Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Nightjar Family

Thursday 7/18/2013: This evening I headed back up to Proctor Road determined to see if the Buff-collared Nightjars has fledged young from the suspected nest site I had been watching for several weeks. On Monday night I had been to the spot with a client; we briefly heard clucking from one individual and I heard the male sing a few rounds at 20:19 a few hundred yards down the wash.  My feelings were that if the adult pair was successful, the young had fledged and had left the immediate vicinity of the suspected nest site. So I went to the bushes where I suspected the nest to have been to look for any signs. I hoped for a feather, an eggshell, or some whitewash.  The sun dropped below the Sierrita Mountains to the west, the moon stayed behind clouds, and I listened for any signs of the nightjar.  At around 20:30 I begin making my way back to the truck, diverting towards but not reaching each Western Screech-Owls I heard. 
As I was putting my binoculars, camera, & recording equipment back into the truck, a Western Screech-Owl begins calling fairly close.  I grab my camera and start heading towards the little owl.  Only a few feet from the truck, I hear the male Buff-collared Nightjar singing from quite a distance (time=21:11), I’m guessing a few hundred yards.  I start heading towards the nightjar at a fairly quick pace.  The nightjar continues singing for perhaps a minute before going silent.  I continue heading in the same direction fortunately not finding too many obstructions.  I reach a point that I need some reaffirming audio before continuing.  Another Western Screech-Owl provided the audio. I continue on towards the owl and before I can get into a position to try for a visual on the owl I hear nightjar “chucking” calls and more than one.  I end up at the edge of a wash with two birds calling from up the wash, one from straight across the wash, and one across & down the wash (time=21:50).  I scan the flashlight back & forth hoping to catch eye-shine but bushes & small trees obscure any viewing.  These calls are the same calls I heard when I saw both the male & female nightjar “popcorning” near the suspected nest site two weeks ago. Several times one of the birds (the one down wash) did the intro/windup of the song but without the follow through of the full song.  Incredible, I have a family of Buff-collared Nightjars feeding virtually in front of me (and I can’t see a single one).  I attempt to record the calls with my iPhone but all I capture is the crickets, I left my shotgun microphone back in the truck. I listen and search for about ten minutes before deciding it is time to leave.  As I make my way back out, two Western Screech-Owls begin talking to one another.  One is in front of me.  This owl pretty much ignored me, kept calling to the other and searching for prey, while I took several pictures. 
Western Screech-Owl - seen and photographed after hearing the family of nightjars

For several weeks I have suspected that at least one of the pairs of nightjars was nesting.  Without a photograph of nestlings, fledglings, or eggs this will probably end up as a probable breeding in the official record books.  But in my mind, the pair of Nightjars I most frequently visited has fledged young.  Perhaps in the next couple of nights with a near full moon I’ll be able to see the family.  

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