Night Hawk

Night Hawk

Several years ago, when I was still monitoring butterflies at Illinois Beach State Park, I happened to see what I thought was an eye peering out at me from a tangle of branches.  “What am I seeing?!” I wondered.  Finally I decided it was a bird hiding in there so I quick took a photo and moved on lest I disturb it.  Studying the photo with a field guide later I determined that it was a night hawk hiding in there.  I’ve wanted to paint it for years but was intimidated by the ugly tangle of branches, plus it is sort of an odd looking bird and I wanted to get it right.  Finally, for this year’s Bird Art exhibit, I decided to give it a go.  To paint the bird I peeled back several of the branches.  It was a challenge to convey the twiggy surroundings yet create something that would be pleasing the eye.

This, along with two other paintings, will be heading over to Volo Bog sometime this week.

40 Comments

  1. I love the sound of a nighthawk diving, but I’ve only seen them in the air, and never in branches. This is a lovely painting that’s reminded me of how glad I’ll be for them to return later this spring. Of course, I never hear “nighthawks” without thinking of one of my favorite Edward Hopper paintings, and all of the parodies that have been done of that one.

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    1. I just listened to a recording of their call and other sounds. They sound like a truck air-braking when they dive! How cool is that?! And their call sounds a bit like a woodcock, doesn’t it?
      I love that painting, too, by Hopper. Thank you, Linda! Here’s to returning feathered friends.

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      1. They tend to gather above a lighted parking lot near me in the summer, where insects mass around the lights. If I need to pick up this or that from the store, I always dally until late enough that the birds are out, just to enjoy those sounds.

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    1. You’re kidding me! I’m surprised to learn that. It was the only time I ever saw one roosting like that but now that I’ve studied the field guide, I think I probably have seen it flying at dusk and took it for a bat. We used to have quite a few bats but I think that fungus took them all out around here.

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  2. I’ve never seen one! Perhaps, one day. I think you captured it very well hiding in the bush. I often see birds hiding in bushes with branches going across their faces.

    Best of luck with the show/exhibit! I’m sure your art will be well received it’s lovely.

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  3. The far left placement of the nighthawk works well, with all those diagonal branches holding down the right two-thirds of the painting.

    Can’t remember if I ever mentioned that volo in Latin means ‘I want’ (compare volition and volunteer, from the same root).

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    1. I thought you might notice the placement of the bird. As you’ll see, the one I’m working on currently has a similar placement for the bird. Thank you. And yes, I want to say that you did volunteer that information.

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  4. Your composition choices, for all your challenges, Melissa, are amazing! Not to mention the feast of light and colors (and love those speckles!) edge to edge! Marvelous! There’s a marvelous swirl of energy, as if we get a sense of the night hawk’s view of its own world – so many things to be on the look out for, always interested in food I’d imagine, lol!

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  5. I think you solved the problem of the tangle of branches beautifully, your painting conveys the sense of there being a tangle of twigs/branches (but not too much) very well. It’s a very atmospheric piece.

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  6. I don’t think we have this bird in the UK . I can really relate to what you said about trying to create a beautiful composition out of a semi-abstracted and altered view of the scene that inspired you. It is sometimes very challenging – your painting is lovely !

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    1. Thank you Steve. Until I saw this one, quite by accident, I wouldn’t have thought I ever would. Now I’m thinking I should make a point of looking. It would be fun to see and hear them. In fact, when I looked them up in the field guide, the picture of one flying looked familiar to me. It may be that you and I are just not tuned in to birds that much. We’re too busy noting frogs! 🙂

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      1. That very well could be true, Melissa. We do spend a lot of our time looking down. 🙂 Several years ago I took a workshop with a birding guide and we learned, or in my case tried to learn, birding by ear. That would help knowing if nighthawks were around. About the only time that has worked for me was a few years ago on my way out of the woods after photographing the rising full moon and listening to a whip-poor-will as I followed my flashlight. You don’t have to be a birding genius to recognize that one.

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      2. I have a good friend who is a musician, and when we go out in the field she can identify numerous birds by their call. I’m at a loss….I cannot really tell one call from another although I’ve leaned a few. My son has loons where he lives, and he says they can be quite persistent. And loud. I’d probably be able to learn that one! 🙂

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      3. I’m sure you could. Loons are quite distinctive and once you’ve heard them I don’t think you can forget. It’s the same for the whip-poor-will as the name is exactly how it sounds. No mistaking either one of them. 🙂

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