Field Reports from the 2017 Nighthawk Season

At a Glance: Nighthawk Season 2017

It was a disappointing year in both Keene and Concord, as nighthawk nesting could not be confirmed in either city. In addition, only 3 individual birds (2 males and 1 female) were observed in Keene in 2017 — our lowest count since 2010.

August 9, 2017

End of Season Summary

Nighthawks migrate beneath the waxing moon. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

Nighthawks migrate beneath the waxing moon.
(photo © Dave Hoitt)

Keene and Concord

It was a disappointing year in both Keene and Concord, as nighthawk nesting could not be confirmed in either city. In addition, only 3 individual birds (2 males and 1 female) were observed in Keene in 2017 — our lowest count since 2010.

Elsewhere

The skies were brighter elsewhere, with nighthawk activity observed near Sand and Long Ponds in Marlow, and an unprecedented 20 individual birds (three times last year’s count!) recorded during a coordinated watch at the Ossipee Pine Barrens.

Migration will begin soon.

Nighthawks are among the latest migrants to arrive each spring, and the earliest to depart each “fall,” with southbound migration peaking in late August. End your nighthawk season on an inspiring note by joining us on Tuesday, August 29 to observe the nighthawk migration in Keene. If you want to look on your own, remember that nighthawk behavior changes during migration: the best time to see migrating birds is between 5 and 7 p.m., and you’ll have to look, not listen − migrating nighthawks tend to forage silently.

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July 27, 2017

A Quiet Summer

A nighthawk chick rests in the shade on a rooftop in downtown Keene. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Last year’s July surprise, on a rooftop near Central Square. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Our coordinated survey last night was quiet, except for a short period of low-flying nighthawk activity in the vicinity of 33 West Street around 9 p.m. At this point, it is unlikely that the KSC pair has re-nested, but….

Now what?

It would be helpful to watch at 33 West Street for several more evenings. If the birds aren’t nesting nearby, nighthawk activity won’t continue at the site.

You can help.

Watch for nighthawks in the vicinity of 33 West Street from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m. on calm, clear nights over the next week. The best views are from the stoop of the old post office across the street at 34 West Street, or from the parking lot behind the Cheshire County Administration building, which is accessed via Winter Street.

Remember:

Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing; record it all on a data sheet; and send in your observations as soon as possible after your watch. Reports of “null data” − when you spent time looking and listening for nighthawks in a particular location, but didn’t see or hear any birds − are also incredibly helpful at this stage in the game.

Questions?

Contact Brett Amy Thelen at (603) 358-2065 or by email.

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July 12, 2017

Nest Failure at KSC?

Nighthawks in flight. (photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

Nighthawks in flight. (photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

As recently as last week, the nighthawks at the Keene State College Sculpture Studio were exhibiting signs of nesting. However, the last three individual observations at that site − on July 5, 9, and 10 − have revealed a changed, and much quieter, pattern of behavior. We can’t know for sure if there was ever a nest on that roof, but it’s clear that whatever was going on at the Sculpture Studio no longer is. 

Now what?

It’s possible the birds will make a second nesting attempt at a different location, but we don’t yet know if or where they’ll re-nest. We may try for another coordinated survey in the next few weeks, but in the meantime: if you hear booming, see nighthawks diving, or hear peenting night after night in the same spot, please make a note of the precise location and let me know! If you want to do a more focused nighthawk watch, see below for a few good places to start.

You can help.

You can help us sleuth out new nesting sites by watching for nighthawks from 8:15 to 9:45 p.m. (note the new, later time) on calm, clear nights over the next week or two.

Nighthawk, aloft. (photo © Steven Mlodinow)

Nighthawk, aloft. (photo © Steven Mlodinow)

Good places to start:

Sites with the potential for nighthawk nesting, based on the presence of gravel roofs and/or reports from past years:

  1. West Street, near Central Square
  2. Washington Street, near Central Square
  3. the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Ave.
  4. the Redfern Arts Center at KSC
  5. the end of Bradco Street
  6. the Colony Mill
  7. Wheelock Elementary School

Remember:

Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing; record it all on a data sheet; and send in your observations as soon as possible after your watch. Reports of “null data” − when you spent time looking and listening for nighthawks in a particular location, but didn’t see or hear any birds − are also very helpful.

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June 29, 2017

Some Good Points, Some Bad Points

The Bad News

At this point, we can’t confirm the presence of more than 3 nighthawks in Keene: a pair at KSC and one other male, who has been heard only occasionally. During our second coordinated nighthawk survey of the season on June 28, we had teams of nighthawk watchers at Keene State College, Gilbo Avenue, the Keene Cinema, and on Bradco Street in south Keene. Collectively, we observed single instances of a bird passing over Bradco Street, Gilbo Avenue, and the Keene Cinema, but the timing is such that all of those could have been the KSC male.

The Way Better News

A Common Nighthawk looks up from its perch. (photo © Michael Brown)

Are things looking up for Keene’s nighthawks?
(photo © Michael Brown)

The two birds we saw at the Keene State College Sculpture Studio last night continue to exhibit signs of being a nesting pair! They’re behaving strangely this year, in Keene as well as Concord — no one has observed any female nighthawks leaving any nest sites, anywhere in the Granite State — but they do seem to be returning to their nest sites later in the evening. We are not able to access the Sculpture Studio roof, but we are working with KSC to figure out alternative ways of confirming the presence of eggs or chicks. Stay tuned!

