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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Common Nighthawk is honored



What started my fascination with birds? When I delve deeply into the recesses of my memory, I find no sudden epiphany. I recall looking out the back window of our second story apartment onto the flat roof of the dry cleaner’s store, where a nighthawk was sitting on its eggs. My father had discovered it and pointed it out to me. It was interesting to see that the eggs were laid directly on the roof pebbles, without any semblance of a nest. A few days later, the eggs suddenly disappeared. In their place, unbelievably well-camouflaged, were two chicks. Knowing the date we moved away, I was no older than four years. It sticks in my memory, but did it light a flame? (From my review of Avian Architecture)

The Common Nighthawk seems a rather inauspicious creature to be proclaimed as the American Birding Association's Bird of the Year. Yet its designation delights me, as one might surmise from my above comments about the species. 

Since moving to south Florida I have had interesting encounters with migrating flocks as well as locally nesting nighthawks. Most challenging have been my attempts to capture their airborne images. Their halting, herky-jerky flight pattern guarantees many frames of blurred wingtips and tailtips, or more commonly,open sky.


I am delighted when one tilts just so, to allow the early sun to illuminate its undersides.


Common Nighthawk 20110602


It zigs just when I expect it to zag.

Common Nighthawk 20120419


As if to spoil my profile shot, it opens its gaping mouth.

Common Nighthawk 20110427


It can look like a bump on a rock, confident that its camouflage protects it from view.

Common Nighthawk 20110419

Conventionally, it perches lengthwise on branches...

Common Nighthawk at sunrise 20110422

...but then defies convention by performing a high-wire act.

Common Nighthawk onwire 20110501


A pair of nighthawks was acting territorial. One swooped down and "boomed" just over my head as I stood in the middle of the gravel road. It repeated the action several times as I moved along, landing down in front of me.

Common Nighthawk 2-20110605

The next morning, Mary Lou was ahead of me as we walked along the edge of the road. Suddenly a nighthawk flew up right in front of her-- it actually flew towards her, then fell to the ground, flopping and rolling as if in agony. It was obviously a distraction display, and the amount of energy that went into it suggested that she had nearly stepped on the eggs (or more likely young birds). I had to set the camera on macro to get these shots, as the bird allowed a very close approach before moving away. We briefly examined the area but did not see any eggs or young-- not surprising, as they can be well camouflaged.

Common Nighthawk 20120614


Later in the day, a nighthawk flew up from this nesting site along the edge of the road. Since the eggs are far apart, perhaps the bird was shading them from the sun with her wings rather than sitting on them. 

Common Nighthawk eggs 20120613

Back on its "nest," the nighthawk, photographed from a safe distance, was almost invisible. Interestingly, they have been known to relocate their eggs if disturbed, rolling them rather than picking them up in their mouth as was once believed.

 Common Nighthawk 20110420

21 comments:

  1. The Nighthawk is a cool bird! Great post, Ken! And your photos are awesome!

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  2. your photos are amazing! i've seen these birds in flight (no mistaking those white wing bars) but only once saw one perched far away.

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  3. Hi Ken, this is a great post with brilliant photos - I am green with envy remembering my poor attempts at shooting migrating nighthawks. Now here you are complaining about an insect-hawking nighthawk spoiling your profile shot! It's so hard to catch one with a gaping jaw!

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  4. I have never yet gotten a shot at a nighthawk.Great series. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  5. Wonderful post, Ken!
    I well remember my first encounter with Nighthawks in west Texas as they "boomed" all around and I couldn't locate the source of that noise!
    Now I'm trying to emulate you and capture some images of them in flight. I've reached the stage you mention of empty and partially empty frames and parts of birds. One day..........

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  6. Excellent in flight photos. I have the most difficult time getting them into focus before they fly out of shot distance. And the eggs...my goodness, that was an extra special treat for us visitors today.

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  7. Interesting post. He sure is colored for camouflage.
    RubbishbyRoan

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  8. Such an interesting bird. Your pictures are wonderful.

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  9. What gorgeous images. They do blend so well into their surroundings. Nature is so incredibly amazing.

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  10. A great serie of photos. Funny looking bird. I have not seen it before!

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  11. Great post, Ken! So pleased you're happy with the ABA's choice for Bird of the Year!

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  12. Oh my this is awesome. I am a newbie and this just blows me away! You have some incredible shots here and I enjoyed the video very much!

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  13. Truly fantastic shots of a fabulous bird

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  14. Lovely pictures!
    Thank you for sharing) Hanne Bente

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  15. Oh My, these are FANTASTIC! Oh to ever get to see a Nighthawk. They are at the top of one of my top 10 wish list... You were very fortunate to witness this~

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  16. Great photos!
    I haven't seen these since I was a kid. We called them Bull-Bats.
    Have a wonderful day!
    Lea
    Lea's Menagerie

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  17. Incredible shots of the Common Nighthawk Ken! Those in-flight shots are just incredible! Thanks for adding the ABA video too, fun stuff!

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