Nightjars of the Lebombo Concession

Grumeti | August 2011

Sundowners. The guests stand with glasses of wine or gin & tonics, toasting the setting sun and watching it turn orange, then bright shades of pink and red as the clouds light up across the horizon. This is one of my favourite times of the day. Everything seems peaceful in the bush. The orb of light descends quickly in the sub-tropics and as it drops we start noticing flying in the sky. Then a large swallow-shaped bird can be seen hawking insects. Incredibly agile, it swoops and performs aerial acrobatics as it chases moths at dusk and into the black of night.

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These are the nightjars that are just starting to get active. We pack up all the drinks and start heading back to camp, the tracker sitting on the front of the vehicle, spotlight in hand, searching for nocturnal creatures as we head back for dinner. Along the way we regularly see more nightjars sitting on the road in front of us. They often remain stationary in the road until we are almost upon them, then at the last moment they fly up out of the way. Sometimes they are slightly blinded by the headlamps of the car and we have to stop to avoid driving over them.

We can then get a good look at these beautiful birds before we turn the lights off and allow their eyes to recover so that they can take off and fly away. While we are stopped we can often hear other nightjars in the area calling. The fiery-necked nightjar has a whistling call that is said to sound like it is saying “Good Lord Deliver Us” over and over again, while the square-tailed nightjar starts off with its churring call, sounding like a muted generator, and in the hills we can hear the freckled nightjars sounding off with their flute-like, whistling “Wow-wow, Wow-wow, Wow-wow” call.