Photographing Common Poorwill – Phalaenoptilus nuttalii

by Bryce W. Robinson

Common Poorwill - Phalaenoptilus nuttalii

Common Poorwill – Phalaenoptilus nuttalii

The other night while driving down from a great day of songbird banding, hawk watching, and trapping at Intermountain Bird Observatory’s Lucky Peak Migration Site, my friend Tempe Reagan and I came upon a number of Common Poorwill sitting in the road. I’ve had the experience of flushing “Goatsuckers” from dirt roads before, but I’ve never tried taking any photographs.

When we spotted another bird I slowed the truck early and slowly crept forward, pushing my luck for a better look. After I was nearly too close, I stopped the truck and slowly opened the door. Quietly I crept to the front of the vehicle and began taking photos. The bird seemed non-plussed by my movement, so I decided to push my luck further. I got low to get a proper angle of the bird, and soon found myself on my belly almost too close to the bird to take any photos.

Image copyright Tempe Reagan

Image copyright Tempe Reagan

I think Tempe was amused at the sight of me laying in the dirt road. I’m happy she took the photos and was willing to share, because it shows how tolerant these birds can be. I’ve heard stories of folks walking up to poorwills and nighthawks on dirt roads, being very quiet and careful, and capturing the birds before they could fly. I’ve never done this myself, but the ability to get photographs is good enough for me.

Image copyright Tempe Reagan

Image copyright Tempe Reagan

Although the truck lights seem ultra bright, they did not create much light for my camera to work with. I cranked the ISO and lowered my aperture and shutter speed as low as possible. I came away with some neat photos, although next time I bet a short video clip would be even more satisfying.

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