Field Reports from the 2014 Nighthawk Season

At a Glance: Nighthawk Season 2014

In 2014, we identified at least 4 individual nighthawks (3 males and 1 female) in Keene, but were unable to confirm successful nesting. These birds sure keep us guessing!

August 18, 2014

End of Season Summary

Keene

Migrating nighthawks swoop silently overhead. (photo © parulidae photos)

Migrating nighthawks swoop silently overhead.
(photo © parulidae photos)

This summer, we identified at least 4 individual nighthawks (3 males and 1 female) in Keene, but we haven’t received any additional reports of nighthawk activity in the Elm City — with the exception of an occasional peent downtown, and one observation of a silent bird floating over the Keene State College athletic fields on Friday, August 15 — so it appears that the breeding activities of the Keene nighthawks will once again remain a mystery. Those birds sure are stealthy!

Elsewhere

Thankfully, there has been confirmation that two chicks successfully fledged in Concord this year, and there was a great deal of nighthawk activity in the Ossipee Pine Barrens.

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July 17, 2014

Big Excitement

Four Birds

During our coordinated survey on Wednesday, July 16, nine of us fanned out to five locations across Keene to see if we could figure out if and where our nighthawks have chosen to re-nest. There was nary a peent in either the Keene Cinema or Hannaford plazas, but we did observe some intriguing activity at Keene State College and near Central Square. Gilbo Avenue, our fifth survey location, foes not appear to be hosting a nest but there was just enough peentingbooming, and circling overhead there to help us confirm a total of at least 4 nighthawks (3 males and 1 female) in Keene this summer.

Nesting?!

Nighthawks in flight. (photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

Chases are one indication of possible breeding activity.
(photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

The big excitement was at KSC, where Becky Suomala from New Hampshire Audubon observed a female nighthawk landing on — and, later, flying away from — the site of the successful 2012 rooftop nest, with the resident male in hot pursuit. This seemed a sure sign that the female nighthawk was returning to a nest, possibly to feed young. Around the same time, Jane Kolias — another veteran of the Concord nighthawk watches — observed a male nighthawk either flying off of, or very low over, a gravel-roofed building near Central Square, the very same building where we watched a father nighthawk nurture a fledgling back in 2009. Taken together, these observations got us very excited about the prospect of two potential nighthawk nests in Keene!

However, the next day, Brett walked every inch of the roof in question at KSC (as well as a second gravel roof, one level up) and didn’t see any birds or eggs. She couldn’t access the roof near Central Square, but she did spend a good 20 minutes looking over with binoculars from a neighboring rooftop, and didn’t see anything resembling a bird there, either. She couldn’t see behind or around some of the structures up there, so we can’t say for certain that there are no nighthawks near Central Square, but Brett did thoroughly scour the roof at KSC, to no avail.

Nighthawk and Whippoorwill illustrations, from “Birds of New York” (1910-1914), courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Nighthawk and Whippoorwill, from “Birds of New York” (1910-1914), courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

What’s going on here?

These birds sure do keep us guessing! It’s possible that there’s an already-fledged youngster at KSC who is still being fed by mom and dad but no longer lingering on the roof where she or he was hatched. It’s also possible that there’s a re-nesting attempt happening on one of the gravel roofs near Central Square (….though it would be quite late in the season for that.)

You can help.

We’ll likely try for one more coordinated survey before August comes around, but in the meantime, individual observations would be very helpful for puzzling out this nighthawk mystery. 8 to 9:30 p.m. is prime time, and watching from the parking lot behind the KSC library and/or the sidewalk outside the Cheshire County Administration building at 33 West Street would be ideal. If you do watch for nighthawks on your own, please fill out a data form whether or not you see birds, and remember to email your completed form to Brett Amy Thelen. Peent!

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July 10, 2014

An Intriguing Observation

A Common Nighthawk sits on a gravel nest. (photo © Laurel Parshall)

Might the Keene nighthawks be attempting to re-nest at KSC? (photo © Laurel Parshall)

During an individual watch, a peenting male was observed chasing a silent nighthawk (likely a female) over several gravel-roofed buildings at Keene State College at 9:16 last night: a hopeful sight, as this would be perfect timing for a female returning to a nest after some twilight foraging! Might the birds be attempting to re-nest at the College (near the site of the successful 2012 nest) after a nest failure at Gilbo Avenue? Only time (and more observations) will tell…

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July 8, 2014

Change is in the Air

Nighthawk and Whippoorwill drawings from the Report on the Birds of Pennsylvania (1888), courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Nighthawk and Whippoorwill drawings from the Report on the Birds of Pennsylvania (1888), courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

A few folks have done individual watches in the last couple of weeks, and it seems that the birds are changing their patterns. From what we can tell, it appears that the nesting attempt at the People’s United Bank failed on or around June 27. The good news: there’s still enough time for the female to re-nest!

What now?

When this has happened at carefully watched nighthawk nests in Concord, it was about seven days before the female laid a new clutch (just one egg). In other words, the Keene female has probably found a new nest site by now. Given that nighthawk activity has quieted down significantly at both Gilbo Avenue (People’s United Bank) and Keene State College, she may have settled somewhere else. Can we find her?

You can help.

For our next coordinated nighthawk survey, we’ll want to cover as many sites as possible in hopes of finding the new nest. This means that we’ll want to have as many people as possible.

