Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Night watch

An adult female Tawny Frogmouth perched beside her two chicks

Now that the last summer moon is waxing to almost a quarter, it is possible to go out at night and watch the local wildlife without the aid of torchlight. I don't use spotlamps to watch animals as they ruin our night vision, and probably wreck their eyesight too. All we can see is whatever is within the light-zone, outwith that, all is black, darker than if not using a light at all. It is much better to go out at dusk and gradually let your eyes become accustomed to the dark. Anything more than a quarter moon is enough to see under and when there is a full or nearly-full moon I even use binoculars as there is enough light.

The adult delivers a grasshopper to one of the chicks

So, over the past few evenings I have been out watching a family of Tawny Frogmouths with two recently fledged chicks. These youngsters will still be dependent on their parents for about a month after leaving the nest. Frogmouth families typically all roost together during the day, then at dusk the fledglings flit to an open branch, and the adults soon begin bringing food to them. The birds leave their roost about half an hour before full darkness and it is in that first half-hour they are most active. These two adults delivered about ten items per hour for the first hour, mostly within the first half-hour. In the following hour there were no feeds and the two chicks went quiet, snuggled up together and seemed to go to sleep. Not too surprising as the prey items were mostly large grasshoppers which would have probably been more than enough to satisfy the chicks' appetites.

I last saw the adults fly off, presumably to find food for themselves before they would come back and gave the chicks more food. I have used camera traps before to monitor their food delivery times throughout the night and the pattern seems to be; they will bring occasional items during the rest of the night then a few in quick succession as dawn approaches. As with most nocturnal animals, they are more active around dusk and dawn, so those are the best times to watch for them.

At night, Tawny Frogmouths seem to become different birds from the shy ones we see by day. They are so confident under darkness and they do not seem to fear humans. Not only do they allow close approach, but I have had birds fly down to catch insects at my feet (probably stirred up by me) then carry them off to their chicks sitting on a branch a few metres away. Those are the special wildlife moments which we keep in our minds forever.

The two fledglings snuggled up together, head to tail.

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