I set out a year ago to write 50 “blog” entries about the Common Nighthawk, the ABA’s 2013 Bird of the Year — and an inspired choice. The 2014 bird is just as exciting, I understand.
I don’t know about you — how possibly could I? — but I learned an awful lot about this common and familiar species this year, and I think, without having the time or the vanity to count, that I may have come close to my target in writing about the bird. I do know that I was extraordinarily grateful to get to speak to so many interested and interesting birding groups about the bird, its history, and its prospects, and there are still a few nighthawk lectures on my calendar for the New Year, so hope to see the rest of you out there, too.
One thing that I learned is that nighthawks, and probably most birds, can appear at times and in places that are utterly, entirely unexpected.
One of my favorite habitat groups at the American Museum is the jaguars, an emphatically male mount and a large kitten perched on the rocks of a Sonoran mountainside at sunset. I’ve never seen that animal, alas, but I love Sonora and I love the thought of jaguars, and Alison and I always pause, in reverence and reverie, at this case when we walk through the mammals.
We’re not alone: there’s always a small crowd enthralled by these charismatic kitties. But how many notice the birds in the skies above them?
Common Nighthawks aren’t, in my experience, hugely common in northwest Mexico, but they do occur, and their presence in this group adds to its wondrousness. I can feel the last warmth of the day, the cool air rushing down the canyon below, and the atavistic excitement of being in the presence of one of the few American mammals that can lord it over us humans. And I hear the buzzes and whooshes of the nighthawks high overhead.
Let’s hope on this eve of a new year that jaguars and nighthawks and all of the other miracles of the Sierra Madre persist for the human generations to come, sending chills down the spines of our descendants in their different ways.