You have to be in the right place at the right time to see a common nighthawk. Even then, you need to be lucky. Nighthawks are nocturnal birds that fly at dusk over fields, ballparks, cities and towns, hawking insects in the air with quick wingbeats interrupted by soaring, swooping, and gliding. At first glance you might mistake one for a large bat. But then it soars or dives and you think, no, that’s a bird. Unfortunately, common nighthawks are no longer common—they’ve suffered a 60-percent decline in population since the 1960s. I’ve seen one on only four occasions. So, I felt especially lucky to witness one in flight this week after getting a late-evening ice cream cone at a local farm market. A doubly good treat.
Tips and Techniques– I love doing this kind of journal page where inspiration and learning come together. Next time you see something you don’t know much about, sketch it, and then do some research. Add notes right on the page. You’ll be much more likely to remember your experience and retain what you learn.
UPCOMING WORKSHOPS: Tapping Audubon’s Passion: Sketching Birds in Watercolor, Thursday, September 23, 2-5pm (via Zoom), and the Olana Plein Air Festival, in person on Saturday, September 25 at the Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. Visit the Workshops page to learn more.
What a great journal page, and the story that goes with it. Now I don’t know if I want to paint, or get ice cream!
Oh wow! How special to see one in flight!
Thanks Emma. I have never seen one perched. THAT would be really lucky.
What a special moment to see an Uncommon Nighthawk, and to be able to record the event in your journal! Such beautiful drawings and I really love your suggestion of using this as an opportunity to do some research and add to the illustrations. Thank you.
Thanks Tricia! I was needing some sketching inspiration and this was perfect!
Terrific pages, story, drawing, typography, colour (love the dynamic sky), and tips!
(By the way, the three eggs in the bobolink nest hatched. The nest was empty about 2 weeks later. I hope the birds survived, I think so. The nest is now surrounded by huge ripe brandywine tomatoes. I think the only way to capture the essence of the scene would be in a sketch. And some brandywine and bobolink facts and figures!)
Thanks Alison! So glad to hear the bobolink report! Hopefully they are all on their way. I will look for your sketch of the brandywines and nest.
That is SO special! I’ve never seen one. I remember my older brother sitting with me at the bedroom window when I was little teaching me to call to the whip-poor-will and hearing it answer – but I never saw it…. Thank you for sharing the beautiful sketching and the experience.
What a special memory! How sweet! I went back the next night to look again, but it was too misty/light rain— not the right conditions for flying insect eaters.
I so admire your ability to record such detail about a bird in flight in the late evening. Bravo!
The sky was a beautiful blue…almost looked like they could have been swimming in the ocean. I came home and started this right away while it was fresh in my mind.
Wonderful page and memory, as always. I especially like that you drew in the jagged flight pattern.
The flight was so erratic. Lots of jagging in all directions, which was another distinctive clue that this was a nighthawk.
My most memorable sighting of nighthawks was back in the 90’s. Large numbers were circling the capitol dome in Austin TX at night. The dome was generously lit, attracting tons of insects for the bird to feast on.
That sounds like perfect place and timing! I suspect they gather in larger numbers when funneling through Texas and Mexico and on through the Gulf on their migration. They like bright lights. Lucky you!
I love this post so much, Jean! You really created a sense of the bird’s erratic flight pattern.
Thanks Elaine- they are so interesting to watch. Lots of zigzagging around!
I didn’t realize how much they had declined! Joseph saw one recently on his evening walk though our town…
I know, it’s steep. Even worse in Canada where they are now listed as endangered.
What a treat! Glad you were able to watch them and ‘treat’ us with your experience. I had no idea their numbers were falling either. So sad.
Thanks Erica. A lot of. Rids are in decline, but this is steep. Glad to share my experience with you.
Like you, I have seen Nighthawks rarely and not for several years. What a treat!
This might just be the best time to see them. I suspect they are migrating and gathering for their long distance flight. Still…you have to be lucky.
You WERE lucky! IT’s so sad to think of Noghthwks disappearing. I used to love hearing them over the streets of Hoboken on summer evenings. I’m sure they nested on old rooftops there. A few people have reported sightings somewhere around Seattle this year. We need more insects! I like the flight lines in your sketch, and the ice cream hiding in the corner! 🙂
I almost didn’t put in the ice cream, but, after all, that’s what drew me to this spot. Is there a lesson there? More ice cream? I read that part of the decline could be related to changing roofing materials…no more gravelly roofs. But habitat loss and pesticide use and predation are among the threats too.
I always love your journal pages!!
Is it possible to purchase a print of this? I studied nighthawk nesting sites in graduate school, and have seen many nighthawks both close up and in flight. What a treat!
Hi Barbara- What a cool thing to study. I’m going to email you with some details about prints.