TreeStuff

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Nightjars and their bovine neighbours

Up on a Dorset heath there is a small herd of fine white and a few auld Shetland cattle. These guys are not only braw looking beasts but they are also doing some special that gets them a big thumbs up from the ground-nesting birds. Heathland will get swamped with trees and dense gorse without large herbivores to keep the vegetation at bay. The cattle browse in a way that massively benefits the  heathland wildlife.

  

We were up there to assist with the monitoring of some of the birds, in particular the nightjars. Nightjars are very special birds with a very cool call. Their 'song' is very distinctive and you can hear it when the males start to sing as the evening fades into dusk for nightjars are birds of the night! By night they fly around hunting moths and other flying insects and by day they sit very tight, so incredibly well camouflaged you would walk right past it without knowing. Only here for part of the year, these birds fly all the way to Africa and well south of the Sahara - see a map here, and some of these Dorset monitored birds have made this journey at least 10 times! 


The evening was full of calling males, a few midges and the occasional wheep wheep call of the male in flight. We were extremely privileged to see one of these fantastic birds up close, a one year old female from last year.  Apart from th cryptic plumage, what struck me was the size of those eyes, and we could clearly see the big moth-funnelling bristles at her gape. After reading the ring number and checking on her condition she was quickly released and we caught a glimpse of her as she vanished back into the night.