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  • Writer's pictureEdward Leonard

Lesser Nighthawk at Getty Cove A Washington State First! 24 May 2024

Going to try something a little different today and blend my writing and chatgpt together. chatgpt will be in italics.


Another Friday where I was counting down to my last meeting ending for the day so I could head out for the weekend. As others were reading the document for the meeting (or multi-tasking emails, slack messages, etc...), I alternated between scanning the document and opening my favorite birding site ( to see what might be around near Ellensburg, WA when I saw the reported sightings of a Lesser Nighthawk at Getty Cove in Vantage, WA.

The Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis) is a species of nightjar native to the Americas, particularly found in the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. As a member of the nightjar family, it shares characteristics with other nocturnal birds such as a cryptic plumage, large eyes adapted for low-light conditions, and a diet primarily consisting of insects.

These birds are known for their crepuscular and nocturnal habits, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk as well as throughout the night. They have a distinctive flight pattern characterized by erratic, bat-like movements as they hunt insects on the wing.

The Lesser Nighthawk gets its name from its smaller size compared to other members of the nighthawk family, such as the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor). Despite their name, Lesser Nighthawks are impressive and vital members of their ecosystems, contributing to insect control and playing a role in maintaining ecological balance.

I read the descriptions of the sightings. I noted who had spotted the bird. There were some well known birders. This bird was worth chasing. The main problem was it was Memorial Day Weekend and getting over the pass could be a challenge.

Vantage, Washington, is a small town located in Kittitas County in the central part of the state and 110 miles from my location. Situated along the Columbia River, Vantage is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Vantage boasts breathtaking scenery, with dramatic cliffs carved by the mighty Columbia River forming the backdrop. The area is known for its striking geological formations, including the famous "Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park," where ancient petrified logs can be found. The area around Vantage holds historical significance, with evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years. The Indigenous peoples of the region, including the Wanapum and Yakama tribes, have long revered the Columbia River for its abundant resources and cultural importance.

Getty Cove or "The Cove" supports an array of recreational activities. Fishing enthusiasts cast their lines into the Columbia River in search of prized catches such as salmon, steelhead, and trout. Boaters and kayakers navigate the gentle currents of the river, soaking in the tranquility of their surroundings. Additionally, The Cove is a popular spot for picnicking, birdwatching, and simply basking in the beauty of nature.

I had birded at Getty Cove many times. Initially, I was thinking I would be a great stop for the morning, but then I got excited. "Why wait? What if the bird isn't there in the morning?" and with those thoughts I enlisted Andy in my plan who was in immediately. Then Fiona made me proud by saying she was in as well.

Apple Maps said it would take 2 hours to get to Vantage. Okay. Let's go. Fiona fell asleep immediately. Andy settled into whatever he listens to on his airpods. I put on a couple of birding podcasts and settled into the ride myself. It was a nice break from thinking about work. I was focused on seeing the bird, a wouldbe lifer. Work feels like a deadend lately and I am not sure where to go from here so, as always, birding provided a positive distraction from work anxieties. I was excited about the possibility of a new experience especially acompanied by Andy and Fiona.

Based upon the helpful tips from some ebird checklists I had a good idea the bird's location. Upon arrival, it only took us 10 minutes to get on the bird thanks to other birders already with scopes on the bird. They first got me on the bird and then got both Fiona and Andy on the bird. For me, this will be a highlight in my life. They might not even remember. Fiona doesn't remember seeing the first Washington record of the Eastern Bluebird we all saw together. It was so cold that day.

It was a little chaotic since I had the kids and the dog, but it is an experience I hope to remember for the rest of my life. On the way home, we grabbed Wendy's which is Fiona's favorite. I hope for more moments like this. What am I working for anyway?

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