Field Reports from the 2016 Nighthawk Season

At a Glance: Nighthawk Season 2016

This summer, we discovered the first confirmed nighthawk nest in Keene in four years, and the first confirmed presence of two breeding-season nighthawk pairs in Keene in the last ten years. A hopeful year!

August 19, 2016

End of Season Summary

Keene

A nighthawk mother and her chick roost on a rooftop near Central Square.  (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The most exciting discovery of the 2016 season: a nighthawk mother and chick roosting on a rooftop near Central Square! (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

We never did figure out where or if the KSC nighthawks re-nested, but one observation of a chase at Production Avenue in late July was a hopeful sign that the Central Square fledgling may have survived. We’ll take it! Heartfelt thanks to all of you who joined us for coordinated surveys or sent in reports of nighthawk sightings this summer. Your observations led to the discovery of the first confirmed nighthawk nest in Keene in four years, and to the first confirmed presence of two breeding-season nighthawk pairs in Keene in the last ten years.

Elsewhere

The Concord nest on Henniker Street fledged a healthy, happy chick, who has officially flown the coop. And two eggs were discovered at a nest in Conway at the end of July!

Migration has begun.

We’ve already received several reports of small flocks of nighthawks moving through Keene, Peterborough, and Concord, which means the fall migration has begun! End your nighthawk season on an inspiring note by joining us on Monday, August 29 to observe the nighthawk migration from atop Surry Dam. 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 29, 2016

A Few Answers, and a Few More Questions

Nighthawk watchers (birders) Photoshopped on to Edward Hopper's painting, "Nighthawks"

A classic case of misidentification, courtesy of Edward Hopper and bird enthusiast Cliff Seifer.

Our coordinated survey last Thursday (July 14) didn’t reveal much about where the KSC pair might have re-nested, but it did confirm that they did not re-nest on the KSC campus or at the old Keene Middle School building on Washington Street. Activity at West Street has quieted down a good bit, too — indicating that the chick is either gone, or that it is now flying well enough to venture much further afield with its parents. On Friday, July 15, a trio of nighthawks was seen foraging near the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. Let’s hope it was the nighthawk family (2 adults + 1 fledgling) from West Street!

What next?

We’d still love to discover what became of the KSC nighthawks, so if you hear booming, see nighthawks diving, or hear peenting night after night in the same location in the next few weeks, please make note of the exact time and location of your sighting and let us know. (The data form for recording nighthawk observations is available here; for brief observations, a simple email will suffice.) Places worth checking, based on roof characteristics and observations from prior years:

  1. the Colony Mill
  2. the People’s United Bank on Gilbo Avenue
  3. the Hannaford’s plaza on West Street
  4. the Five Guys and Keene Cinema plazas on Key Road
  5. Production Avenue
  6. the Keene-Swanzey airport
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July 12, 2016

An Update on the Central Square Nest

Mother and chick on July 8, 2016. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Mother and chick on July 8, 2016.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Sometime between Friday morning and Saturday evening, the Central Square nighthawk chick flew off its roof! Its father caused quite a ruckus on Sunday night, when he expressed vocal and visible concern about groups of Pokemon Go players venturing too close to the chick, who had landed nearby on the front stoop of the old post office building at 34 West Street. Since then, we haven’t seen the chick, but both adult birds are still quite active above Federal and West Streets, so we’re hoping the fledgling is alive, well, and being fed by its doting parents somewhere nearby.

More good news:

Last night, the Concord folks confirmed the presence of two, three-day-old nighthawk chicks at a ground nest near White Mountain Imaging. They’re also keeping watch on a rooftop nest at the Steeplegate Mall. Three cheers for chicks!

We still need your help.

A nighthawk fledgling roosts on a stoop at 34 West Street. (photo © Jess Dude)

The fledgling on the front stoop of 34 West Street on July 10, 2016. (photo © Jess Dude)

This is a vulnerable time for the Central Square fledgling, as it is not yet flying well. We’d love to keep an eye on it until it has mastered the art of flight. If you can watch this week, weekend, or early next week, please let me know. The last few nights, the parents have been doing lots of very low diving and chasing, so this is a unique opportunity to see something way cool. Currently, the best vantage point is from Federal Street, in the vicinity of the old post office building and the Citizen Bank parking lot, but feel free to move around as needed to get a good view of the birds. Take special note of any roofs the adults land on, and keep your eye on windowsills, stoops, sidewalks, and open ground for the fledgling!

Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds as they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.

Our Next Coordinated Survey

Now that the Central Square chick has fledged, we can also turn our attention to finding the pair who originally attempted to nest at Keene State College, in hopes of figuring out if they’re re-nesting somewhere else. We’ll fan out across towns at locations that have hosted nighthawks in prior years, and hope to hear some peenting and booming. Thunderstorms are predicted for Thursday, so tomorrow night − Wednesday, July 13 −  looks like our best bet for this coordinated survey. For more details or to RSVP, contact Brett Amy Thelen by email.

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July 7, 2016

Exciting News!

A nighthawk chick roosts on a peastone gravel roof. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

“Our” nighthawk chick, approximately 19 days old.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

We have found a rooftop nighthawk nest near the corner of West Street and Central Square! There is limited roof access at this site, but we were able to visit yesterday to confirm the presence of a chick and its mother. This is the first confirmed nighthawk nest in Keene in four years, and one of only three confirmed nests in the entire state of New Hampshire so far this summer (!!)

More details:

Judging from its size and the development of its feathers, the Central Square chick is approximately 19 days old. This means two things: (1) it may have already taken its first (very short) flight, and will soon be learning how to fly in earnest. This is a very vulnerable time for the fledgling, as it could end up flying well enough to get off the roof, but not well enough to get back on. If past experience is any indication, the chick might stay on the roof where it was born for a while longer, but it could also glide to a nearby roof and stay there until its next big flight, or even wind up on the ground. (2) The age of the fledgling means that its parents are not the same pair we were watching a few weeks ago at Keene State College. That pair could still be re-nesting elsewhere in Keene!

We need your help.

A nighthawk mother, ever-vigilant around her chick. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

This vigilant mother nighthawk kept a sharp watch on the interloper who was taking pictures of her chick.
(photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

We need folks to conduct individual observations from the ground at a cluster of buildings near Central Square, in order to figure out if and when the chick successfully fledges, and where it winds up. If you can watch at this site anytime in the next week, please let us know. There should be lots of interesting diving and chasing happening! The best vantage point is from the parking lot behind the Cheshire County Administration building, on Winter Street next to the Indian restaurant and across from the courthouse, but feel free to move around as needed to get a good view of the birds. If you happen to be walking by this area in the early morning, please also keep a sharp eye on the streets, sidewalks, and parking area in the vicinity of 33 West Street, just in case the chick happens to land on the ground after an evening foray and can’t get itself to safety (….and if you find the chick on the ground, please call us right away at (603) 358-2065!)

Important Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds as they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
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June 29, 2016

Questions Abound

“The Goatsucker of Carolina,” from Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, published in 1771. (image couretsy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

“The Goatsucker of Carolina,” from Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, published in 1771.
(image courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

The latest:

Nighthawk activity seems to have shifted to a cluster of buildings near Central Square − including the Cheshire County Administration building at 33 West Street, neighboring 19 West Street, and possibly the rear loading dock of 34 West Street. Observations from Monday night’s coordinated survey seem to indicate that the birds are still getting settled in, and haven’t yet laid eggs.

How to help:

We need folks to conduct individual observations at this site, in order to figure out if, when, and where the birds finally settle in to nest. The best vantage point is from the parking lot behind the Cheshire County Administration building, on Winter Street next to the Indian restaurant and across from the courthouse, but feel free to move around as needed to get a good view of the birds. You may want to bring a friend or stick close to your car for safety, as this area is not very well-lit. The birds haven’t fully committed to this site yet, so if you see booming or hear peenting night after night in a different location, please let us know!

Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds as they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
  6. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity.
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June 21, 2016

A Failed Nesting Attempt at KSC?

