#508 Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk has been off my life list for an embarrassingly long time despite the fact that I’ve lived smack in the middle of its breeding range for about the last 20 years. To make matters worse, this is a bird that can be seen easily from a mile away; and it’s not really hard to identify it. The only thing that makes the common nighthawks a little challenging is that it does come out in the evening after most birders who gone home for the day. If you get up at 6 AM to catch the dawn chorus, you’re going to be pretty tired by the time you see your first Nighthawk. It pretty much requires a special trip. Nonetheless, it isn’t that hard to find and yet for reasons I can’t fully explain, I have missed it time and time again for years. For instance, a few years ago nighthawks were flying over the Turtle Pond in Central Park every night for several weeks until the night I took the subway out there to see them at which point apparently every last one of them had decided to migrate south. I have gone on nighttime walks in Prospect Park, and shown up two minutes after nighthawks flew over and everyone else saw them but me. I have been out to numerous locations where they are known to fly nightly and still managed to miss them time and time again. Most recently, yesterday, Saturday, I was on a Brooklyn Bird Club trip to Jamaica Bay when the leader got separated from the group. He saw two nighthawks fly over while I was busy looking at yet another Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Common Nighthawk perched

Consequently it was not without a little trepidation that I set out yesterday evening to try for nighthawks in Prospect Park once again. My friend Edith had reported that Friday night there were about 20 nighthawks line over the Park. Thus despite having been on an 8+ hour trip to multiple locations with the bird club in the morning and afternoon, I decided to hit the Park this evening and see what I could find. Almost as soon as I walked in to the Park at 6 PM and started heading down the Longmeadow, I spotted a large, vaguely gull like bird with an unusual shape. As soon as I got my binoculars on it was obviously a Common Nighthawk. They have a unique shape with very long pointed wings far longer than any other bird of a similar size you’re likely to see. They also have distinct white stripes parallel to the body. It is quite visible binoculars even though I did not get a photograph that evening.

However, this morning, Sunday, on the scheduled Prospect Park walk with Tom Stephenson we’re up on Lookout Hill when Janet Schumacher spots a juvenile Common Nighthawk perched in a tree. This it often how it is with nemesis birds. you spend years looking for it, and miss it time and time again, and it is so you see one they’re everywhere. That’s where the photograph comes from. Janet gets the spotter of the day award for that one. Nighthawks not in flight are extremely well camouflaged and almost impossible to find. You could be within a few feet of it and never see or hear it.

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