Just the name sounds cool, “The Nighthawk”. Years back when I started spending a good amount of time on the prairies and would stay until after sunset I recall hearing this bird for one of the first times just as the sun was setting, the land was darkening and all seemed quiet and still. From what seemed to be coming out of all directions a deep mysterious sound began to emanate from the quickening darkness. If one does not know what the sound is, it is without doubt spooky to say the least. I highly recommend that if you have the opportunity to hear this bird at dusk pay attention, you won’t soon forget it. There was still enough light in the sky that a person could see an erratic flying bird of some kind, swooping down making very quick turns and all around hard to follow. As it would turn out this is the time for the Nighthawk, a nocturnal bird with short legs, short beak and a long wingspan. It’s really quite a sight to see and hear when you are all alone surrounded by the open prairies and rolling hills with only an occasional sound of the gentle breeze.
I recently took a hike out into America’s one and only National Preserve dedicated to the preservation of the tallgrass prairie of which has diminished over 96% within the last century, that’s almost hard to believe that what once was reign of the tallgrass prairies only 100 years ago, today less than 4% remain, a sad and disheartening fact. The Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve is an attribute to the Nature Conservancy and the men and women who brought this idea to fruition.
As I walked a trail out into an area I was somewhat familiar with I noticed an old hedge post at the base of a small hill that seemed to have something setting on top. I immediately figured on it being a Nighthawk since most other birds had disappeared for the night. I stopped and setup my tripod removed my camera from my bag which all ready had my longest lens attached which is only a 70-200. I almost never need a longer lens than this for landscape work except for when these brief opportunities present themselves. Non the less it wasn’t going to stop me from doing what I could which began with slowly walking the next 20 – 30 yards or so in an attempt to get close to this resting Nighthawk. As it turned out he or she was a very cooperative subject, really didn’t seem spooked of my approach at all. I stopped possibly still 20 yards or so away and starting making some captures of this peaceful resting master of the night skies and even manage to walk around to the other side and get a couple of shots before they had had enough of me making them the center of attention. Off they went soaring and darting in the darkening skies above the prairie.
It’s a humbling experience when one gets to share time with another on their terms and in their home. Even though I spend little time pursuing bird or wildlife with my camera I am always grateful when I get the chance to.