Nightjar The Night Star- Article by Gareth Jones
NIGHTJAR THE NIGHT STAR OF NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK
For those who enter the park very early when the gates open at 06h00, it is an opportunity to have a glimpse of some of the night creatures, when it is still quite dark, just before sunrise.
One of the creatures is the Nightjar, and they can be seen sitting on the road, and if your headlights are on the reddish reflection of their eyes, it causes them to be easily seen before they flutter away at the noise of the vehicle. Sometimes if you slow down and drive very slowly and quietly, it is possible to get close enough to switch off your engine and then take a photo before the nightjar flies away.
For those of us who have stayed in the African Bushveld at times, ideally camping, or in a quiet lodging, the sounds of the night are always interesting and at times peacefully soothing. The various species of nightjars all have wonderful call sounds, for example, the Fiery Necked Nightjar makes a noise sounding like the therapeutic whistled version of “good-Lord-deliver-us”, as people relax and enjoy the evening. The species of nightjar that I have observed most in the Nairobi National Park is the montane nightjar, that is also found over a wide area in Kenya.
But what really makes the Nightjars amazing is what most of us never see. They are excellent at catching insects in flight. They have large eyes for increased night vision and a large wide mouth with modified feathers around it that act a kind of “scoop net” to increase their success when catching insects. Then as they fly the “scoop net” pushes insects into the nightjar’s mouth, as they fly with radar-like accuracy. Even though their feather colours are seemingly dram and boring their patterns are created for maximum camouflage, especially when resting during daylight hours. They are one of our best-feathered friends as they reduce and control populations of insects,
I always find it a joy to see birds when driving in the park. God has created such amazing diversity. So remember when we go on into the Nairobi National Park with the attitude of “bird watching”, all too often, the larger species like Rhino, Buffalo and even Lions, just “get in the way!” The call of nightjar is a special sound that is unique to the African wild experience. Yes! They truly are night stars!