The Nighthawk Connection

I love days that do not turn out the way I thought they would.  Especially when the original plan included copious amounts of laundry. It started when the woman who does my hair (Rachel) texted and asked if I wanted to go fishing.  I did want to inaugurate my pole to the season and I need to stay in some sort of practice for ranger programs so I was excited to say yes.  I typed up my beat for for 10,000 Birds (basically, it's a "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" article on how to be an actual help to found baby birds) and when that was up and ready to go, I joined Rachel for some fishing. We were fishing off of Lake Harriet which is a frequent bike route for me and it's also where the great horned owls were nesting (young owls have left the nest now).  But it's not a bad place for some casual fishing.  All was well, we were giggling, chatting and in my case, landing some of the smallest bass ever when a guy started playing his flute.  We both sort of rolled our eyes.  When I enjoy the lakes, I like to listen to bird songs, not some random guy working on his "sound" with his flute.

All of a sudden, I heard a nighthawk call loud right above us.  It sounded off three times and I realized that it was 2pm (not the time for a nocturnal bird to be singing) and I didn't see it fly off.  Was the nighthawk as irritated with the flute player as we were?

A quick scan of the tree and we found the common nighthawk.  Do you see it?  It's right there in that tree!  I didn't have my scope with me to digiscope it.  I find that if I try to fish and bird at the same time, I don't do either well.  After Rachel and I finished our day, I ran some errands and headed home.  I noticed that I had an hour before Non Birding Bill would be home so I thought I'd strap my scope to my bike and try to digiscope the nighthawk.  Since it's a nocturnal species and their defense during the day is to remain still and camoflage, my chances were good that it would still be there late in the afternoon.

As I pedaled around Lake Harriet, I noticed ducks running amok.  Drakes were chasing hens and at one point a hen almost nailed a jogger right in the face.  I paid attention as I headed down the trail and then noticed a biker in front of me yelling at some cars on the road that goes around Lake Harriet.  I thought the bike rider was yelling at someone driving a car, as I neared I could see a hen mallard in front of the vehicle.  It sounded like the bike rider was yelling at the driver, perhaps for hitting the duck.  I felt that it wouldn't have been the driver's fault because the ducks were chasing each other.  I pulled over and heard snippets of conversation:

Bike Rider: "Nice job."

Woman with Car: "We are trying to help, we are trying to get bird expert, she has nest in the road!"

I recognized the voice.  It was a woman I had seen at parties who was a friend of NBB's Theatre Arlo partner.  But I couldn't remember her name.  I knew she had an accent and that her name sounded Russian...what was the name.

I lifted my sunglasses, her name suddenly hitting me, "Natasha?"

Woman with Car: "OH! You're who I'm looking for! Sharon, we've been trying to call you for the last hour! Help, what do we do with this duck?"

Natasha had been trying to get hold of someone to give me a call because she didn't have my number--how weird that I took this bike ride at the last minute and ran into her!  I got to the street and assessed the situation: a hen mallard had a nest right on the curb of a very busy and narrow street around the lake.  It looked like the nest had started on a hill right above the curb and the eggs shifted down on the pavement.  Some nesting material surrounded the eggs as did a few beer cans.  I suspect someone else found the nest in the street and tried to use the beer cans as a buffer from from cars.

Natasha and her friend directed traffic as she told me how she had seen the duck and worried it would get hit.  Many of the eggs were cracked.  Most felt cool.  I peeled open the cracked eggs and found liquid inside.  I picked up an uncracked egg and pealed it too and found that egg was also liquid.  I made a snap judgement:

This was probably a young female who made a poor choice for a nest.  If I took the eggs away now, she wouldn't nest there again, it'd would be as if a fox/raccoon/skunk had raided the nest.  She would be out of the street and in less danger from being run over by cars and could possibly nest again this year.  The eggs weren't viable and if they stayed, she might still try to incubate them and most likely get hit by a car.  I removed the eggs.  Then Natasha and I surrounded the female causing her to fly out of the road on to the bike trail.  She was spooked by a dog walker and went to the lake where she would be safe.  I stuck around a few minutes and she swam to shore, staring at me and making soft quacks.

I'm sorry I took her nest but her eggs were dead and her nest situation was precarious for her survival.  At least this way she would live to nest again and this time stay FAR away from a busy street.

I continued on my way around the trail and did find the roosting nighthawk:

It was still here, perched the way a nighthawk should be.  Lake Harriet is not far from my apartment at all.  We only hear one nighthawk singing, I wonder if this is that bird that flies over our apartment at dusk?

As I took pictures of the bird through my scope, I heard someone passing me say, "Is she looking at leaves? Oh, I bet she's taking pictures of bark."

Well, I was taking pictures of a bird that uses bark to camoflage itself in the middle of the day.

So, all in all not a bad day, despite it not going as I planned it to be, but glad I could be around to offer some help to non birding friends, get in some fishing in and a cool bird too.

For those curious, here's the earlier photo with a red circle around the nighthawk.  This is what it looked like without binoculars or a scope.