In the meantime, please also consider conducting your own monitoring, to help us figure out where to go for our coordinated surveys — download a data form, and look and listen for nighthawks in downtown Keene from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night. If you do watch for nighthawks on your own, please fill out a data form whether or not you see birds, and remember to email your completed form to Brett Amy Thelen. Peent!

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June 26, 2014

Three Nighthawks

Gilbo Avenue

Two male nighthawks in hot pursuit over the People’s United Bank in Keene on June 26, 2014. (photo © Dave Hoitt)

Two male nighthawks in hot pursuit over the People’s United Bank in Keene on June 26, 2014.
(photo © Dave Hoitt)

Our second coordinated survey of the season confirmed the presence of at least three individual nighthawks (and a possible fourth) in Keene.  Most of the excitement took place at the intersection of Gilbo Avenue and School Street, where a team of volunteers observed near-constant activity from 8:20 p.m. onwards, including several chases (pictured) and, at 8:48, the simultaneous appearance of three nighthawks (two males, plus an unidentified, silent bird) above the People’s United Bank.  At 8:27, a silent bird flew swift and low from the eastern side of the bank roof to the trees bordering West Street. Could this bird have been a nesting female, heading out to forage for the evening? Might she have returned at 8:48, inspiring that brief, three-bird chase?

Keene State College

KSC, by contrast, was all quiet until 9:03 p.m., when a single male arrived from the southwest and proceeded to boom and circle over the site of the 2012 nest for approximately 15 minutes before flying off to the east. Such short, late evening activity doesn’t jive with what we know about nighthawk nesting behavior, so it seems unlikely that there is an active nest at KSC this year. All the same, we’ll do our best to get out on that roof in the next week or so to double-check.

The bottom line:

The action over the People’s United Bank is looking very much like nesting behavior, though we’ll need more observations — both at the bank and at the Center at Keene (since the resident male is booming over both buildings) — to confirm.

You can help.

Our next coordinated watch will likely occur the week of July 7. In the meantime, please consider conducting your own monitoring — download a data form and plant yourself in the parking lot of the People’s United Bank or in the Emerald Street-side parking lot of the Center at Keene from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night. Watch carefully for a stealthy, silent bird leaving the northeastern side of the People’s Bank roof or the southern side of the Center at Keene roof (facing Emerald Street) between 8:20 and 8:30, returning between 9 and 9:15. Try not to let the male’s showy behavior distract you! If you do watch for nighthawks on your own, please fill out a data form whether or not you see birds, and remember to email your completed form to Brett Amy Thelen. Peent!

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June 18, 2014

Vying for the Sky

A Common Nighthawk waits out the rain on a fencepost roost in Florida. (photo © Richard Crook)

A Common Nighthawk waits out the rain on a fencepost roost in Florida. (photo © Richard Crook)

A single-observer survey on Wednesday, June 18 confirmed that two male nighthawks are still vying for the skies above Gilbo Avenue: one male was present for the entire period from 8:30 to 9:25 p.m. (and beyond), continuously peenting, circling overhead, and booming (sometimes over the Center at Keene, sometimes over Gilbo Avenue, sometimes over the People’s United Bank), except for two minutes (8:42-8:44) when he flew off towards Keene State College and less than one minute at 9:08 when the site was all quiet. The second male made occasional forays into the first male’s territory, though there wasn’t much chasing. When the second male wasn’t directly overhead, he could be heard peenting nearby.

….but is there a nest?

Exciting though it was to observe, it seems unlikely that there is a female nesting at this site at the moment. If there were, we’d likely have seen the resident male leave with her on her foraging rounds. However, a female could still choose to nest or re-nest (if there is a nest failure elsewhere) here, so hope is not lost!

Next steps:

We’ll have another coordinated monitoring night on Wednesday, June 25 (raindate: Thursday, June 26). In the meantime, please consider conducting your own monitoring — just download a data form and sit yourself down in the parking lot of the People’s United Bank or behind the library at Keene State College from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night. If you do watch for nighthawks on your own, please fill out a data form whether or not you see birds, and remember to email your completed form to Brett Amy Thelen. Peent!

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June 10, 2014

No Nest….Yet

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

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

On our first Nighthawk Patrol of the season in Keene, we identified at least three individual birds (two fewer than last year, though it’s likely that this observation is an underestimate of the actual breeding population), with hubs of activity at Keene State College and in the skies over Gilbo Avenue. A nighthawk nest was recently confirmed in Concord, with another one suspected, but as for our Keene nighthawks: no nest….yet.

Keene State College

Observers at Keene State were treated to repeated booming and low diving over the Media Arts Center, as well as a low chase involving two male nighthawks. This is the same kind of behavior we observed in 2012, when the birds were nesting on a nearby roof, so this is a place to watch this summer!

Gilbo Avenue

Observers in the rear parking lot of the People’s United Bank (facing Gilbo Avenue and the Center at Keene) also observed some booming, which seems to be occurring nightly, so keep your eye on this spot too!

You can help.

We’ll have another coordinated monitoring night on Wednesday, June 25 (raindate: Thursday, June 26). In the meantime, please consider conducting your own monitoring — just download a data form, grab a friend, and find a safe spot in the parking lot of the People’s United Bank or behind the library at Keene State College to watch from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night. If you do watch for nighthawks on your own, please fill out a data form whether or not you see birds, and remember to email your completed form to Brett Amy Thelen. 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.