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Monday, August 19, 2013


There are few birds more annoying to watch than the common nighthawk. This nocturnal member of the goatsucker family seems incapable of flying in a straight line for more than a few feet before spiraling up and diving down in a short looping flight pattern that can make a even a casual observer dizzy if you watch them long enough. Of course the nighthawk has a good excuse for flying like someone who has no motor control; they are hunting insects which seldom fly in a straight line either. The only thing worse than watching a single nighthawk is to watch a large flock of these nocturnal insectivores competing for the same air space. You wait for the inevitable high speed collision of these feathered bullets but it never happens. Often while watching nighthawks you'll hear a buzzing sound, not unlike a car hitting the rumble strip on a distant highway. It is in fact a sound produced by the wing feathers as the bird pulls out of a vertical suicide dive and heads up for another go round. Thankfully, the nighthawks are only here for a few short summer months before flying to South America for the winter.

The only thing worse than watching nighthawks is to observe the swift in flight. The swift is like a stealth version of the swallow with a forked tail and swept back wings that make it one of the fastest flying birds we have. Clocked at over one hundred miles per hour it must be a very short flight from here to their wintering grounds in the Amazon Basin of South America. You'll discover what an annoying pest the swift can be when they take up residence in your chimney where the roar of their wings will make you think you're having a chimney fire when there is no fire in the stove. Fortunately these foreign visitors seem to have abandoned our skies somewhat earlier than normal this year.

Unfortunately the absence of these annoying birds heralds the arrival of other migrants from the north whose appearance is not a good thing.

Sandpipers are a small, drab, nervous shore bird that include a motley collection of twenty some species which often appear so similar that only a so-called bird-watching expert will  bother to tell them apart. All members of the sandpiper family share a similar pointed beak which they use to probe the shoreline for a disgusting array of gooey invertebrates on which they feed. Sandpipers are among our earliest migrating birds, moving along the coast and gathering in vast flocks that can have the disturbing appearance of an amoeba in the sky.

The arrival of the sandpiper is soon followed by that most beautiful of ducks, the Northern Pintail. Slender, elegant and colorful, the pintail is has been called the “greyhound of the skies” because of the speed at which it flies. Then again the pintail could be compared to a greyhound because it tastes like dog meat when cooked. That is just a theory. All we know for sure is the pintail is one of the earliest migrants to the Peninsula. Flying from the Arctic Ocean to as far south as Central America the sight of the first pintail is a good sign something bad is about to happen.

The fog which normally blankets the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the fall has hung around for half the summer. The spiders are numerous and moving indoors. The corn husks are extra thick. This is all evidence to the fact that an early winter will be dark, wet and cold.

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