The lump of feathers pictured above is a LESSER NIGHTHAWK, a nightjar of the south and west, and one that has only been recorded in New Jersey once before (and that was in Cape May which is south of the Mason-Dixon line). It was discovered a couple of days ago by the naturalist at Lord Stirling Park in Somerset County. He at first thought it was a Common Nighthawk, which any birder would, though I might mistake it for a Chuck-Will's-Widow or even a whippoorwill because you hardly ever see goatsuckers (nightjars, goatsuckers, what names for these poor birds!) during the day and when you do, let's face it, they don't give you a lot of definition. However, there are buffy spots on the bird and that is diagnostic for Lesser. (There are other field marks that have been seen when the bird flew, but, sitting in the middle of the trail as you see it, the bird becomes a "if you say so" sighting.)
Shari & I went on the 4th of Mike's Birds of Jackson trips this morning (highlight: 2 Blackburnian Warblers at Colliers Mills) and when the trip finished up in the early afternoon, we decided to make the trek up to the park, hoping the traffic would not be a disaster. It wasn't and finding the bird was hardly a chore--there it was, sitting on the left side of the trail, which was blocked by traffic cones to prevent anyone from disturbing it, about 50 yards from the parking lot. We met a few birding friends, took photographs and Shari & I had a life bird. (Mike has it on his life list from out west, but it was a state bird for him.) As Mike said, if seeing rarities was always this easy, birding wouldn't be any fun. And I have to say that this is not a bird that makes my heart got pitter patter. Now, had I seen it flying, that would be different, because when they take to the air they are completely different birds--instead of being a torpid brown mound they become very active hunters, snatching bugs out of the air in their huge, gaping mouths. Still, funny to find a Lesser Nighthawk before I've seen a Common Nighthawk this year.
How did this bird end up here? The story goes that originally, the bird was found in Hillsborough emaciated and was taken to the Raptor Trust for rehabilitation. After about a week the trust released the bird. The trust is located about a mile from Lord Stirling so the bird didn't go have to go far to find a place to live. The real question is, How did it wind up in Hillsborough? That we won't know, but there have been some impressive storms lately coming up from the south.
Here is how the bird looked when we first came upon it:
My first impression was that a turtle was on the side of the trail.
Then, with a good day already on the books, we decided to push our luck and make the day a total twitch--down to the shore we went. (see above)