Northern Minnesota phenology report: August 2010

A lone nighthawk snatches my attention today, flying solo and south. Three days hence I will immerse myself in a flock of 40 or more as they hunt the fields along Blue Heron Road. They swoop past me as if I were merely another obstacle.

I can’t focus on one bird. There are simply too many. As I watch one, another will sail past within 10 feet. Charcoal gray missiles with white wing marks, they put on a dazzling display of aerobatic prowess. I watch as they pump one wing at perhaps twice the speed of the other to move either left or right. Flashing their tails they turn and feint, juking and dashing to snatch insects only they can see. I marvel at the turns and wonder at the G forces they must experience.

And then the flock has moved on, leaving me with two or three laggards that continue to entertain me with their skills. At last I can concentrate on one bird to the exclusion of the others. Marvelous!

I remember a similar experience at my parent’s home along the shores of Pokegama Lake. Late in the afternoon as shadows gathered in the yard another flock of nighthawks swooped in to dine on their way south. There were a dozen people standing or sitting in the warm evening when suddenly the flock moved in. For several minutes it was pandemonium as they swept the yard of every living-flying thing. Just as suddenly as they came, they headed across the lake and were gone, leaving us buzzing in startled amazement over the whole experience.

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