Field Reports from the 2015 Nighthawk Season

At a Glance: Nighthawk Season 2015

There were at least four individual nighthawks (3 males + 1 probable female) in Keene this summer, though we were unable to confirm nesting. Thankfully, the news is brighter elsewhere in the Granite State, as successful nighthawk nests were found in Concord, Franklin, and Conway, with additional nighthawks observed in Grantham and Ossippee.

August 19, 2015

End of Season Summary

Keene

A Common Nighthawk roosts in a tree in Texas. (photo © Vince Smith)

Chordeiles minor, International Bird of Mystery.
(photo © Vince Smith)

We were unable to confirm late-nesting activity at Keene State College, so it appears that the breeding activities of the Keene nighthawks will once again remain a mystery. As a result of our coordinated surveys, we can say, however, that there were at least four individual nighthawks (3 males + 1 probable female) in Keene this summer.

Elsewhere

Thankfully, the news is brighter elsewhere in the Granite State, as successful nighthawk nests were found in Concord, Franklin, and Conway, with additional nighthawks observed in Grantham and Ossippee. Let’s hope they all return next year, and that they bring friends!

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July 31, 2015

A Late Nesting Attempt at KSC?

The good news:

A nighthawk chick impersonates gravel on a rooftop on Concord. (photo © Becky Suomala)

A nighthawk chick impersonates gravel on a rooftop on Concord. (photo © Becky Suomala)

(1) Project Nighthawk volunteers are excitedly watching a fledgling on a rooftop in Concord. New Hampshire Audubon biologist Becky Suomala reports that the chick has been hanging around the edge of the parking lot, gliding occasionally, and is still being fed by the parents. It’s rare to be able to track a chick after fledging and there’s very little information about post-fledging behavior, so they’re continuing to monitor this chick to see how long it stays around and to keep it out of trouble. If you’d like to help out, please contact Stephanie Parkinson by email. (2) New Hampshire Audubon staff have confirmed a nest on Black Cap Mt. in the Green Hills Preserve in Conway! (3) The two chicks on the rooftop nest in Franklin have fledged. (4) Nine nighthawks were observed during a coordinated survey in Grantham, though unfortunately there were no signs of nesting.

The less exciting news:

The Keene nighthawks have been uncharacteristically quiet this season, but one particularly dedicated citizen scientist has been sending in individual observations several times a week, and her recent watches at Keene State College have been….intriguing. It’s possible that we may have a late nesting attempt at KSC.

We have scoured nearly every gravel roof at KSC this week in search of said nest, and come up empty. However, there is one gravel roof in the vicinity of the nighthawk activity that is completely inaccessible to anyone who does not own a fire truck, so it’s theoretically possible that the birds are nesting there.

Here’s where you come in.

In this case, the only way that we are going to be able to tell if nighthawks are nesting on the Sculpture Studio roof at KSC is by watching the birds’ behavior over the course of several nights. If they are nesting, the male should continue to boom consistently near that building, with periods of particular excitement when the female is leaving and returning to the nest, typically between 8:20 and 8:40 p.m. and again between 9 and 9:15 p.m. If we can confirm that this pattern is continuing, we’ll try to gather together for one last coordinated survey in the next week or two, focused solely on KSC, with watchers on multiple sides of the roof(s) in question. If the pattern is irregular, then we’ll assume that we’ve been watching a hopeful male, but not necessarily a new dad. Please let me know if you’re able to get out and watch at KSC over the next few nights.

Remember:

Sustained observations (from 8 through 9:20 p.m., or for as much of that time as you can muster) are most useful. If you do head out, don’t forget to bring a data form and to let us know what you see, even if you didn’t see much!

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July 15, 2015

A Mixed Bag

First, the good news:

A (non-NH) mother nighthawk with two chicks. (photo © Adam C. Smith Photography)

A (non-NH) mother nighthawk with two chicks.
All together now: Awwwwwwwwww.
(photo © Adam C. Smith Photography)

A rooftop nest has been confirmed in Concord — which has two cute, fuzzy chicks (awww…) — and a rooftop nest has also been confirmed in Franklin, along with at least one probable ground nest in the Ossippee Pine Barrens. The Franklin find is particularly exciting, as it’s the first reported nighthawk nest in that city in many years and there are two chicks, one of whom has successfully fledged! New Hampshire Audubon is looking for helping monitoring these nests; if you’re interested, email us and we’ll put you in touch with the right people.

