Is this bird in eclipse plumage?
There are few better ways to start your day than rising before dawn to watch a lunar eclipse. With a comfortable chair, hot coffee and spotting scope, I had a lot of time to contemplate the Universe, Time, Space, and Mortality.
And an unexpected goatsucker.
With the moon in totality, it was fascinating to watch stars come out all around it. How often do you see a full moon sliding over and occluding little stars? The bright disk became a dusky ball, a stone in the sky. As it moved down toward the horizon, the sky began to lighten and the first birds to sing. Field sparrows, trilling away in the tallgrass. That’s when I noticed a larger bird fluttering upwards by the gate, rising, flipping over and coming back down. I turned the scope to look at the top of the gatepost and there was a night bird of some sort. It was perched too horizontally for an owl, and was hawking prey. Every minute or so would go up to catch something, flaring rounded wings as it flipped around. As the day began to lighten I started to see more than its silhouette: two pale spots emerged, one on either side of the breast, and what looked like a thin pale crescent appeared across the throat. A wide pale bar was distinctly on the shoulder, and what looked like a lighter area on the back of the neck. The bill was tiny and curved, the eye big and black. I haven’t gotten to watch many nightjars (another name for goatsucker) actively hunting, and this one was alert, searching with rapid movements of its head, looking this way and that.
Goatsucker is the common generic name for the family Caprimulgidae (Caprimulgus means “goatsucker” in Latin- it was once believed that these poor birds milked goats on the fly); Whippoorwills are goatsuckers, as are Poorwills. We have Chuck-will’s Widows here commonly, and I assume that’s what it was. Our Chuck-will’s nest around us every year and I was once lucky enough to witness a spring courtship display right down on the driveway. My eclipse goatsucker was merely hunting, probably on its way to winter grounds down south. I do hope it found snacks for the road, and I wish it a safe journey and safe return.