I was reminded of how I added this beautiful bird to my life list, earlier this summer. It was a hot day in mid-June and I was idly staring out one of my upstairs windows, contemplating my very dirty bird bath and half empty feeders, knowing I ought to tend to them, when a quick dart of a tapered wing with a bold white slash caught my eye. I recognized it instantly as many birders would, though they might never have had the pleasure of seeing one before, but I couldn't believe that a common nighthawk might be flitting about my neighborhood in mid-morning. It had appeared to land in a tree in the adjacent condominium development, however, so I grabbed a field guide, my binoculars, my camera, and took a quick constitutional.
What a stunning sight I found. Not only was the common nighthawk roosting in a nearby tree - less than thirty feet from my backyard - but it was only six feet from the sidewalk and resting on a branch almost precisely at eye level. I couldn't get better views if I birded for nothing but nighthawks for a hundred years, and I was able to examine the bird from every angle and for as long as I wished (I have tolerant neighbors who don't mind a slightly psychotic birder circling a tree on their front lawn). It patiently kept an eye on me, never even ruffling a feather. Of course, I did keep my distance - a zoom lens is easy for brilliant photos when the bird doesn't move - and kept from stressing it.
Close observation of a bird - any bird, but especially one so rare to see at close range - ultimately reveals details you never could have imagined. No field guide can compare to intimate study that reveals the intricate mottling of the common nighthawk's plumage, the delicate curvature of its bill, and the deep pools of its eyes. I was awed at the experience, and will remember it unceasingly.
Indeed, there was nothing common about adding the common nighthawk to my life list.