The less good news:

Nighthawk observations during our July 15 survey in Keene didn’t reveal any behavior that is strongly consistent with nesting. The downtown team heard only a single peent at 9:09, sporadic peenting from 9:20 onward, and no booming or diving. At Keene State College, it was perfectly quiet until a lone male showed up at 8:59. He stayed onsite until we left at 9:25, peenting, circling overhead, and booming. The majority of the booming was centered over the site of the 2012 nest, but we checked that roof the very next morning and there were no birds to be found.

Theoretically, it’s possible that the birds might be nesting somewhere we’re not looking — a different roof at KSC, on open ground, or on a roof on the outskirts of town — but it’s not looking promising.

Want to help?

Stay tuned for information about our next coordinated survey — likely the week of July 27 — or head out on your own to record some individual observations: just download a data form, grab a friend, set up behind the library at Keene State College (or somewhere else you’ve heard nighthawks this summer), and watch from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night. If you see birds diving or booming, be careful to note the exact time and feel free to change location in order to figure out which roof is catching their attention!

Remember:

If there is a nest, the birds will exhibit fairly consistent behavior at the same spot, night after night, so confirming the consistency of observations from one night to the next is very helpful. 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 29, 2015

The Quest Continues

A nighthawk flies in twilight skies. (photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

The quest for the mythical beast continues…
(photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

Our second coordinated nighthawk survey of the summer was even more perplexing than the first: nary a peent at either of our two nighthawk “hotspots” until 9:17, when a single male nighthawk appeared over Keene State College, booming and diving over the Media Arts Center and library until we stopped watching at 9:25. It was a chilly night and flying insects were scarce, which could explain the lack of activity — no bugs means no food, and perhaps no need to rouse from the roost — but we’re not quite sure what it means with regard to nesting.

What does it mean?

If there were an active nest at Keene State — or at one of the downtown locations where the birds have been spotted on warmer nights in the past few weeks — we’d expect the resident male to make an earlier appearance. However, perhaps the low temperatures and Sunday night’s storm have thrown the birds off their regular schedule.

Help us solve the puzzle.

Stay tuned for information about our next coordinated survey — likely the week of July 13 — or head out on your own to record some hugely useful individual observations: just download a data form, grab a friend, set up in the median of the Gilbo Avenue parking lot or behind the Media Arts Center at Keene State College, and watch from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night.

If you see birds diving or booming, be careful to note the exact time and feel free to change location in order to figure out which roof is catching their attention!

Remember:

If there is a nest, the birds will exhibit fairly consistent behavior at the same spot, night after night, so confirming the consistency of observations from one night to the next is very helpful. 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 11, 2015

Four Birds

A Common Nighthawk in flight. (photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

Note the white wingbars: a distinguishing feature of Common Nighthawks. (photo © Kenneth Cole Schneider)

On our first coordinated nighthawk survey of the season in Keene, we identified 4 individual birds (3 males, and 1 likely female), with hubs of activity at Keene State College and in the skies over the intersection of Main Street and Gilbo Avenue.

Keene State College

Observers at Keene State were treated to repeated booming and low diving over the Media Arts Center, as well as a fleeting glimpse of a possible female flying low and silent over the roof. A hopeful sight, but perplexing as well: if there were a nest on the Media Arts Center or a nearby roof, we’d expect the nighthawks to begin their show between 8:20 and 8:40 and continue until well after dark, but on June 11, there was nary a peent before 8:53, and the skies went quiet again at precisely 9:18.

Gilbo Avenue

Meanwhile, the team at the People’s United Bank only observed diving and booming for a few minutes early in the evening (after that, just peenting) — a sign that the nighthawks may have settled on a different site this year — and the Central Square team figured they were likely observing the same birds as the folks at the bank (….although they did see a male fly low over 33 West Street, which was the site of the 2009 father-fledgling activity.)

When we reconvened for post-monitoring ice cream at the intersection of Gilbo Avenue and Main Street, we were treated to near-constant peenting from almost directly overhead. Could this be a sign that the birds have found a new roof to call home, closer to Main Street? Individual observations from this part of town in the weeks since our coordinated survey indicate that this is a distinct possibility, but we have yet to identify a specific roof…

Next Steps

We’ll have another coordinated monitoring night early the week of June 29. In the meantime, please consider conducting your own monitoring — just download a data form, grab a friend, find a safe spot near the intersection of Gilbo Avenue and Main Street or behind the Media Arts Center at Keene State College, and watch from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on any clear, calm night.

If you see birds diving or booming, be careful to note the exact time and feel free to change location in order to figure out which roof is catching their attention!

Remember:

If there is a nest, the birds will exhibit fairly consistent behavior at the same spot, night after night, so confirming the consistency of observations from one night to the next is very helpful. 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.