Common Nighthawk – A new bird for Cornwall

Finders report and photographs kindly supplied by Martin Bonfield.

Having arrived in Cornwall late on Saturday 4th October, I spent the first 2 days of my holiday working the valleys around Lands End. With only a couple of Pied Flycatchers to show for my efforts I decided that on Tuesday I would head over to the Lizard for a change of scenery. However, when I saw the weather forecast late on Monday evening predicting strong Westerly winds, I changed my plans and decided instead to go to Pendeen where the conditions should be good for seawatching.
Tuesday morning started with strong winds and very heavy rain, so I did not arrive at Pendeen until around 10.30am. The wind had moved around from a Southerly to a Westerly direction, but the wind speed soon dropped off and the weather started to break and by around 1.00pm, the skies were starting to clear. After 2 1/2 hours of staring at the sea with only a few Bonxies and Arctic Skuas passing, I got a message on my pager for a 1st winter Red Breasted Flycatcher at Church Cove. Thinking that this could signal an arrival of migrants, I decided to head over there.
I arrived at the small car park at Church Cove at about 3.00pm and spent the next hour taking some shots of the Flycatcher and talking to a couple of local birders. I then decided to walk down through the village, planning to do a circuit back via the lifeboat station. By the time I got to the lifeboat station the weather had really improved into a pleasant afternoon with warm sunshine, so I decided to walk a little further along the coast path towards Lizard Point. As I rounded the headland just before Housel Bay I saw a bird coming in over the sea that I first thought was a Kestrel, it dipped back below the cliff face and I carried on along the path in the hope that it would come close enough for some decent photographs.
The bird then appeared back over the headland and this time I could see that it was much too slender in build to be a kestrel, I could also see white markings in the wing as it came closer and started to hawk for insects over the dead ferns on the top of the cliff edge. The bird flew back and forth along the cliff edge 3 or 4 times and I was now starting to think that it was a Nightjar. It then drifted over the top of the cliff getting closer all of the time, I could now see the fork in the tail and the bold white flashes in the wing and I knew that I was looking at a Common Nighthawk. I grabbed my camera and desperately tried to get some record shots as the bird worked its way along the headland. The bird was moving closer to Church Cove and I followed it along the coastal path, when suddenly it turned round and flew directly towards me passing no more than 5 feet from my head, it then doubled back and flew straight over me and round the headland towards Church Cove and out of view. I ran around the headland to try to re-find it but was unable to see it. I reached for my phone to get the news out, but then had to walk back to the highest part of the headland to get a mobile signal. I spent the remaining daylight trying to relocate the bird and was joined by others in the search after about 40 minutes but unfortunately we were unable to see it again.  

This Common Nighthawk constitutes the first record for the Cornish mainland its arrival coinciding with a number of other American migrants including the Alder Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo and Bobolink in Cornwall and Grey-cheeked Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Bobolink, American Buff-bellied Pipit and American Golden Plover on the Isles of Scilly.


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