Field Reports from the 2022 Nighthawk Season

Hope is the Thing With Feathers….

This is the spot for information on the search for nesting nighthawks in Keene. Think of it as a quest: a highly coveted quarry with little chance of success, but hopefully there’s joy in the journey.

July 20, 2022

A Solemn Update

A female nighthawk and her two-week-old chick, well-camouflaged on a gravel roof. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Last summer’s nighthawk nest at Keene State College. We dearly hope it won’t be the last… (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Over the past month, Project Nighthawk volunteers have conducted individual watches at a variety of locations, including Keene State College, 33 West Street, Gilbo Avenue, Production Avenue, Key Road, and Kit Road. On July 19, four teams fanned out across Keene for a coordinated survey, watching at Keene State College, Gilbo Avenue, the Hannaford’s shopping plaza on West Street, and along a driving route that included Production Avenue, Bradco Street, and Krif Road. Altogether, we’ve looked for nighthawks on eight different nights, but the only signs of their presence were two passing peents at Keene State College on May 31 and brief flybys at Ash Swamp Brook on June 14 and Kit Road on June 17.

Nighthawks are creatures of habit, particularly during the breeding season. If they were attempting to nest, we’d almost certainly have seen or heard them at one of their old haunts at some point in June or July.

It now seems clear that — for the first time in more than a decade — nighthawks are not nesting in Keene this summer.

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June 16, 2022

Quiet Skies (So Far…)

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

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

This year’s nighthawk season has gotten off to a concerning start. Project Nighthawk volunteers and Harris Center interns have conducted individual watches near Elliot Hall at Keene State College on May 31 and June 6, and at 33 West Street on June 13. In addition, nine people fanned out to look and listen for nighthawks at four different sites — KSC, 33 West Street, the People’s United Bank at Gilbo Avenue, and Production Avenue — during a coordinated watch on the night of June 15. Despite all of that watching at their usual haunts and beyond, the only nighthawk observations so far this season in Keene have been two passing peents at KSC on May 31 and an unusual daytime flyby reported to eBird on June 14.

Now what?

Every June for the last decade, nighthawks have returned to Keene State College. Their nesting attempts were often unsuccessful, but the birds were there. This year’s quiet — not just at KSC, but also at other nighthawk haunts — is worrisome. Our hope is that they’re still somewhere in Keene, and simply settling into a new breeding territory that we haven’t yet found. All we can do is keep looking.

You can help.

Wherefore art thou, Nighthawk?
(photo © Steven Mlodinow)

The only way to figure out if Keene is still home to nesting nighthawks is to keep looking for them in places with gravel roofs and/or open ground. If the birds are nesting elsewhere and that nest fails, it’s possible they’ll return to one of their tried-and-true sites to try again, so we’ll plan to do another group watch in July. At that time, we’ll need folks to revisit KSC, 33 West Street, and possibly Gilbo Avenue.

For now, though, it’s helpful to cover as many alternative sites with gravel roofs as possible. A few places to look: the Bull Moose or Vacuum Store buildings in the Hannaford’s shopping plaza on West Street; the northeast corner of Central Square in the vicinity of Luca’s, Bank of America, and the former Keene Middle School; Franklin School on Washington Street; Wheelock Elementary School on Marlboro Street; Symonds Elementary School on Wheelock Street; the Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services building on Marlboro Street; the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College; the Town Fair Tire building on Key Road; and any other buildings with flat gravel roofs. Take care, of course, not to trespass on private property!

If you’re curious as to whether a building has a gravel roof, Google Maps satellite view is a great tool. Gravel roofs appear tan or gray on aerial photos; vinyl roofs appear black or white. The only caveat is that Google does not reflect recent roofing work. For instance, KSC’s Media Arts Center roof was converted from gravel to vinyl four years ago, but still appears as gravel on Google.

Remember…

(1) Be precise in your description of the behavior you observe, particularly with regard to timing.
(2) Record it all on a data sheet (which you can download here).
(3) Email your observations to Brett Amy Thelen as soon as possible after your watch.
(4) Reports of “null data” − when you’ve looked for nighthawks, but didn’t find any − are just as important as reports of activity. Send those in as soon as possible, too.

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Contact Us

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