It was unusual, not because it is not expected, but because it was so early for a spring ritual. Vaughn Miller noticed it and I did, too, near Swanton and at Moline, respectively, on Saturday evening.
It was the spring courtship ritual of woodcock, where the male calls out with his familiar and characteristic "peent'' and tries to attract the attention of any nearby females.
The chorus of "peents'' grows more rapid and then the longbilled little gamebird springs aloft flying in twittering circles, high and higher, till he nosedives back toward the ground. Whereupon he hits the airbrakes, plops down softly, and begins again. The ploy apparently wins over female woodcock, at least enough of them often enough to assure that there still are woodcock around to present courtship displays.
Miller witnessed the woodcock display at his rural Swanton home. I heard displays near the railyards in Moline, while catching a breath of outside air during the Wood-Lucas Pheasants Forever fund-raiser at Glass City Boardwalk.
Typically woodcock displays begin around the second week of March, but last week's warm southwest winds brought some of the birds, among many other species, into these latitudes ahead of schedule, according to Bill Roshak, a wildlife management biologist at Ohio Wildlife District 2 at Findlay.
Even some bullfrogs were moving Saturday about the edges of the "ice cube'' remaining in Pollick Pond. The warm weather all but begged for the sounds of the first choruses of spring peepers, among the first frogs to sing. Alas the peepers were still silent, a sign that perhaps the wetlands ponds where they live have not yet warmed into the low 40s.
Scott Butterworth, also a District 2 biologist, said that wood frogs will not be far behind the spring peeper schedule when it comes to early amphibian songsters.
The temperature of the Maumee River reached 40 degrees on Saturday and 45 on Sunday, though it may have cooled back a bit since then, according to Jan Lowry at Maumee Valley Bait and Tackle.
So far, Lowry added, anglers trying the river have caught some carp, suckers and a few catfish but no spring-run walleye. Northern pike fishing (big bobbers and big minnows) has not yet started around the Grand Rapids Dam, she said. But pike activity is expected any day, especially if the weather remains mild and waters continue to warm.
While waiting on fish activity to warm, it might be worthwhile to take in some fishing seminars, three of which are scheduled in the next three weeks.
The B.A.S.S. Fishing Techniques Institute, previously discussed in this space, is set for Saturday and Sunday at the Owens Community College, Center for Development and Training, 2249 Tracy Rd., Northwood.
The institute's instructional staff include bass pros Jimmy Houston, David Fritts, Joe Thomas, Randy Fite, Alton Jones and Don Iovino. To check on space availability and registration, call Owens at 661-7357 or 1-800-GO-OWENS, extension 7357.
On March 8 and 9, the second annual Jann's Netcraft Fishing Expo is scheduled for The Pinnacle, 1772 Indian Wood Circle, Maumee.
The initial evening program a year ago was so popular and well-attended that Jann's has expanded it to two days, noon to 9 p.m. An open floor for browsing displays and tackle exhibits is planned for noon to 5 p.m. March 8, with bass competitor Greg Mangus scheduled to speak at 5:30 p.m. on the finer points of presentation and equipment. Walleye champion Ted Takasaki, now also president of Lindy Lures, is scheduled on trophy walleye presentations at 7 p.m., followed by floor exhibits.
On March 9, exhibits are open noon to 4:30 p.m, with manufacturers' representatives introduced at 4 p.m.
Scott Stecker, the "Lure Doctor,'' will discuss tuning and modifying baits at 4:30 p.m., followed by bass pro Randy Ramsey at 5:15 p.m. on Midwest bass fishing. Mark Hicks, bass competitor and author of "Lake Erie Smallmouth'' and "Lake Erie Walleye,'' among other authoritative Ohio fishing guides, is set for 7 p.m. with detailed tips on Lake Erie walleye and smallmouth angling.
