rushes, brambles, and woodland, and watched it walk into the night.

www.kirsteenbellblog.wordpress.com – @KirsteenBell

NO F11 Kirsteen Bell 1
Kirsteen Bell