Thursday, August 18, 2011

August 18: Nighthawks

Yesterday someone posted a report on the Maine Birding listserv about seeing over 100 nighthawks migrating over the Kennebec River. One of the joys of late August birding is coming upon flocks of these acrobatic fliers soaring over a field or waterway as they wend their way south. They really do look a bit like small hawks, with their pointed, slender wings; and yes, they do prefer the evening hours, when they "hawk" for insects, darting and twisting with true aerial skill and beauty.

This evening I was attending an outdoor event being held in a big open hayfield. I mentioned to a birder friend there that this would be the perfect place to see nighthawks. They seem to prefer that time at the end of the day when the light is rich and clear, just before dusk begins to fully settle. And sure enough, about half an hour later we looked up to see several nighthawks flying overhead, flitting off to the next field and out of sight. Sometimes when you're in the right place at the right time, what you expect to see actually shows up.

Besides annual glimpses of nighthawks migrating--I think in particular of one August evening a few years ago when I was driving along the Penobscot River north of Orono--the most memorable nighthawk observation I ever experienced was when my husband and I were in Tucson, Arizona for our honeymoon. The resort where we were staying was surrounded by desert and backed by Mount Lemmon, a lovely place, and we'd found some interesting birds just walking the grounds. Walking past the tennis courts one night, which had their lights on for those who wanted to play in the coolness of evening, we were shocked to look up and realize that dozens of nighthawks were flashing through the night sky chasing all the insects drawn to the court lights. An unexpectedly breathtaking sight, like suddenly being visited by a host of angels. We just stood there and watched for a long time.

Dusk falls, angels come--
flitting above the river,
migrating nighthawks.

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