Saturday, May 26, 2012
Night of the Nighthawk
Pursuing flying insects at dusk and dawn, the Common Nighthawk can be seen flying its floppy flight in rural or urban areas. Its white wing patches and erratic flight make it look like a big bat with headlights. I've wanted to see this bird for years, and finally found it above La Quinta Inn at Columbia, MO, where we attended a family wedding.
Now, remember, Nighthawks are not hawks at all, but members of the nightjar family. They fly at dusk and dawn catching bugs on the wing, and especially like building with lights that attract bugs. Although they are incredibly agile, and their wings resemble a falcon's, they have a very small beak, not in the least like a raptor's. Actually, someone brought a Nighthawk to the Raptor Rehab Center recently. Well, it has hawk in its name, right?
When we returned to the hotel after a family dinner last night, we heard the distinctive peent of this bird and looked up to see its white wing bars swooping over our heads. The call was surprisingly familiar, and I must have heard them before, not realizing what they were. My sister-in-law said she always thought they were bats. (Sorry, I didn't take this photo - wish I could claim it.)
They swoop and dive so fast, it's hard to get a focus at all in the failing light, let alone a closeup. After a few minutes, they fold their wings and dive down over the edge of the roof - zoom - with a distinctive, but mostly indescribable sound. Like a Woodcock, they compress air under their wings, and their feathers make it sound like a zooming airplane! I had several people ask what I was looking at as they unloaded their luggage after a long day on the road, but alas, they weren't intrigued enough to come back out to the parking lot for the fun. You have to be careful though. Trying to follow these birds as they circle overhead can make you dizzy!
The wedding itself was delightful - tears and laughs during the ceremony, as it should be. Mostly, we enjoyed the chance to visit with family we hadn't see for years (or in my case as an in law, had never seen before at all). Three boys were born in the family within a few months of each other, and every time I turned around the Three Musketeers had their heads together solving the problems of the world, and loving every minute of it. Our 92-year-old aunt is the last of that generation in the family, and regaled all of us with stories of her siblings and all the cousins. I don't know how she remembers all those names and dates! I certainly have enough trouble knowing the birth dates of my own children! After several falling episodes, she is moving to an assisted living facility, and has her furniture all arranged on a chart of the new apartment. She looks forward to having someone else cook three meals a day for her!
To counteract all the goodies we've been eating, we found a nearby park this morning to hike for several hours before the wedding. Just down I-70 is a winery overlooking the river, so we watched the sunset over the wide, wide Missouri. I imagined Lewis and Clark traveling upstream at this point, and wondered how they would react to the big trucks crossing overhead on the bridge for the Interstate! Can you hear Rod Serling in the background?