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Re: [CALBIRDS] Request for ID assistance re. Nighthawk in Ventura

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  • Steve Sosensky
    Hi Jennifer, The odds, based on status and distribution, is that your bird (in eastern Vertura / western Oxnard) was a Lesser Nighthawk. In SoCal, Common
    Message 1 of 4 , May 24, 2002
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      Hi Jennifer,

      The odds, based on status and distribution, is that your bird (in eastern
      Vertura / western Oxnard) was a Lesser Nighthawk. In SoCal, Common
      Nighthawks are high mountain birds, usually found around Big Bear Lake's
      eastern and southern ridges. Lesser Nighthawks are fairly common in the
      deserts, and some still breed in the San Fernando Valley.

      At 03:35 PM 2002-05-24 -0700, rycenga jennifer wrote:
      >So my question is (since I am not on any of the SoCal lists that might cover
      >this area), what are the chances of either a Lesser or a Common Nighthawk in
      >this area, so close to the sea, and are these two features (in addition to
      >the general features that determined this to be a Nighthawk, of course),
      >enough for a positive ID?

      Good birding,
      Steve <mailto:steve@...> for general use
      <mailto:mobile@...> for rare birds and emergencies only

      Steve Sosensky, photographer www.sosensky.com
      10834 Blix Street #213 818-508-4946
      Toluca Lake, CA 91602 34*09'02" N, 118*22'47" W
      Audubon in So. California www.SoCalAudubon.org/socal/
      San Fernando Valley AS www.SanFernandoValleyAudubon.org/sfvas/
      AIM ID: SteveS310 Yahoo Messenger ID: SteveSosensky
      SoCal FRS: use channel 11 code 22
    • Kimball Garrett
      ... Jennifer: You re correct that the identification of silent nighthawks can be quite tricky, but the characters you describe strongly suggest that your bird
      Message 2 of 4 , May 24, 2002
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        At 03:35 PM 5/24/02 -0700, rycenga jennifer wrote:
        >Dear Calbirders - I hope this is an appropriate forum to ask this question.
        >I am in the Ventura/Santa Barbara area for a conference. Last night
        >(Thursday May 23) as I was parking at my hotel in Ventura (just at the
        >eastern boundary of the city, on Johnson Drive, off 101, close to the ocean)
        >at dusk (8:25 pm), there was a Nighthawk coursing through the parking lot.
        >I observed as closely as I could, without bins, for about 30 seconds before
        >it veered off to the NW. It did not call at all during that time, which I
        >took as further supporting evidence to my visual sense that this was a
        >female LESSER NIGHTHAWK. The wing bars appeared buffy rather than white,
        >and the flight pattern reminded me more of dusk-hour dispersals of Lesser
        >Nighthawks than of Common Nighthawks. Pleased with this unexpected
        >sighting, I then looked at the range maps in National Geo and Sibley, and
        >started to doubt myself. Then I further realized that whenever I've seen
        >Lesser Nighthawks, I've not had to distinguish them from Common Nighthawks,
        >so I felt even more slippery about my call, despite being quite familiar
        >with both birds. As I said, the two positive comments I can make are that
        >the bird was utterly silent (and I stayed listening and hoping it would
        >return for another two minutes after losing visual contact), and that the
        >wing bars did not look white at all - it took me a few seconds to detect
        >them visually, in fact.
        >
        >So my question is (since I am not on any of the SoCal lists that might cover
        >this area), what are the chances of either a Lesser or a Common Nighthawk in
        >this area, so close to the sea, and are these two features (in addition to
        >the general features that determined this to be a Nighthawk, of course),
        >enough for a positive ID?


        Jennifer:

        You're correct that the identification of silent nighthawks can be
        quite tricky, but the characters you describe strongly suggest that
        your bird was a Lesser Nighthawk. Perhaps as importantly, this is
        the only expected species of nighthawk on the coast of southern
        California. There are a couple of coastal Ventura Co. records of
        Common Nighthawk (June, November), but the status of Common Nighthawk
        there is about the same as that of Buff-collared Nightjar, whereas
        Lesser Nighthawks are a scarce but regular migrant and actually breed
        in some of the drier washes in Ventura County.

        Sibley and NGS cover nighthawk identification well, but the scale of
        their maps does not allow for the level of detail you would need to
        tease apart their distribution in southern California.

        As for visual ID, I would concentrate on:
        1) position and shape of white wing patch
        2) color of wing patch (if buffy and obscure = Lesser)
        3) pattern of primaries/secondaries: buff-spotted/barred in Lesser,
        more solidly colored in Common
        4) more pointed wing of Common
        5) overall plumage color -- brown/buff in Lesser, gray/blackish/white
        in Common (but beware geographic variation and browner juv.
        in Common)
        6) flight style: deeper wingbeats, higher flight (on average) in
        Common.

        Calls of the two species, of course, are utterly different, but Lessers
        (in particular) are often quite silent away from nesting areas.

        Perhaps Walter Wehtje or somebody else with more direct knowledge of
        the status of nighthawks in Ventura Co. will wish to add some detail.

        Kimball
        *****************************
        Kimball L. Garrett
        Ornithology Collections Manager
        Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
        900 Exposition Blvd.
        Los Angeles, CA 90007 USA
        (213) 763-3368
        (213) 746-2999 FAX
        kgarrett@...
        *****************************
      • rycenga jennifer
        Thanks to those who responded both on-list and off-list. I heard from two local birders that there are Lesser Nighthawk nest sites less than five miles from
        Message 3 of 4 , May 24, 2002
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          Thanks to those who responded both on-list and off-list. I heard from two
          local birders that there are Lesser Nighthawk nest sites less than five
          miles from the location where I saw the bird, and that Lesser Nighthawks
          have been seen around 101, and even on the beach here, in previous years.
          Also, the bird fits the Lesser Nighthawk description added here by Kimball
          Garrett concerning flight pattern; the bird I saw was flying quite low, and
          its wingbeats were rapid enough that it had a nearly bat-like frenetic
          quality at times. I appreciate all the assistance; this was an instance
          where my second-guessing myself provided a real education!


          >6) flight style: deeper wingbeats, higher flight (on average) in
          > Common.


          Jennifer Rycenga

          Berkeley, California

          gyrrlfalcon@...


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