Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nightjar Survey

This is the first year we have done a Nightjar Survey. The only crazier survey we have done is the Black Swift survey of some years back. That's where we drove, after evening chores, an hour to the trailhead to our local Niagara Falls, hiked down a mile to the base of the falls (with Johnny carrying a foam cushion for us to sleep on on his back), lay down on the foam on top of the one and only picnic table, and watched in the dusk for Black Swifts to fly into their waterfall nests, if they happened to have any. Black Swifts are, well, black. The sky was pretty black. And the rock wall behind the waterfall was black. We didn't see any Swifts but we did see bats. In the morning, we hiked up and out, drove home and did morning chores.

The Nightjar Survey we did from home, no hiking involved. But it has to be done at least one half hour after sunset and when the moon is out and not hidden by clouds. And it has to be done during the last two weeks of May or the last two weeks of June. We found a moonlit night in May to do it, but we heard no Nighthawks, the only member of the Nightjar family that we have around here.

Soon after, we learned from the Oregon online birding list that Common Nighthawks do not arrive in western Oregon until June. So our May survey was irrelevant. Miraculously, the night of the Solstice, last Friday, June 21, afforded us another opportunity. The moon was almost full. This is what it looked like at the beginning of our survey, about 9:45 p.m.

And this is what it looked like at the end, about 11:30 p.m.

That's all the photos I took because it was, well, dark out.

We didn't hear any Nighthawks this time, either. But I did hear a variety of other sounds at some of our ten stops of six minutes each: coyotes, Great-horned Owl, frogs, crickets, Barn Owl, some weird creaking critter I couldn't identify, and lots of barking dogs. Plus I saw a bat.

The scariest part of this survey is worrying about what people living along our route think we're doing stopped by the side of the road, standing outside staring into the darkness for six minutes. And worrying about the people driving by who may decide we're up to no good and call the cops. The only vehicle that stopped this moonlit June night was a pickup with two women in who wanted to know if we needed help. I guess they bought our story that we were surveying birds... in the dark.

The start of our route is only about fifteen minutes from home, so it's not a huge inconvenience. We did evening chores first and were back at home in bed by midnight. We have signed up for three years but they prefer you keep running the route, once a year, for ten years. So, although it is not quite as crazy as the Black Swift survey, which was a one-time deal, the Nightjar Survey is longer term and requires finding a moonlit, non-cloudy night during the last two weeks of June. In western Oregon, that is pretty tough. And, since the moon comes up about half an hour later each day, waiting for an appropriate night toward the end of the month can mean starting the route after midnight. Crazy enough. 

1 comment:

  1. WE used to have the occasional nighthawk fly down our chimney, until we installed some custom-made chimney caps to prevent intrusion. (Two chimneys - not cheap, but no more birds....) Spike caught a couple of them on the stairs but had no idea what to do with them and just cuddled them between his paws until I could rescue them. Talk about a pissed-off looking bird! They really look grumpy to start with, and after being held hostage by a cat, the look intensifies. Had Fiona been there they would not have survived. Her instincts are primitive. Although she has never been outside (except for the cattery on the deck) nor tutored by another cat (Spike sort of raised her, but he was exceptionally uncatlike) she kills instantly and bloodlessly. We know that for the times birds slipped into the cattery, until we rebuilt that to exclude any bird entry. Lee K