Tim Melling – Nightjar

Tim writes: I came across a Nightjar, hiding in plain sight on a tree stump, and what an amazing camouflage he has.  First of all his body is wedge-shaped with a dead flat back, but also his belly is flush to the ground, looking for all the world like a chunk of wood.  He had tucked his wings underneath his tail to enhance the crypsis, and that intricate feather pattern just melts into the background.  He also kept his eyelids apart slightly so he could peep out through the slit. 

I photographed a Great Potoo in Brazil a few years back, which is the largest Nightjar in the world.  The potoo had three peepholes in his closed eyelid; Front, middle and back, but this Nightjar had to open his eyes a little in order to see.  I didn’t go too close as I didn’t want to spook him but I have looked subsequently and cannot re-find him.  Nightjars change their roost sites if they are disturbed and I fear my not-so-close encounter may have been enough to deter him from using this site again.  I usually prefer isolation of my subject with no background or foreground clutter, but I think I prefer this as it adds to the camouflage.  An isolated Nightjar on a tree stump with a plain background wouldn’t have been as good.  And one final thought: Why has nobody produced a Nightjar design door wedge?  I’d buy one.

Here’s another flight shot taken without flash but using a very high ISO.  The camera seems to capture plumage detail that it is too dark to see with your own eyes.

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3 Replies to “Tim Melling – Nightjar”

  1. A marvellous bird and great pictures of it. I agree that the background in the first one enhances the sense of camouflage (why have we taken that word from French, BTW?).

    What part of the country was this in?

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  2. Ahoy.
    My 17 year old son had his first night out sleeping in a woods waiting for nightjars the other day.
    Alas, he didn’t get to see any but it hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm!
    Thanks for a nice wee article!

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    1. Owen - thank you for your first comment here. Your sone has plenty more opportunities to listen for Nighjars as they will be singing for a few more weeks. I reckon dusk is the best time to listen but sleeping in the woods, or staying awake in them, is an experience anyway. I recommend this book about being out at night Under the Stars by Matt Gaw reviewed here https://markavery.info/2020/03/22/sunday-book-review-under-the-stars-by-matt-gaw/ the best of luck to your son in his quest.

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