Lately my life birds have been getting further and further from home: Connecticut, Iceland, Texas, Munich, and Florida. That’s the natural state of things as you gradually fill out the local species, and even local accidentals. My Brooklyn list is over 200 out of 328 total species, and my New York list is around 275 out of a possible 400 or so. However, many of the species I don’t have in New York, I have seen elsewhere so I haven’t felt the need to chase them locally. But surprisingly there are still a few local birds left for me to tick, and one I found today in my home territory of Prospect Park.
I was up on Lookout Hill today with about nine other birders, all enjoying spring migration and the warblers that come with it, when one of them asked me to look at a strange bird he had spotted and didn’t recognize. However, I was having trouble finding it and before I could put my binoculars on it, it took off and flew across our field of view. It was dark and vaguely gull shaped, but no gull. That could mean only one thing: nightjar! But which one?
It was large, seemed almost Ring-billed Gull sized. And it didn’t show any white wingbars in flight. That ruled out the most likely suspect, Common Nighthawk, and left two possibilities: Whip-poor-will and Chuck-will’s-widow. Whip-poor-will is sadly uncommon on Long Island these days, though it used to be more prevalent. Chuck-will’s-widow is relatively easy to find on Staten Island at certain locations, though I’ve never bothered to trek out there at night to listen for it.
The bird returned two more times, each time flying in front of us quickly and then vanishing into a tree. These are incredibly well camouflaged birds in daytime. They are very hard to spot, and we were not able to relocate it even when we saw exactly which tree it flew into. After much fruitless searching, we thought the bird might have sneaked out down the hill away from our view. However the consensus of birders there was that by size alone this was a Chuck-will’s-widow, #540.