Now what?

We are still interested in your nighthawk sightings − especially booming and diving − from other parts of town, but it’s also important to continue monitoring at KSC. If there is a nest and it fails, nighthawk activity at the site will change dramatically. If there are eggs and they hatch, the behavior of the adults will change subtly. If the birds haven’t yet laid their eggs and they shift their attention to another site, we’ll want to follow them to their new spot.

You can help.

We need people to watch the Sculpture Studio and adjacent buildings for nighthawks from 8:15 to 9:45 p.m. (note the new, later times) on calm, clear nights over the next week or so. The best vantage point is from the sidewalk and parking lot behind the studio.

While you’re out there: be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing; record it all on a data sheet; and email your observations to us as soon as possible after your watch. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity, especially at KSC.

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June 26, 2017

Hope is the Thing with Feathers…

The latest:

Several volunteers have conducted individual observations at Keene State College over the past week, where a male nighthawk is displaying fairly regularly over the Sculpture Studio. There have also been sightings of a silent bird flying very low over the Sculpture Studio roof. Could it be a female, leaving a nest? We can’t yet confirm the presence of a nest, but hope spring eternal…

Now what?

Common Nighthawk in flight. (photo © Gordon F. Brown)

Common Nighthawk in flight. (photo © Gordon F. Brown)

We need your nighthawk sightings − especially booming and diving! If nighthawks are nesting on the Sculpture Studio roof, they should soon begin to exhibit a fairly predictable pattern of behavior. If they pick a different site, we’ll to try to figure out where they’ve gone − and if Keene has more than one nesting pair − during a group watch this Wednesday, June 28. We’ll meet in front of the Carroll House at 238 Main Street at 7:30 p.m., split into teams to look and listen for nighthawks throughout Keene from 8 to 9:30 p.m., then briefly reconvene to share our observations. To join us, please RSVP to Brett Amy Thelen by email.

You can help.

In addition to Wednesday’s group watch, we also need people to conduct individual watches at the Sculpture Studio − and other potential nesting sites − from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on calm, clear nights over the next week. The best vantage point of the Sculpture Studio is from the sidewalk and parking lot behind the building. Other sites with the potential for nighthawk activity, based on reports from prior years:

  1. West Street, near Central Square
  2. the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Ave.
  3. Summit Road, near C&S Wholesale Grocers
  4. Bradco Street, near Total Fitness Zone

While you’re out there: be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing; record it all on a data sheet; and email your observations to us as soon as possible after your watch. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity, especially at KSC.

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June 21, 2017

Common Nighthawk: International Bird of Mystery

The latest:

A nighthawk rests on an unusual perch. (photo © cleberbirds)

Common Nighthawk: International Bird of Mystery.
(photo © cleberbirds)

Last weekend, a pair of nighthawks seemed to be investigating the KSC Sculpture Studio as a potential nesting site, and had perhaps even begun nesting. Monday’s intense thunderstorms seem to have changed things, however, as a small watch last night yielded only a brief, late appearance by the male. It’s possible that the storms flooded out a new nest, or that the pair hasn’t yet settled on just the right site. If there was a nest and it failed, it’ll take the birds another week or so to settle on a new site. If they simply haven’t picked the perfect spot yet, they could settle down at any time.

Now what?

We need your nighthawk sightings − especially booming and diving − from KSC and elsewhere! If the KSC pair does decide to nest there, they should begin to exhibit a fairly predictable pattern of behavior. If they pick a different site, we’ll need your help to find it! If it seems like the birds have left KSC, we will likely hold another group monitoring night next week, to try to figure out where they’ve gone.

You can help.

We need people to watch the Sculpture Studio − and scout out other potential nesting sites, like Central Square − from 8 to 9:20 p.m. on calm, clear nights over the next week. The best vantage point of the Sculpture Studio is from the sidewalk and parking lot behind the building. While you’re out there: be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing; record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here); and email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity, especially at the KSC site. Peent!

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June 13, 2017

A Strange Start to the Season

An artistic rendering of a Common Nighthawk, in the periodic table of "bird"-ements. (image © Curious Bird)

The Common Nighthawk: an important “element” of New Hampshire’s biodiversity!
(image © Curious Bird)

On our first coordinated nighthawk survey of the season on June 13, we were only able to identify 2 individual birds in Keene. It’s possible there are some birds we simply didn’t see, but three of our four monitoring sites were surprisingly quiet. The two birds we did identify — at the Sculpture Studio and Elliot parking lot on the Keene State College campus — were involved in an intriguing chase, but it was not immediately clear whether they were a nesting pair.

Now what?

We are still interested in your nighthawk sightings − especially booming and diving − from other parts of town, but it’s also important to continue monitoring at KSC. If there is a nesting pair there, they should exhibit a fairly predictable pattern of behavior. The sculpture studio roof is inaccessible to people, so behavioral observations may be our only indication of nesting.

You can help.

We need people to watch the Sculpture Studio and adjacent buildings for nighthawks from 8 to 9:20 p.m. on calm, clear nights over the next week or so. The best vantage point is from the sidewalk and parking lot behind the studio.

While you’re out there: be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing; record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here); and email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity, especially at the potential nest site. Peent!

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Contact Us

For more information or to volunteer, please contact Brett Amy Thelen at (603) 358-2065 or by email.