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Nightjars nesting at RSPB HQ for first time in 45 years

Nightjar

Rare nocturnal bird spotted at The Lodge nature reserve near Tarmac’s Sandy Heath Quarry

THE RSPB has announced that a single pair of nightjars has nested on an area of restored heathland at The Lodge nature reserve – home of the charity’s UK headquarters, near Sandy, in Bedfordshire – for the first time since 1973.

The pair were first spotted by a local birdwatcher when he heard the ‘churring’ call of a male nightjar. Later, the male and female birds were seen engaging in mating displays, signaling their intent to breed.

Peter Bradley, senior site manager at The Lodge nature reserve, said: ‘We’re over the moon, not only because these amazing birds have returned to the reserve and appear to be breeding here for the first time in so many years, but also because they have chosen to nest on a part of the reserve where we expressly set about recreating the kind of heathland habitat used by nesting nightjars that has historically been lost in this and many other parts of the country.

‘It is a great success story for The Lodge and for everyone who has been involved in the heathland recreation work here over the last 15 years.’

Michael Charlton, estate manager at Tarmac, said: ‘We work closely in partnership with the RSPB and are excited about the possibility of breeding nightjars at the site. We are currently working together to create similar habitats on the restored areas of the quarry and hope that more nightjars will come to Sandy to take advantage of this new habitat in the future.’

Nightjars nest on the ground, using their cryptic camouflage to stay hidden during the day, and only come out after dark to feed on moths and other flying insects, making them notoriously elusive and difficult to see. This means that while all the signs point to their having a nest and chicks, confirmation that they have successfully reared young, and how many, will not be known until after they have finished nesting.

Between 1972 and 1992, the nightjar population decreased by almost 50% due primarily to habitat loss. Since then there have been signs that nightjar numbers have increased, although they have not returned to many of the places where they once bred. Their recovery is thought to be down to efforts to restore lost heathland habitat.

Tarmac are currently working in partnership with the RSPB to create heathland and acid grassland on the parts of Sandy Heath Quarry where quarrying has finished. This includes part-funding a warden to assist with the restoration project. The company is also working with the RSPB to encourage farmland birds, by sowing wild bird seed mixes on arable fields surrounding the quarry.

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