Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Night Jar Survey June 20, 2010

Of the human names and references given to the Natural world perhaps one of the winners is the "night jar" (caprimulgidae) in which Peterson includes the Common nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, and Chuck-wills-widow. The night jar tag might perhaps come from their large beak and "whiskers" that sweep in bugs. Descriptions refer to "large gape," meaning large mouth and so "jar" simply might mean something like "big mouth" jar? Hunting at night (or before dawn) with a larger than usual mouth makes "night jar" sense. One this group does differently from other birds is they rest on the branch lengthwise to the branch instead of cross ways to the branch.

Many universities across the country study populations and dispersing in order to understand health of a species and health of their environment. One of these is the mid-Summer Night Jar survey conducted across the states.

Our group from the Lee and Lois Herndon club covered two routes, in three cars, with ten people. The survey points are predetermined with 10 stops over about 10 miles and takes about three hours. You are required to listen for six minutes, noting who is, and who is not, calling during each minute.

We started about 9:30 p.m. and ended up about 12:30 a.m. It was beautiful night. Quarter moon. Clear sky. Stars and lightning bugs. Next-to-no breeze. It was a good night to be out.

Our two cars went southeast from Johnson City to the other side of Milligan, Tenn., and then mostly around and beyond Milligan eventually to south of the Laurel's picnic area. Our last contact ended something like 11:58!

We counted seven "Whips" and three "Chucks" along with a Screech owl and Great-horned owl, lots of barking dogs, loud radios with and without cars, and a few gunshots (which seemed to quiet the dogs. We had no way of knowing what got shot.).

The whip-poor-will call is paced and precise. It has a monotonous cadence that some of us who have endured seemingly all night long. You have to wonder when he comes up for air. The Chuck-wills-widow is distinctly different. His call is a slurred "__willswi'ow__willswi'ow__willswi'ow" that goes on and on and on and on very fast, almost faster than I can say it. The breath is the "chuck" part. Sibley mentions that the nighthawk's Greek species name (Chordeiles) means "music in the evening." To me this seems more true for the nightjars.

The survey requires a variety of locations so we had a subdivision (got asked by the locals if were interested in buying a house?), intersections, forests, fields, near a stream. Churches are so-so. Be prepared to get inspected by passers-by. Older, country cemeteries are good places to stop. You'll have an open field near you. Parking. Few lights. Little traffic. Just be respectful of somebody's sacred ground. Speaking of which, our last stop was at a cemetery and I have to admit I'm still perplexed by (and we saw this only once) the $3 solar-powered night lights placed in front of tombstones. This was something new!

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