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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

1,026 Common Nighthawks seen on migration last night!

Common Nighthawk

we saw 1,026 last night!

flew by continuously

this is what it looked like through binos, most flying by at a distance

Flying down the river in front of the mountain

view from our deck

we kept counting into dusk

Wow!!! That's all we can say. We had a mega number of Common Nighthawks migrating past our property last night, as we sat on our deck and counted. It started out looking promising as several small groups of nighthawks went by at 5 pm. It just had the right "feel" for a promising nighthawk migration evening. Dragonflies were plentiful in the air, handfuls of Barn Swallows were up there with them. These are both insect eaters, just like nighthawks. Best of all, we saw flying ants dispersing. Nighthawks love these and eat them on migration.

From 5 pm to 5:30 pm, we counted 40 birds. You never know what will come next, so you just keep scanning the sky and try for patience. From 5:30 until 6 pm we saw no birds. We were quickly eating dinner outside on the deck, one person always watching while the other person brought out the food. 19 more nighthawks flew by between 6 to 6:30 pm.  Then, at 7 pm Don yells, Nighthawks!!! We got on the lead birds and just kept our binoculars trained, as a large, continuous stream of nighthawks flew by. A silent phalanx of flapping birds, all following the same path, rather high in the sky, heading south. You just keep counting, not breathing. You count by ones, as they fly by slowly enough for you to be able to do this. I lost a sense of time and suddenly, I was at 514, and they just kept coming...515, 516, 517.......and on and on. The sky was deepening in dusk and still they kept coming. Finally at 7:30 pm most had passed. We still stayed out until 7:45 and saw 2 more. It was too dark to see. Final number 1,026 Common Nighthawks.Wow!!

To put this in perspective, this was the second biggest night we had ever had from our site, where we have been counting nighthawks for at least 8 years. We live on a dammed-up section of a river and nighthawks traditionally follow river valleys for migration, possibly because they are rich with insects, and nighthawks feed while on migration. There is a nighthawk migration count website where numbers are recorded, called the SuAsCo/Nashua Rivers & Beyond Nighthawk Survey. It covers the main river watersheds in the lower part of NH and upper two-thirds of MA. If you count nighthawks in this area, record your numbers at this website. Our number of 1,026 Common Nighthawks, was the largest number recorded from a single site in a single night during this season so far, according to that website.
We usually get good nighthawk migration at our site, great some years, others not so. Our last big day, and record, occurred 8/27/05, when we saw 1,058 Common Nighthawks, most flying by in a continuous stream (just like these did) between 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Only thing is, strangely they were all headed north, while ours last night were headed south.
Common Nighthawk numbers have been declining in the Northeast. The purpose of the SuAsCo/Nashua Rivers & Beyond Nighthawk Survey is to count and record the annual fluctuations of migrating nighthawks in a defined area over time and create a longitudinal data set that might contribute to research on the long-term decline in abundance of this species.
Some days are good birding, others are great. This was one of them!


Melissa said...

Such wonderful birds; common nighthawks are so very graceful and distinct. I haven't noticed any on migration here quite yet - it's time for me to take more evening walks with my eyes on the sky! Thank you for sharing the outstanding photographs.

Pinky at Designs by Pinky said...

GREAT pictures! Thanks!!!!