During both days, a Fishing Expo Forum of fishing pros, guides, and competitors will be on hand to field questions and share tips. These include Jim Fofrich, Sr., Jim Fofrich, Jr., Jim Stedke, Rich Stedke, Jerry Meyers, Doug Morrow, Pat Huston, all guides, and Mark Brumbaugh, pro walleye champion, Mark Hicks, Lake Erie fishing author, Rick LaCourse, pro walleye champion, Scott Stecker, lure-maker, Greg Mangus, pro bass champion, Bill Byersmith, tackle-maker, and Skeeter Warner.
For other details, call Jann's, 868-8288.
Last and not least, a class on basic wilderness fishing is scheduled for March 18 and 19, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Gander Mountain store on South Holland-Sylvania Road.
The class, sponsored by the continuing education program at Bowling Green State University, will be taught by Matt Wilder, fishing authority who appears on ESPN Outdoors. It will cover effective techniques, proper tackle, lure and fly selection, fly casting, fly typing, and more.
A related activity is a fishing trip to Labrador in eastern Canada, Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, to fish for brook trout, land-locked salmon and arctic char. To register for the class or for details on the trip, call BGSU at 419-372-8181.
Tomorrow Western Lake Erie Sierra Club, 6:30 p.m., Toledo Botanical Gardens, conference center.
Tomorrow and Thursday Boating-education class 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Ottawa Park Nature Center, call Mike Schabeck, city of Toledo boating education, 936-3848.
Thursday through Sunday 12th annual Greater Detroit Sportfishing and Travel Expo, Palace of Auburn Hills, just north of I-75 on M-24, Auburn Hills, Mich.; Thursday and Friday evenings, daytime on weekends; call 248-377-8686.
Saturday Boating-education class, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Defiance Library, Defiance, call Ohio Division of Watercraft, 836-6003.
Saturday Boating-education class, 9 a.m. to noon, Sentinel Vocational School, Tiffin, continues March 11 and 18; call U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 10-3, 419-447-4415.
Saturday Hunter-education classes, Antwerp Local School, Antwerp, noon to 4 p.m., plus March 7 and 11; call 419-258-5421 or 419-258-8081.
Sunday Fish and wildlife open house for 2000 regulatory proposals, noon to 5 p.m., Ohio Wildlife District 2 headquarters, 952 Lima Ave., Findlay; call District 2, 419-424-5000; bad-weather date March 12.
Sunday Air rifle shoot for youths ages 8 to 15, 1 p.m., Sandusky County Sportsmen's Club, State Rt. 600 east of Gibsonburg; call Jerry Schumacher, 419-637-7648.
Sunday Canada Goose Day, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area, 13229 West State Rt. 2, Oak Harbor; decoy and songbird-carving displays at Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center at Magee; guided wetlands walking tours at 1 and 3 p.m., from the bird center; wildlife and wetlands exhibits at bird center; refreshments provided by Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Apple Festival Royalty, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the bird center; call Magee, 419-898-0960, extension 31.
Sunday Bowshoot, Maybee Sportsman Club, 11490 Hoffman Rd., Maybee, Mich., register 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 30 3-D targets, call the club, 734-439-1353.
Monday Public trapshoot, 6:30 p.m., Wolf Creek Sportsmen's Association, 349 Teachout Rd., north of State Rt. 2, Curtice; call Jeff Raczkowski, 836-2033; also, Wolf Creek meeting, Tuesday, call Loreal Szymanski, 244-9575.
March 7 Safe-boating class, 6:30 to 9 p.m., Springfield Middle School, Sylvania, continues Tuesdays and Thursday for two weeks, call 885-4126; also Tuesday, safe-boating class, 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays for six weeks, Woodville Mall, call coast guard auxiliary, 698-4122 or 474-7070.
March 8 Wildlife Diversity Conference, Fawcett Center for Tomorrow, near Ohio State University, Columbus; theme, grassed lands and grass roots; call the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 1-800-WILDLIFE.