The latest:

New Hampshire Audubon staff scour the roof of the Media Arts Center at Keene State College for any sign of nighthawk nesting. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

New Hampshire Audubon staff scour the roof of the Media Arts Center at Keene State College for any sign of nighthawk nesting. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Over the weekend, nighthawk activity at the Media Arts Center on the Keene State College campus quieted down considerably, and yesterday New Hampshire Audubon, Keene State College, and Harris Center staff spent two hours scouring the roof for any sign of nesting activity (birds, chicks, eggs, shell fragments). We found many things − rusty bits of metal, a window-struck cedar waxwing, approximately a thousand stones that look just like nighthawk eggs − but no sign of an active nighthawk nest. At this point, we feel confident in saying that nighthawks are not currently nesting on the Media Arts Center roof. It’s possible that there was a nest which failed over the weekend. It’s also possible that the pair never fully settled in to that site, and are now looking for other places on which to (re-)nest.

We still need your help.

Because work is scheduled to begin on the MAC roof next week, we want to be sure that the birds truly have moved on before we can breathe a sigh of relief that there’s no conflict between the roof repair and a potential nighthawk nest. If you can watch any night this week, please let us know. The best vantage points are from Appian Way (between the Science Center and the MAC) or from the sidewalk behind the MAC (near the bus stop and the Sculpture Studio).

Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds as they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
  6. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity.

Next Steps

If this week’s observations confirm that the birds really have abandoned the MAC, we’ll give them a week or so to re-group (it can take that long for a pair to settle in to a new site after a nest failure), and then start over again next week with a coordinated survey to try to figure out where they’ve landed. Stay tuned!

 

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June 17, 2016

A Nest at KSC?

Good news:

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 June 10, a third nighthawk made a one-night-only appearance in the skies above Keene State College, bringing the confirmed number of nighthawks in Keene this summer up from two to three. A small victory, but we’ll take it!

Intriguing news:

A nighthawk pair remains quite active at the Media Arts Center on the KSC campus, but it’s still unclear if they’re incubating eggs or perhaps even feeding young. This question has taken on added importance, as KSC soon plans to undertake some repair work on that roof. We hope to revisit the roof early next week to search once more for the presence of eggs or nesting birds, but in the meantime, every night of monitoring counts! If there is a nest, your observations − particularly of the location of the female as she lands on or flies off of the roof − could help us find it.

We need your help.

We need people to conduct individual observations of the Media Arts Center nighthawks from 8 to 9:30 p.m. every night this weekend, and most nights next week. If you can watch tonight, tomorrow, or Sunday − or another night next week − please let us know. The best vantage points are from Appian Way (between the Science Center and the MAC) or from the sidewalk behind the MAC (near the bus stop and the Sculpture Studio). If you and your friends can station yourselves at different points around the building, so you have multiple vantage points for seeing the silent female stealthily slip on and off the roof, even better! Last night, three small teams (one at the Science Center, one near the Spaulding Gym, and one near the Sculpture Studio) all caught different glimpses of the action.

Reminders:

  1. Strive to watch for the full time from 8 to 9:30 p.m.
  2. Feel free to move around to get the best view.
  3. Be precise in your descriptions, particularly with regard to timing and the location of birds as they land on or fly off a roof.
  4. Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
  5. Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
  6. Remember: reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity.
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June 9, 2016

Two Birds

The bad news:

On our first coordinated nighthawk survey of the season on June 6, were only able to identify 2 individual birds in Keene. It’s possible there are some birds we simply didn’t see, but several of their old haunts were uncharacteristically quiet.

A female nighthawk incubating eggs on a KSC rooftop in 2012. (photo © Paul Proulx)

A female nighthawk incubating eggs on a KSC rooftop in 2012. Could this be happening once again?
(photo © Paul Proulx)

The way better news:

The two birds we did identify — at the Media Arts Center on the Keene State College campus — exhibited signs of being a nesting pair! We have since searched that roof, along with several other nearby gravel roofs, and have been unable to confirm the presence of eggs, but it’s quite possible that the birds are still getting settled.

Now what?

Although we are still interested in your nighthawk sightings − especially booming and diving − from other parts of town, it will be 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 that we haven’t yet found 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 Media Arts Center nighthawks from 8 to 9:20 p.m. on every calm, clear night over the next few weeks. If you’d like to head out to watch, let us know, so we can draft a loose monitoring schedule. 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.