by by Gary Pendleton
Catch the Nighthawks Reflections in the Lightnings Flash
by Joe Browder
We see birds fly, but we dont often think of them as creatures of the sky.
Small birds, even high in migrating flocks, are on their way to woods or gardens, meadows or lawns, where we are most familiar with their singing and feeding. Swans and geese capture our imaginations not with the magic of their flight but with the mystery of their journeys. Hawks and eagles, vultures and osprey, majestic in the air, descend to find prey from land and water. Swallows capture their meals in flight, but we see them best as they rest on our wires. People lucky enough to watch the albatross identify even that master of flight with the sea.
Who among the birds appears and disappears in the sky, seeming to have no earthly destination? The nighthawks are with us now, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups whose members are almost too singular in their erratic wanderings to be called a flock. Each nighthawks call is lonely, as unbirdlike as the peculiar sudden rushing sound sometimes made by their wings. The nighthawks mystery is deepened because they are here, then not here, at dusk and dawn as the light and darkness themselves are coming and going.
Birds revealed and hidden in the air are always cryptic when attached to land. The family to which nighthawks belong is called in English nightjars or goatsuckers. When nighthawks, whip-poor-wills, Chuck-wills-widows and their relatives around the world are on the land, they disguise themselves. Those that call from places near the ground are meant to be heard, not seen.
On a jungle river in Mexico, a flashlight may show eyes glowing from the misshapen tip of a tree stump. In woods near the Chesapeake Bay, the eyes shine from a thickened horizontal limb on a tall oak. In Papua, New Guinea, the orange lights are from a lump of earth on the bank above a mountain trail.
Our nighthawks and their cousins are not supposed to be found on land. When we do discover them in our terrestrial world, we are finding shadows of clouds, reflections of the lightnings flash. To really see the nighthawks, we must watch the skies.