Antillean Nighthawk – Marathon Key

May 6-7:  After an unsuccessful trip to the Keys for the Antillean Nighthawk in 2011, Terry Baltimore and I gave it another try this week. We started at Bill Baggs in Key Biscayne, where there were lots of warblers, but the Black-faced Grassquit had already departed, and of course, even though a small number are being seen in the usual south Florida locales this week (including Bill Baggs), once again no one could find a Connecticut Warbler (my continuing Florida nemesis) at this particular place on this particular morning, although one was reported later at 6:30 PM.

Antillean Nighthawk in flightWe planned to be at the Marathon Airport just before sunset, and the place where we had overnight reservations turned out to be conveniently located just a stone’s throw from the south end of the airport. While we had reasonable expectations of seeing a nighthawk, I was not optimistic about obtaining photos because the daylight would be rapidly waning, and the birds fly not only fast, but too high or far away to be reached with flash. It turns out that there is about a twelve-minute window of opportunity for photography. At 7:30 PM we positioned ourselves at the picnic table at the very south end of the airport. Just as the sun was setting, while we were observing a few shore birds wading in the muddy pools next to the runway, we suddenly heard the unmistakable “piti-pit-pit” call of the Antillean Nighthawk, and three birds suddenly took off from the ground where they had been resting, silent and unseen, perhaps 75 feet away. In a matter of seconds they were high up and flying off into the distance, and we were sure we had missed them, but soon enough we heard them again, watched their approach, and one wound up making a pass directly overhead. There was just enough daylight remaining to get off some shots with a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec to stop the motion, and ISO 3200 to provide enough light. The Antillean Nighthawk is the second new species for birdspix.com in two days, and the sixth for 2013.

Swallow-tailed Kite The many other sightings for the  two-day trip included numerous warbler species, many Gray Kingbirds, two flocks of Bobolinks, several Yellow-billed Cuckoos, a White-crowned Pigeon,  and at Dagny Johnson Park in Key Largo an overhead Swallow-tailed Kite. 

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