As a teenager, my favorite camping spot was a high, remote little valley that we called "Southfork." Just how it received that name is a mystery -- its stream wasn't a south fork of anything -- but the few people who knew the place all knew it by that name, and we all agreed that it was a special place. Nowhere else in the area was one likely to see Elk. I spotted my first wild Mountain Lion there, and for some reason the place harbored an unusually large population of Poorwills (Phalaenoptilus nuttalli
) . As kids, we attributed the area's biological richness to its remoteness, and we were probably correct to a degree. It took two days to ride a horse to Southfork, so visits from humans were rare, in fact, my last visit occurred some 30 years ago.
Last week that all changed. On backpacking trip, I spent a night up at Southfork, and it was refreshing to see how little it's changed. I saw no Elk, just a couple of Moose (for European readers, that's Cervus canadensis
and Alces alces
, respectively). I've done some public whining lately about the apparent decline of Poorwills in northern Utah, and I was extremely pleased to see that they're just as common at Southfork as ever. I saw several, and must have heard about a dozen during the night. Best of all, I watched an adult hen catching little unidentified tenebrionid beetles on a talus field for about half an hour. For the most part, advancing on her prey was done on foot. For beetles over half a meter away, she used her wings to assist her tiny legs, but it was only for beetles over two meters away that she actually flew.
Poorwills seem to eat far more beetles than do other nightjars, and it's possible that this diet helps them survive torpidity during the winter. Beetles are very high in unsaturated fats, which remain liquid, and metabolically available, at low temperatures.
_____________________upper: Poorwill sketches done from memory by CPBvK Aug. 22, 2007
lower: Poorwill photos done from hunger at "Southfork" by CPBvK Aug. 17, 2007