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The utter joy of rambling around outside: From looking for shed antlers to seeing a woodcock

The surprise of a woodcock flushed while looking for shed antlers caps the joy of rambling around outside right now.

File photo of a woodcock sitting on a nest in a restored habitat in Somme Woods in Northbrook. Photo courtesy of Stephen Packard
File photo of a woodcock sitting on a nest in a restored habitat in Somme Woods in Northbrook.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Packard

A storm had blown two thick branches down into a cornfield. They created a detour for deer walking the fencerow, as the myriad deer tracks and scat piled around them showed.

I should have been thinking profound, Walden-esque thoughts. Instead, I channeled Tag Team in the Geico ad (best ad in years) and thought, ‘‘Poop, there it is.’’

Forgive me.

A scatological special: Deer scat near where a woodcock flushed Friday. Credit: Dale Bowman
A scatological special: Deer scat near where a woodcock flushed Friday.
Dale Bowman

If you hunt shed antlers — white-tailed deer shed their antlers annually, with the bell curve peaking in late February — it was the kind of spot where you look extra carefully. Same goes for places where deer jump creeks, ditches, brush or fences, places where they bang their antlers on branches or trees or in their bedding areas.

So I stopped and looked hard, standing so still that a woodcock flushed. When I heard the familiar whirl, I was so close I could see the elongated bill.

It’s an interesting time in our natural world: looking for shed antlers, seeing migrating sandhill cranes, catching coho on the Chicago lakefront or watching the mating dance of woodcock.

Woodcock are here.

A couple of days earlier, Kyle Danhausen texted he had heard some.

Right on time.

Evening woodcock walks to see the sky dance of the males are very popular. The Chicago Ornithological Society walk Friday is full. I was able to get two of the last spots for myself and my wife Saturday at Goodenow Grove Nature Preserve near Crete. If you find an opening on an organized woodcock walk, I highly advise going.

Last year, pandemic restrictions canceled woodcock walks. But I was lucky to be invited by Danhausen to his farm, where we heard woodcock but saw no sky dances.

I texted him when I jumped this one. He texted back that he had just jumped three and was making plans to watch for sky dances.

Thinking natural luck might be with me, I moved on to another spot for sheds.

Let me digress. This was the most I had done outside in 2 1/2 months. On Jan. 6, I had triple-bypass surgery and almost literally didn’t leave the house for 47 days. I gradually have worked my way back outside since.

On Friday, my cardiologist thought I was doing well enough that he didn’t need to see me for three months. I took that ‘‘Get Out of Jail Free’’ card and started looking for sheds in the afternoon.

To be outside for an extended time again was incredibly invigorating, but it showed how rusty I was.

Something crashed in the brush, and it took several seconds before it hit me: It was deer running off. I never saw them. It was good to hear woodpeckers hammering and red-winged blackbirds trilling.

I didn’t find any sheds at the second stop, but I found a shredded deer hide. I was curious where the skeleton was. Then, about 10 yards away, I found the crushed skull scattered in a packed-down bedding area in a prairie restoration.

It was time.

I took my time rambling back, savoring every second.

Wild things

From reports, I think Friday was the great migration day for sandhill cranes around Chicago. My favorite report came from Tom Jurich in Munster, Indiana, who emailed: ‘‘Today was the greatest number I’ve ever seen. In 90-plus minutes outdoors, I heard, then watched, at least one thousand birds pass in wave after wave. Some were only 100 feet high. . . . Such a wonderful experience in my suburban backyard!’’ It was doubly so because his 2-year-old granddaughter was ‘‘mesmerized by them.’’

Stray cast

Jose Abreu/Kris Bryant? Smallmouth bass/bluegill?