Last night, I was lucky enough to join Jim, the ranger on Cannock Chase, Ben Dolan and James up on the Chase as they set up their mist nets to try to catch and ring some nightjars. They have managed to ring quite a few up there over the last few years, but they are difficult to catch in the nets.
We met at about 8.30pm and, despite a day of storms, the evening was warm, humid and FULL of insects… perfect for a night of nightjar feasting! I had made sure I was liberally coated in midge protection lotion as they were in force!
We made our way down to a spot, where Ben and Jim set up the nets. It is important to get the nets down low, so there is no sky behind or the birds can see them. This was quite a challenge in the location we were at. The cloud was still around and this was also good, as a clear sky and a moon would light the area, making the net obvious.
With everything in place, we retreated back to a clearing in the trees to sit and wait.
It was not long before we could hear the amazing, characteristic churring noise and the nightjars were out and about hunting!
For those who are not familiar with nightjars, these are migratory birds arriving here in April and May from their wintering grounds in Africa. Nightjars nest on the ground on heathland and in young conifer woods. They are crepuscular (dawn & dusk), rather than nocturnal, feeding on moths, flies and beetles. Amazingly well camouflaged, the are about the same weight as a starling, with long, curved wings and an amazing gape. They can open their beaks really wide and specially designed bristles hang down to help form a kind of cage, making it easier to capture insects whilst they fly.
It is best to look for nightjars at dusk during May, June and July when the males can be seen displaying to females, flying around them, wing-clapping and calling. The call of the male nightjar is a distinctive ‘churring’ sound and often the best indicator they are about. This sound is very distinctive and I was able to record it onto my iPad. In the second one, you can hear a ‘flap’ which is the wing flapping that the males do.
You will need to turn your volume up!
Although we did not catch a nightjar in the mist net, we did catch this amazing long-eared bat! What a bonus!
A big thank you to the guys for letting me come a long.. a fascinating evening and a lovely experience to sit in the woods, at night, with the sound of nightjars and tawnies… I would recommend it!