Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Nightjar project, from the summer of 2015

As a third year student at The University of Nottingham, I have been studying the impact of human disturbance on the breeding of the European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus). In the summer of 2015 we surveyed the recreational trail usage in the forest, the wildlife abundance, and breeding success of the nightjar. The surveying of the trails was carried out by myself and a masters student Jack Rayner under the supervision of Dr. Kate Durrant, while the monitoring of nightjar breeding was led by the Birklands Ringing Group.
A little friend we met on one of our surveys
We spent June and August surveying the forest and monitoring the nightjar from around 7am until anywhere between 7pm and 11:30pm five days a week. We cycled around, with our food for the day packed in our bags, and a rake threaded between our rucksack straps. The looks we got from local cyclers was quite amusing, wondering if we were hopelessly trying to garden the forest of Sherwood Pines. We spent half an hour at each survey point, counting all the traffic passing, and the wildlife spotted. The rake was used on the earth paths to track any traffic crossing paths over a 24 hour period, rather like Sherwood Pines CSI. The rest of the time we spent cautiously searching for nightjar nests, and ringing the chicks born in that season. If the weather was suitable, we would set up nets to catch the birds at around 7:30pm. It was fantastic on those evenings to hear the nightjar males making the churring territorial call, and watch the nightjar gliding past us before being caught in the net. The caught nightjar could then be identified, and carefully released back to continue their evening hunt. I thoroughly enjoyed carrying out the field work, and was inspired to find out what is affecting the distribution of these birds.
One of the many bees that were pollinating the heather in
the forest
In previous years from 2001 to 2014, the nightjar of Sherwood pines have been shown to prefer a breeding habitat incurring less frequent human disturbance, however in 2015 we found the nightjar have shown no preference between more or less disturbed areas of the forest. Furthermore, in 2015 there has been a higher portion of nests that fledge chicks, as well as an altogether greater number of nests going on to fledge chicks in areas incurring higher levels of disturbance. Through wildlife surveying we established that predators threatening nightjar breeding such as Corvids and Birds of Prey live in greater densities in the area of the forest incurring a lower level of disturbance. Corvids predate on the nightjar nests, while the Birds of Prey are thought to predate on the adult nightjar. This difference in risk of predation could provide explanation for a lower success in nightjar nests.
A moth we came across quite frequently, not sure which species though? (Please comment if you know!)

A mother nightjar, who is rather  insulted at being disturbed from her afternoon nap

The same mother nighjtar, whatching us with a glaring eye
Historically, nightjar have been shown to be less successful in breeding where human disturbance is greater. In recent years however, we may have found that the nightjar in this forest may have become more habituated to human disturbance, impacting the consideration of the suitability of nightjar habitat in the future.
A buzzard in the early morning, keeping a careful eye on us at work. 

After seeing that Jack and I were carrying out the surveying well, the buzzard left us for more important duties for the day

To Find out more, please take a visit on the Sherwood Pines website!


  1. Really interesting Georgina - I love Nightjars, but I only see them when going down south - some brilliant photos - I'm a bit jealous that you get to see them regularly. It's a butterfly by the way - Large Skipper

    1. Thank you, I feel a very lucky person indeed to have had the opportunity to work with these beautiful birds - had to be shared.
      Thank you for the help identifying the Large Skipper as well, I thought it was a moth from the way it carried it's wings on landing so was looking in completely the wrong keys!

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