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The amazing disappearing Nightjar

December 16, 2011

Estero Llano Grande State Park is famous for a lot of things, the rarities it attracts, the amazing veranda overlooking the marsh, the Tropical Zone which seems to be a magnet for Rose-throated Becards, but among its most impressive attractions are the fact that its probably home to the easiest Common Pauraques in the Valley.

Pauraques, like most members of the nightjar family, are generally pretty difficult to see well on account of their nocturnal tendencies and incredible cryptic plumage that renders them all but invisible to bipedal primates with only the ability to see in a very limited spectrum of light.  You can drive the backroads of the Valley at night, looking for the eyeshine of roosting birds on the road, and for years and years that was the accepted way to find Pauraque (in fact, it’s how I got my lifer Pauraque), but by doing that you’re really begging for a run-in (and likely several run-ins) with the friendly officers of the US Border Patrol.  But these days, the discriminating birder avoids all that trouble and goes to Estero, where the Pauraques lay about in front of your face, assuming you can find them.

In the photo above, taken with my phone, are two Pauraque.  It took me about five minutes of searching to pick them out and I still walked right by them at least twice.  For some reason, between one and three Pauraque have taken a liking to the patch of relatively dry, bare, dirt right next to a trail at Estero.  It’s become something of a Valley requirement to pay homage to them and to fill your eyeballs, and your camera viewfinder, with the kind of shockingly good looks at a nightjar you only wish you could get anywhere else.

In case you couldn’t find them above, here’s what you’re dealing with.

They’re too close to get entirely in frame.  That’s not the sort of problem you expect.

Sure beats getting hassled by the border patrol, no?

  1. December 17, 2011 12:25 am

    Pictures, no matter how frame-filling, cannot do these birds justice. Seeing one of the Pauraques at Estero Llano Grande is one of the highlights of my birding life, ranking above most other Valley specialties like the pygmy-owl and Brown Jay. I never would have believed that beforehand, but it’s absolutely true.

  2. December 20, 2011 8:34 pm

    Talk about camouflage! Nice shots of this cryptic-plumaged species.

  3. Nate permalink*
    December 29, 2011 9:49 pm

    @Grant- It’s really great. Such an amazing and bizarre bird.

    @Chatterbirds- Thanks!

  4. June 6, 2013 8:57 pm

    Natural selection has really benefited this fantastic bird. I have never seen anything like it before and I hope we see more birds with this special gift.

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