European Nightjar

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With the end of the Nightjar season fast approaching, this was probably my favourite shot of the year, though I still have a number of images and hours of footage to work through. They’re fascinating birds, each an individual in their own way, and constantly raise questions the more they’re studied. This is the same female bird that featured in the footage from the nest-cam that I recently posted. The following picture was taken from a different site, also in the Forest of Dean, and shows a male perched whilst singing.
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European Nightjar nest-cam


Many evenings this summer have been dedicated to studying the Nightjar here in the Forest of Dean. As the sun goes down and the light fades, the Nightjar activity begins. We managed to find a nest this year, and took the opportunity to install a motion sensitive trail camera on it. This video summarises a huge amount of video clips (over 9 hours in all), starting from a day before hatching, and finishing with a hurried desertion of the nest site due to the risk of being trampled by Fallow Deer. Earlier in the sequence, a similar fate almost occurs, but the chicks are immobile, leaving the male bird to harass the deer away. Lots of other interesting behaviour and vocalisations were recorded. The bird pictured in the previous photo is the female parent that features in this video. More photos to follow soon…

European Nightjar

Nightjar
This Nightjar was photographed during a licensed nest visit. The European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus can be a tricky species to study. Often, the male Nightjar’s unique churring call is the only sign that these migrants have arrived in the UK for the summer, unless you are lucky enough to see one silhouetted against the moonlight. This is a species associated with myths and legends. In many European languages, the Nightjar is known as the ‘goatsucker,’ with the genus name Caprimulgus deriving from the Latin for ‘milker of goats’. It was believed that Nightjars fed from goats due to often being found in close proximity to livestock. In reality, this insectivorous species would have been searching for prey associated with domestic animals. Others believed the calls of the Nightjar were the sound of witches hiding in the bushes.
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Red Fox

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The Red Fox mates from January through March. The female will make one or more dens right after mating. The extra dens are used if the original den is disturbed. A little less than two months after mating, the female gives birth to a litter of between one and ten kits. The male brings the female food while she is caring for the kits. The kits start playing outside the den when they are about a month old. The mother begins feeding her kits regurgitated food, but eventually she will bring them live prey to “play” with and eat. Playing with live prey helps the young kits develop the skills they will need for hunting. The kits leave their mother when they are about seven months old.

Hawfinch

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The Hawfinch is a shy species, and therefore difficult to observe and study. It spends most of the day on top of high branches, above all during breeding season. During the course of the hawfinch’s life it can only be seen on the ground while looking for seeds or drinking water, always near trees. While drinking and eating it is fairly aggressive and dominant, towards both its same species or different ones, even bigger birds.

Mating Glow-worms

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I’ve been spending a lot of nights recently on a Nightjar study (photos to follow), which, due to the crepuscular nature of the Nightjar, often gives opportunities for other interesting wildlife sightings, such as these mating Glow-worms. The light from glow worms is cold, and is a form of bioluminescence. It is far more efficient than most light sources we are familiar with. It is caused when a molecule called luciferin is oxydised to produce oxyluciferin, with the enzyme luciferase acting as a catalyst in the reaction. Adult Lampyris noctiluca do not have the same control over the oxygen supply of many fireflies, which can switch their lights on and off in an instant, and take minutes to switch on or off. Larvae, however, have smaller light-emitting organs and can twinkle briefly. Male glow worms have the same ability, but it is rare to see them glow.