Tag: Nighthawks

The blink of a firefly…

One evening on a recent trip to the north Georgia Mountains, firefly flashes reminded me of the rare times I witnessed lightning bugs on spring nights in Manatee County, Florida. My brother and I were often sent to bed shortly after dark, so perhaps fireflies appeared more often than my childhood memories suggest, but I can only recall a few such magical evenings. I have observed the floating blinks of light on more frequent occasions in northern parts of the county throughout my life; however, Gardening Solutions on a University of Florida educational website contends “Fireflies,…not flies or bugs, but…actually beetles…include 56 species found in Florida.”

So, the bioluminescent creatures are out and about in Florida; an interested person just needs to know where and when to look for them. Marc Branham,  a University of Florida associate professor of entomology and one of the world’s foremost experts on fireflies, argues, “In Florida, some species are only out for about 23 minutes every night. It’s not 30 minutes, it’s not 20 minutes, it’s 23 minutes.” That is a small window for observations.

Perhaps firefly enthusiasts should ponder the words of Crowfoot, a Blackfoot chief, who said before his death in 1890, “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

From the 3rd chapter, “Nighthawks,” in Growing Up Floridian:

On rare nights in the spring, a few fireflies blinked at the edge of the trees and deeper into the swamp. I knew what the little points of light were because my brother and I caught fireflies the last summer I spent in Massachusetts when I was four. I had not seen any for the first several years on the ranch and did not know their appearance was typically so brief in central Florida. These fireflies were too quick to catch and disappeared into the tall weeds, staying close to the ground in contrast to my northern experience when the bugs would slowly rise from the grass and float into the air or on into the trees. The northern species was slow enough to be caught by a young kid, and I could vaguely remember filling a small jar with blinking lights.

Acrobats in the night skies…

Long before I had ever seen a print of and read a discussion about
Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, I listened to and watched for real nighthawks in the 1950’s evening skies on the Quarter Circle A ranch in Manatee County, Florida. Hopper’s 1942 oil on canvas painting captured people metaphorically as nightbirds in a downtown diner late at night. The birds that entertained me during those adolescent  nights were acrobatic and curiously musical when their peent, peent preceded a roaring boom that reminded me of a distant locomotive going by in the night.

In 2005, Laura Erickson  described the common nighthawk as having “long, graceful wings marked with a crescent moon, flying in and out of
the glowing halo of streetlights.” She went on to verbally paint a picture of “the species’ characteristically erratic yet graceful flight (as) moth-like in purpose, (with) nighthawks swooping and darting through the sky in pursuit of lepidopterans and other insects.

Arthur Cleveland Brent reported the Seminole tribe of Florida called the bird “Ho-pil-car.” Other Native American tribes like the “Chippewas not only had the name “Besh-que” for the nighthawk but recognized it as a species distinct from the whip-poor-will, to which they gave the name “Gwen-go-wi-a.” Another Native American culture tale explained “why the Nighthawk wears fine clothes.”

Nighthawks featured in many cultures’ myths and were labeled as goatsuckers because “superstitious goat-herds in ancient Greece saw night birds fluttering open-mouthed around their livestock and believed the birds came out at dark to drink milk from the mammals’ teats.” A Japanese story suggests a nighthawk wanted to become as glowing as a star.  Nighthawk did become a metaphoric star via Marvel Comics.



From the 3rd chapter, “Nighthawks,” in Growing Up Floridian:

Nighthawks took to the sky as the bees left the clover. Flashes of white from their underwings reflecting the setting sun’s last rays signaled their swooping arrival in the air above me. First the repeated “peent” calls bounced back and forth, sometimes echoing off the thick tree line behind me. The dominant sound, however, was like loud blowing on the mouth of a bottle or a distant train whistle that lasted for only a couple seconds when one dove almost to the ground. The dives were steep, and the birds would pull up just in time to miss impact with the ground in a similar steep ascent. I heard the birds referred to as “skeeter hawks” several times, because, as I was told, they were supposed to eat their weight in mosquitos nightly. Whether they were chasing insects or showing off for mates, their display was far better than the grainy images on a black and white television screen that brought shows in via an antenna that stood ten feet above the roof of the house. A red-bellied woodpecker hammered on that television antenna for several mornings in a row once, driving my father to consider borrowing a shotgun. Fortunately for the bird, trees enticed him more than aluminum, and he gave up beating on metal.



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