Thursday, August 12, 2010

Look up for Nighthawks

Common Nighthawk roosting in Central Park, May 2006
Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik --

On August 12 Tom Fiore wrote:

We are now into the period when Common Nighthawk southward migration should be upon us, and these can sometimes be seen in good numbers in the city, more likely at dawn or dusk although occasionally found in numbers in daytime in certain weather conditions and by "chance". They'll also use city parks to roost in a bit before continuing south. The "fall" nighthawk migration or at least staging has begun in some northern areas.

Below, Tom's latest Central Park report featuring migrating nighthawks:

Central Park, Manhattan, N.Y. City

On Monday (16 August, 2010) evening at around 7:45 to 8 p.m., at least 15 (fifteen) Common Nighthawks moved southward over Central Park, as viewed from the south end of the Reservoir there, and subsequently seen as they moved on over the Great Lawn area, into the air-space farther south and out of view. They were trending slightly southwest from there. There may have been at least a few more as I was not fully noticing them until a few passed almost directly in front of me (that is, above but nearly directly overhead) - in any case I was able to count 15 in a period of only 15 minutes, most coming thru all at once in what could almost be called an extremely loose "flock", some separated by up to 50 yards or more per bird.

Their speed was misleading, as it seemed they were just lazing along, but when I ran out to the Great Lawn area -a distance of maybe a few hundred yards from my 'perch' by the reservoir- most were already far away, towards or even beyond the castle which is another 1/4-mile or so distant from where I stood. There was little discernible wind yet clouds were in motion so obviously the wind was in motion above the surface. Most of the nighthawks looked to be at about 300 - 500+ feet above the ground or water when I first saw them, and some or maybe all looked to be climbing as they went south. I watched for another 20 minutes as dusk really came on and saw no more in that additional time.

. . .

It is certainly the time for nighthawks to be migrating and these little weather changes sometimes (not always!) seem to get them moving, too. Watching the birds with 12x optics helped get on those that were a bit distant, as they moved... Otherwise, from what I found earlier and in each day since last Wednesday, there had been relatively scant migrants although some of the most typical mid-August birds are going thru. It look as though a good number of Eastern Kingbirds may have moved on, although I'd expect some more to still be on their way south.

At least some freshly arrived migrants in Central Park's north end this Tuesday a.m. (6/17). More later...

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PS From Marie:

As you are looking for nighthawks at the appropriate times of day, you may have trouble distinguishing them from small flocks of similarly sized swallows or swifts also swooping around in the same area. Here's a hint: as you look up, if you see conspicuous white wing patches on the birds' underwings , you can identify those birds as nighthawks.

As for discovering roosting nighthawks [or other nightjars -- whip-poor-wills or chuck-will's widows] in Central Park, good luck! Thanks to their cryptic plumage, all three of these species are devilishly hard to distinguish from ordinary lumps and bumps on a limb. But once a sharp-eyed birdwatcher has managed to find a roosting nightjar words spread fast. And since these birds are sleeping during the day you generally don't have to rush out to see a reported nightjar as you might a prothonotary warbler or a Lincoln's sparrow. The sleeping bird stays where it is.