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martes, 17 de diciembre de 2013

Our flagship species the enigmatic White-winged Nightjar

The area around Reserva Natural Laguna Blanca is home to some very special animals. One of these is the critically endangered White-winged Nightjar. This nocturnal bird is restricted to the Cerrado belt of the Neotropical region and it only occurs at three breeding sites in the world. One of these populations can be found in Brazil and the other two are within Paraguay. There have been two additional sightings at a location in Bolivia in 1987 and 2003, however, a breeding population is yet to be found. The habitat that the Nightjar prefers is a type of Cerrado (Savannah) called wet campo. It is dominated by grasses and small shrubs with scattered trees and anthills. The Nightjars have a preference for sites near wetlands as they use them for hunting insects. Males set up territories around the anthills and can be found perched on them or on a nearby small shrub. In the bright evenings of the breeding season they take to the skies and display to attract females. They show off the white on the wings that gives them their common name. Females and juvenile’s wings and tails lack this white coloration. Unfortunately, the transformation of the White-winged Nightjar’s natural habitat has it battling for survival. Some of the threats they face are; habitat conversion to plantations, uncontrolled fires, over grazing, habitat disturbance by cattle and invasive grasses. The Cerrado is the second largest biome in South America and it is rapidly disappearing. More than two thirds has been altered in the last 50 years, and the situation has been described as ‘one of the greatest ecological disasters in South America’. In Paraguay, this biome is restricted to small patches of the north east corner of the country. Most of the Cerrado habitat is found on private farmland, and there are only several Cerrado sites that are protected. Our population is found on a property just north of the reserve. There are approximately 30 individuals on site. Unfortunately the land is being converted into Eucalyptus plantations, and it is a race against time to prevent the population from being wiped out. On a brighter note, the recent discovery by the PLT team of a second population on a nearby property gives us hope for the future. In the last two weeks we have made two trips to go and see the Nightjars. On both occasions we were fortunate to see a number of both sexes. They are very approachable with a spotlight and this is another reason why they are vulnerable to extinction. They share their home with other threatened species and we were fortunate enough to see some of them on these trips. Three species of threatened birds, the Lesser Nothura, Black-masked Finch and Cock-tailed Tyrant also rely on this habitat for their survival, and face the same fate as the White-winged Nightjar if the habitat destruction continues. We were very fortunate to come across a Maned Wolf on the first trip, which was a first for everyone who was present. These elusive and rare mammals are threatened throughout their range, so it was a privilege to chance upon one. The one thing all these animals have in common is that they are habitat specialists and do not cope well with unnatural changes to their environment. We recently got some very good news that one of our team members Joseph Sarvary has received funding from the Rufford Foundation to conduct a study on the Nightjars in the area. He will be looking to answer four questions. The exact population size, home range and foraging behaviour, mating and fledgling behaviour and a complete census of the bird species in the area. This work is vital for our understanding of the bird and its habitat. The data will build a case for the future protection of the area. If you would like to take part in helping Joe with his project to save this endangered species, you can contact us on www.paralatierra.org. Until next time. JP