This inexact crepuscular period known as dawn or twilight serves as mealtime for one of our common summer resident birds, the Common Nighthawk.
The male nighthawk has a bright white throat patch, which is indistinct or absent in the female:
Sunrise is still 25 minutes away, but the cloud tops are illuminated, and this is prime time for nighthawks:
In mid-June, the Planet Mars shone brightly red, alone in the early morning sky, until the rotating Earth "caught up" with the full Moon, shown here about 1/2 hour before sunrise on June 29:
Sunlight had not yet reached the ground when a storm cloud over the Everglades to the west caught the sun's rays. The Moon (now two days past full) appeared against a blue sky just before sunrise:
Sometimes a layer of high clouds reflects the light of the sun nearly an hour before sunrise, or storms darken the early morning or late afternoon sky, at which times nighthawks extend their foraging period.
Inappropriately named, the nighthawk is not a raptor. It "hawks" flying insects with its huge gaping mouth.
It sleeps most of the night like you and me and most other "birds." Its sharp nasal "peenk" call greets our ears as we step out of our front door. Walking along the gravel road, we are startled by a "boom" close overhead as a nighthawk dives down and then turns sharply upward.
During the day, nighthawks rest on the ground or roost longitudinally on tree branches or utility wires:
Rarely, one will perch crosswise as do "normal" birds:
There are usually three or four nighthawk nesting sites along the mile-long gravel course in our wetlands. The birds reveal them by the agitation which builds as we approach. The pair circles us, calling and booming. If someone happens to venture too close to a nest or nestling, the female may attempt to distract the intruder by flying directly towards him/her, then seeming to fall to the ground, with wings flopping and huge mouth open.
If this happens there may be danger of stepping on eggs, hatchlings or a flightless juvenile bird, as they are remarkably well camouflaged. This nest contains two eggs:
Here is a closer look. The eggs are deposited on bare ground:
The newly hatched chick can be almost invisible. I almost stepped on this one, located in the middle of the path, before the female warned me of its presence:
Here is a video of a Common Nighthawk distraction display:
If the video does not display in the space above,
Nighthawks are swift and remarkably erratic flyers, executing split-second changes in direction and altitude as they spot prey items, making them extremely difficult subjects for in-flight photography. One trick which I have learned is to keep both eyes open, one looking through the camera viewfinder and the left eye tracking the bird as it zigzags through the sky.This takes some practice as my brain compensates for the parallax between the apparent position of the real bird as compared to its image, similar to the way a heron's brain corrects for parallax which causes a fish to appear nearer and closer to the surface. (Does this mean I have developed a "bird brain?") .
My gallery of processed Common Nighthawk photos numbers over 300, but each of the flight shots represents at least 5-10 times as many attempts-- empty frames of sky and clouds, wing and tail tips, and blurry images. The difficulty is compounded by the poor light conditions. Even with my camera's light sensitivity cranked all the way up (ISO 16,000) and exposure compensation increased to overcome the glare from the sky, I must wait until sunrise for sufficient light, then reduce the ISO as the sky brightens up, allowing the camera to set the exposure, between 1/2000 and 1/3000 second, to stop their movement.
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