Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Waiting for Nighthawks

Every year in mid-August I get excited about the upcoming migration of the Common Nighthawk. I rarely see them in summer, and then suddenly there's the prospect of seeing hundreds of the birds silently on the move.

Now that folks on WISBIRDN (the Wisconsin birding list) have started reporting migrating flocks, my eyes are always on the sky in the evenings. I sit on my north facing deck and scan the horizon. I've had good luck in the past when I've lived in Indiana and Illinois, and I hope my luck continues here in southeastern Wisconsin.

In some ways it’s the same feeling I used to get with migrating Canada Geese when I was younger. It was invigorating to see the high flying v-shaped skeins of geese, up so high that their raucous honking was barely audible. The geese would inspire a sense of wanderlust...coming from who knows where, heading to who knows where, making only a brief appearance in my world. But the presence of year-round resident Canada Goose flocks has undermined that specialness. I think my earlier fascination with migrating geese has been replaced by the joy I feel when I hear the bugling calls of migrating Sandhill Cranes. Like the earlier geese, the cranes pass over unexpectedly, spending very little time in my world.

I think this fascination with nighthawks stems in part from the transient nature of migration. But there’s more to it than that. It’s also part of the same feeling that I get when I go out to look for displaying American Woodcocks in the spring. When I lived in Indiana and Illinois I could pick a night in the spring, go to a specific spot, and find displaying woodcocks. Same with migrating nighthawks in the fall. It was pretty cool to know enough about a bird that I could go out and reliably find it doing something special. It made me feel more in touch with the natural world. Hopefully I'll be able to continue these experiences in my new location.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy nighthawk migration vicariously, reading people's reports on WISBIRDN. :-)

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