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On the Trail of the Nightjar in Ashdown Forest

The month of June sees more than 50 volunteers venturing onto Ashdown Forest at twilight on the trail of one of the most elusive and enigmatic birds in the UK.

Spot the birdie

 

The nightjar is a nocturnal or crepuscular species that feeds on insects and nests on Ashdown’s lowland heath. During the day its plumage gives very effective camouflage so any attempts to count the birds must be done at night when they are active.

The nightjar is particularly important to the Forest as its numbers are an indicator of the health of the protected lowland heath which in turn ensures Ashdown Forest’s global protected status.

Countryside manager Ash Walmsley said:

“We will be listening as well as looking for the nightjar. The males have a very distinctive churring call.  Our Forest’s lowland heath is a habitat that is even rarer than the rainforest so having a thriving nightjar population here is vital. The annual survey carried out by a team of volunteer and our Rangers, also helps the bigger picture. The nightjar is protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and on the UK conservation Amber watch list.”

For the last few years, the survey has indicated that wherever there is suitable habitat on the Forest the Nightjar is found. The Forest rangers have been working to restore and enhance the birds’ territories to boost the population.

Nightjars arrive at Ashdown Forest from Africa in May and nest on the ground often close to paths. When the chicks hatch, their eyes are already open and they can walk, but they are not able to fly for about 18 days which makes them vulnerable to predators and disturbance from dogs and human visitors. The parents hunt at dawn and dusk and feed their offspring for around 12 days. Then when they are ready, they will embark on the long journey back to Africa.

 

Ash added:

“These are amazing birds and we are so lucky to have them on the Forest. Visitors can help us to protect the nightjars by keeping themselves and their dogs to the designated paths when exploring the Forest and by picking up dog poo. Dog poo acts as a fertiliser and can damage the heathland plants which depend on low nutrients to thrive. Our visitors play a key role in the protection and preservation of the nightjar.”

Anyone interested in taking part in next year’s Nightjar Survey should contact Ashdown Forest through the website www.ashdownforest.org

It might be the only way you get to see one, judging by their amazing camouflage.