Throughout the clear-felled forests of Wales, nightjars are regularly dispersed; monitoring of the breeding population has demonstrated that their numbers appear to be steadily increasing, probably due to the changing climate. Whilst this summer has been, in large part, a cold and wet exception, the warming world provides better feeding conditions as the nightjars hunt the multitude of moths that appear on still evenings or sheltered backwaters at dusk and dawn. The ‘jars spend most of the day at rest, camouflaged by their beautiful, mottled plumage on a patch of bare peat or tree stump, deep in the plantation. The birds emerge to feed for a few short hours at ether end of the night when they hawk the moths on silent, long wings on which they twist and turn and snap up their prey in their wide gapes. A packed ball of moths is collected and disgorged to their young. Breeding pairs are located as the day dies by their far-carrying ‘churring’ call and a louder but brief ‘gwick’ or, if you are lucky, by a recently fledged bird sitting flat and still on a gravel track.
In an area of young forest near Llyn Brenig, we approach one such bird on the forest track and it does not fly, so we go closer and then closer still, until my friend and expert ‘jar biologist, Tony Cross, hops out with a landing net and catches him with a deft swoop. There is no metal ring on its leg; this is from a second nest in this patch of clear-fell, as Tony has previously ringed two young at a nest a the top of the slope. That night we catch two more young birds in mist nets, a ringed bird at dusk and after a few hours sleep another unringed bird before dawn. It is a good night’s work and accompanied throughout by the steady thump of music emanating from a gathering at the Sportsman on the far side of the lake. Clearly, the party-goers are far more energetic than both the nightjars and the nightjar catchers. As dawn breaks, we wrap up the nets, take a quick look at the pair of ospreys that sit motionless on the their nest tree on the far side of the lake and drive on past the now sleeping, silent pub.