Monday, 20 July 2015

A few jars

Last Wednesday night I got the opportunity to join those fine people from the BTO as they continued with their survey of Nightjars in Thetford Forest.
Nightjars have been one of my favourite groups of birds for some time. Everything from Nightjars, Nighthawks, Potoos, Frogmouths, Owlet-Nightjars to Oilbirds just fascinate me. Whether its their cryptic plumage, nocturnal habits, the strange noises they make, the superstition and old wive-tales that accompany them or all of that! From Africa, Europe, North and South America, I have seen only nine of these species. I had to trawl through my photos archive but did find some old images in there.

Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Ecaudor - look at that tail

Slightly closer view of Lyre-tailed Nightjar

Common Nighthawk, Magee Marsh, Ohio

Egyptian Nightjar, Morocco

Rufous Nightjar, Panama
In Ireland European Nightjars are now sadly a very rare breeding bird. I have been fortunate to see and hear them on breeding grounds in County Tipperary a few years ago and had a passage bird one evening near Little Island, County Cork but that's been it. Until I moved to Norfolk! Holt CP, Winterton Dunes, Dersingham Bog, Buxton Heath, Kelling Heath and Thetford Forest are well known locations for them (to name a few) and over the years with careful management and support they are doing well.
On Wednesday I joined with Dawn Balmer, Ian Henderson, Greg Conway, Justin Walker and several others as we searched for nests and after dark attempted to net birds and place, or in some cases recover, geolocators.  The nest searching through chest high bracken was exhausting (for a 40 something desk jockey like me).

Our group of five found exactly zero nests, the other group of five found three nests - all presumably second broods. As we later set nets up around the nest areas, I did see one nest - if you could call it that. Two brown speckled off-white eggs resting on a bed of dead bracken - very easy to miss indeed.

Justin and Ian set up two sets of nets and Dawn a third set. Hidden in the bracken, Dawn and I watched this third net for about an hour but the Nightjars refused to play ball. One bird bounced out of the net and another pair seemed to see it at the last minute and flew over it. It was pitch black almost so gives you an idea as to how good their night vision must be.
Around 11pm, Justin and Ian texted to say they had caught a male bird and were about to retrieve the tag from it and would I like to see it? No second invite needed - I stumbled along the forest path to where they were. They had already removed the geolocator and kindly allowed a few quick shots on my iphone.

Male European Nightjar, Thetford Forest, Norfolk
Justin showed me how to hold the bird, I was amazed at how small it felt in the hand, a very narrow body probably smaller than a Blackbird. The long wings and tail presumably give it a larger appearance in flight.

To release the bird I held my arm outstretched, my palm flat and opened my fingers. The bird sat for a minute before flitting off into the dark.

With that it was time to do a net round and then pack up. I got back to my car at midnight, home to Norwich just before 1am and was up again at 6am to walk the dog - but I didn't feel tired. I think the thrill of the whole experience was still there.
My sincere thanks to Dawn Balmer for asking me along and to Ian Henderson, Greg Conway and Justin Walker for patiently answering my many questions about Nightjars and showing me a bird in the hand - one of my most enjoyable birding experiences in many years!

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