Most of the year I lament the fact that I live in the City of Albany. Sure it has its advantages such as being close to everything we could want or need, but it lacks a natural element that you can’t find unless you live in a rural area.
Now I’m pretty proud of my yard and I’ve racked up some good species in the past, but its during this late August, early September time frame that I’m really glad I live in Albany, because I can sit in my backyard and become privy to one of the most interesting migrations in the bird world, that of the Common Nighthawk.
Common Nighthawks a hundred years ago, where very common in the City of Albany and as one author put it “as common as the trolley’s and milk carts in the dawn air”. Times have changed and the Nighthawk has suffered dramatically and is most likely extripated as a breeder in Albany (although I have a couple of June records here at the house, raising some hope). Thoreau wrote about Nighthawks as common as Swallows over ponds at dusk, but now you have to look real hard to find a breeder just about anywhere in New York State.
But somewhere they are breeding, because every August, hundreds if not thousands of these birds congregate over upstate Cities on their way south for the winter. They seem to follow some predetermined routes, for reasons I can’t even venture a guess. All I know is that the fly way over Albany, is right over my house.
But this year I have been worried, I hadn’t seen one. I had read few reports locally of any as well. Last night a cold front pushed by and we had a gentle northwest breeze this afternoon. The air was less humid and the sky, clear and blue. I figured it would be a good night to try and find a Nighthawk or two.
We (my family and I) decided to eat dinner outside and it wasn’t long before we spotted the 1st Nighthawk crusing just above the tree tops heading south. It was actively feeding and the light was perfect on it, we could see just about every field mark on the bird. We were hopeful of a big night.
Two hours later, we hadn’t seen another bird. Could that be it? Then Danika spotted a group of six flying high overhead, in the next 15 minutes we would spot another 8 individuals flying around! I even got to point them out to some of the neighbors, who had never even heard of a Nighthawk, let along knew they flew right over Albany.
I went inside to give Corey of 10,000 Birds a Call and as I reached for the phone, it rang! And who was it? You guessed it, Corey. He was over at Washington Park and was calling me to say he had seen a few Nighthawks and that I should go out and look too! While I was inside, Danika spotted one more, to bring the total for the evening up to 16 Common Nighthawks!
As long as the weather cooperates, I will be in my backyard checking things out for the next few days. For those who are interested my single day total at the house for Common Nighthawk is over 50 birds! Who knows if I’ll see that many this year, but you don’t know unless you look.