All of our migrant breeding birds have now returned to Nagshead. Spotted Flycatchers arrived in early May and finally the first Nightjar was heard 'churring' on May 14th. We currently have three male Nightjars on the reserve, hearing their eerie churring song as darkness falls is a real highlight of the year at Nagshead! The males tend to arrive from Africa a little earlier than the females to set up territories on heathland and clear-felled areas, they begin churring from prominent perches at dusk to proclaim their territory to other males and attract a female for breeding. As well as churring, the males perform wing clapping displays in flight, clapping their wings loudly above their backs and flashing the white patches on their wings and tail. Nightjars are mostly crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk. They have large eyes to help pick out prey items such as moths and beetles which are caught on the wing, but eyes have their limits and can only be used before total darkness falls or if there is a full moon which may allow night time hunting. Nightjars have incredibly cryptic plumage and spend the day roosting on logs and other debris on the clearing floor.
We are running three guided Nightjar walks this summer, 16th June, 27th June and 7th July. If you would like to hear and have the chance to encounter these wonderful birds please do get in touch to book your place. There is also a good chance of encountering other exciting wildlife on the walk, such as roding Woodcock, Tawny Owls, Wild Boar, Fallow Deer, and if you are really lucky, Glow Worms. Details of all of our events this summer can be found here. The following video was filmed at Nagshead last week; listen out for the wing clapping display as the Nightjar flies......
Churring Nightjar at RSPB Nagshead, May 2012 (Film: Lewis Thomson)
The cold wet weather hasn't made the best of starts to the season, but I think all the species have now been ticked off on the reserve lists, with one nightjar so far recorded at Russell's Inclosure. An unexpected bonus for Lewis when out looking for these over the weekend was a barn owl hunting over the area - too say he was pleased is an understatement!
Pied flycatchers seem to have settled down to breed, and there are good views of them to be had from the paths around Nagshead. Redstarts seem to be thin on the ground this year, but wood warbler have returned in better numbers than last year, and I was even listening to one singing near the car park this afternoon. There are plenty of records coming in of tree pipits, and garden warblers and spotted flycatcher have also returned around the site. All of this means that on those fine days there is plenty to be heard, even if catching a glimpse may be hard now the trees are almost fully in leaf now.
If the birds prove too hard to spot there are always the bluebells to be admired, although the carpets at Highnam are slightly more impressive than Naghead. When the temperature rises a little we should get a few more butterflies around too, at the moment it is just too cold unfortunately, but a few can be seen making the most of sunny spells around both reserves. Highnam is adorned with plenty of flowers ready for the butterflies when they emerge, including wood forget-me-not, ground ivy, garlic mustard and bugle, the general colour has blended from the white / yellow of early spring to a mass of blues now - quite spectacular.
Nightingales at Highnam have, as always, proved to be a draw to visitors. We have confirmed 6 males singing this year, mostly close to the path, and one in particular seems to not be shy and is frequently seen near the first bench along the nature trail if you follow it in a clockwise direction. A single willow warbler is also singing in that area, it is lovely to hear it singing in amongst the sound of the chiffchaffs and the blackcaps.
Woodpeckers seem to be doing very well this year, and yesterday Lewis and I hear at least 3 broods chattering from holes, probably great spotted, but we know of a few other holes which we hope might be in use by green woodpecker which are still active through the woods.
The paths in both sites still have some wet and muddy patches, but in the main are now firm again as they dry out.