Sunday, 26 July 2015

July 25th Buxton Heath

Bell Heather at Buxton Heath
Some of the strangest wildlife emerge at night and I have promised my Aunt Barbara to see probably the strangest of all Britain's nocturnal creatures. The weather has not been kind though since Friday, as it has been raining non-stop and I was worried that the nightjars will not show tonight. Fortunately, by midday, the rain was replaced by sunshine and it looked more promising. So I made the decision to call tonight Nightjar Night.

Darkness sets in while waiting at this gate for nightjars to show up 
Nightjars are unusual birds. They hide asleep on the ground or on a branch by day, using their amazingly cryptic camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. It is quite difficult to locate one in daylight hours as you can easily walk into one and they will not budge. The best way to see one is to go to the edge of a woodland clearing and wait for dusk to set in. That is what we are doing at Buxton Heath, a location not too far away from Norwich. The only downfall to this plan are the midges bitting at my face and ears. We had to endure them while darkness closed in around us as we waited by a gate at the edge of a section of woodland.

These Greylags flew over the heath as we waited
By 9:30pm, we started to hear strange sounds coming from the wood we were standing next to. Barbara thought it was the sound of a loud cricket or a frog croaking a chorus. But I have heard these birds before and I knew what they sounded like. It is this sound I wanted Barbara to experience. It is nothing but bizarre, a call that was unlike any other bird. You could say it sounded more frog than bird. The pitch of the sound changes as we were listening to it. One minute it was loud and the next it was slightly quieter. The call went on for as long as a minute and occasionally it ended in a strange 'pew pew pew' sound. This was the sound a male nightjar makes when he claps his wings as part of his display for territory and for females. I tried to record these sounds but annoyingly the camera didn't pick them up. If you want to hear them, you will have to Google nightjar sounds.

Then in the drindling light, we got brief glimpses of them. They swoop over the clearing, vanishing from vision as the silhouettes of the border of trees gave them cover from what was left of the daylight that could help us see them again. They were the size of a kestrel, but they feed on night-flying insects. It was quite a sight to see them glide over the path in front of us, which was sandwiched between two sections of woodland, even if the sighting was only for a few seconds.

While the nightjars churred their calls well into the night, they were joined by a chorus of other sounds. Excluding the blaring noise of a local rock festival nearby, we also heard croaky squeaks of woodcocks as they flew above the trees somewhere in a display known as roading and the hooting of a tawny owl completed the dusk chorus. As we arrived tonight, I also pointed out the song of a woodlark. It was soon getting too dark to see and it began to spit with rain again. We called it a night. It was a successful night despite the midges eating at my face.

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