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I Shot the Whip-poor-Will

Sunday, June 26, 2011

We are blessed here in southeast Ohio with the little moth-eating, night-flying caprimulgids known as whip-poor-wills. Blessed, or cursed. The man from whom we bought the house called them "fiends from Hell." He hated them. He also hated the yellow-breasted chats who flew over the yard giving raspberries, clacks and grunts because they made such "rude noises."

Well. One man's hell is another's heaven. I count chats and whip-poor-wills among the myriad blessings of living here. Some nights we can hear upwards of five at a time from our deck.

I've learned to sleep through the whips' nightly serenade, although I will confess that three in the yard at one time, as happened one night in early June at 2 AM, is a bit cacaphonic. All you can do when they gang up like that is lie there and laugh.

Every once in awhile we'll see whips sitting in the driveway, or on the road that leads to our house. All you usually see of a whip in the headlights is its eye, shining like a big orange garnet right down at gravel level. Those of us who've done lots of tropical birding know to look for caprimulgids sitting on forest roads, happy to have a clearing in which to hawk for moths. Well, they do that in Ohio, too.  I was lucky enough to have my telephoto lens with me the last time I spotted the pretty orange headlight of a whip-poor-will. I was also lucky to have Bill in the car right behind me. His headlights, shining on the little whip, were all I needed, as I didn't want to startle the bird with flash.

So the top picture is my best photo to date of a whip-poor-will. It's a crappy photo, but hey. You try getting a decent photo of a whip-poor-will. Stakes are a bit different than trying to photograph a robin.


Like getting a good ghost photo ... only better because it's real!

I for one am still in pursuit of a perched swallow tail kite.
I am not convinced they ever "land".

(My word verification is "gostlyi".

What are the odds?

Great to get pictures of this bird, which I glimpsed for the first time just last week. In my childhood I heard them in summertime, unrelentingly, in Nova Scotia, from which they've almost disappeared. In eastern Ontario they're more common, but so much more often seen than heard! Glad they're thriving in your parts.

Nick from Ottawa

Posted by Anonymous June 26, 2011 at 1:56 PM

Whips are a heard but not seen bird for us.
I've gotten photos of roosting nighthawks but not a glimpse of a

I too love whip-poor-wills. One of my fondest memories was of hearing them calling at night and at dawn when I was camping in Arkansas in the spring.

Then twice, I dreamed I was hearing whip-poor-wills and woke to find they were really calling as they migrated over my Houston house which had a 16 X 20 atrium with only screen for the roof.

Growing up in the woods of west-central Indiana, we had a sleeping porch where we children slept from Memorial Day till mid-October. Wonderful! Among the sounds of nature we all treasured were whippoorwills, bobwhite, gray treefrogs, and owls. It was also better than ground level for seeing birds in the trees, though I doubt it rivaled your Tower!

On the Chestnut Ridge east of Pittsburgh, where we lived for 15 years, whippoorwills were a bonus, though I had friends whose sleep they disturbed. Unfortunately, nearby lands were stripped, and the whips didn't return one year. Humankind is too populous and too resource-greedy. I try to live lightly, but I'm included and I had two children. . . .

How anyone could hate whip-poor-wills, or any nightjar, is a mystery to me. The first time I heard chuck-wills-widows calling this spring in Georgia I was practically jumping up and down with excitement!

They make a mighty big sound for their size, don't they? I've never actually seen one but feel I know them so well from the sound. They make a statement. Love your blog.

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