Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Gift of the Perched Nighthawk

Friday’s amazing six-lifer-day ended with my taking an early-evening walk around The Willows garden path of Anahuac NWR.  The area was quiet of humans and active with the common birds of this field.  

White-crowned Sparrows posed for me.  Seems they had not heard that winter was long past:

As I walked further onto the boardwalk, I noticed a solo man birding, with binoculars raised.  When I spot a person in the field with binoculars raised, I have an immediate reaction to do two things: 

First I stop and stand still, with goal not to overtly interfere with their sighting.  I’ll wait until I receive a hand signal from the birder or until lowered binoculars and non-seeking posture gives me green light to move forward. 

Second, while waiting, I’ll triangulate their binocular viewing angle, if possible, to seek their sighting.

This past Friday evening I had no clear view to this man’s binocular path.  But when he lowered binoculars and noted my silent wait, some thirty yards away, he waved me toward him.

With joyful, quiet enthusiasm he pointed to his spotting of a loose flock of Bobolinks, moving in and about the tall grasses of this area.  I don’t remember his exact words, whether he made statement of some twenty-seven years of birding or thirty-seven years, but it is a great memory to tie his shared enthusiasm with this beautiful flock of mostly male Bobolinks, in breeding plumage, serenading the evening.

Truth be told, I would have spotted these Bobolinks, as they were actively moving about from tree to tree.  They were loudly singing their hearts out, but also quite camera-shy, so my photo is a statement of sighting, not of the wonder experienced in person:

But this story is not about these Bobolinks. It is about the special gift this birding-man gave me:

I separated from the birding-man after a few minutes, thanking him for the Bobolink sighting, and then continued on down the path to quietly bird and enjoy the beautiful evening.  When turning back to head to my car, I noted the birding-man approaching me.  He asked:  “Have you seen the perched Common Nighthawk?”

My excited “No!” was almost NOT quiet.  I’ve seen many a Nighthawk in flight over evening’s field and grocery parking lot, but I have longed for a close encounter of the perched kind.  I’ve posted a January 2012 blog, with photos, of such an encounter with a Common Pauraque at Estero Llano Grande State Park; but no such Nighthawk encounter.

Now let me pause and share a well-known secret in the birding world (that beginning birders or non-birders may not know):  serious birders do NOT share perched Nightjar or Nighthawk sightings UNLESS they are confident that the spotted bird will NOT be disturbed by the next person’s viewing.  And so I knew by this birding-man’s question that I had earned “quiet, serious birder” status from his experienced birding skills.

And so the birding-man gave me the best gift:  He quietly and specifically shared the locale of a Common Nighthawk, perched out on open-viewing branch, with five other nighthawks in more secluded limbs of the same tree. 

I walked to the area, and quietly and slowly began my photographic tribute to this great sighting.  Could I have gotten closer?  Could I have taken more detailed photos?  Yes, but at current distance I noted that the Nighthawk's eyes opened just slightly.

And so I quietly backed away, paying my respects and giving my thanks to this wonderful gift, from a man I do not know.
But this kind birder will be remembered for his thoughtful gift of the perched Common Nighthawk.  And most especially he will be remembered for owning the same adjective in front of his name as I:  enthusiastic birder.


  1. That white-crowned sparrow might be smarter than you think. It's cold and winter up here in the north. ;)

  2. LOL--thinking yes you left too soon! But I looked up Tamarac NWR and looks like an amazing summer destination. I'll be following your stories. Surely hope to meet you birding next "Texas winter!"


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