Tuesday, 5 July 2016

July 4th Buxton Heath

Buxton Heath
I was invited by my Strumpshaw colleague, who man the Reception Hide with me, to join her and her friends at Buxton Heath for an evening of nightjar watching. There was no way I would refuse such an offer. So she picked me up and arrived at the heath around 9pm. The light was already starting to fade as we began to explore a different part of the heath to where I was with my Aunt Barbara last year.  The poor light meant my camera was having a tough time focusing on things such as this yellowhammer which was singing its 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese' song from atop of a bush.

Either a Common Spotted or a Heath Spotted Orchid
 The two of us went exploring the heathland flora of this reserve while we waited for her friends to show up. If you know and love your wild plants, then Buxton Heath is a great place to be. As well as your typical heathland species like heathers and gorses, it is home to some special species like the marsh gentian and several orchid species. And while exploring, we saw plenty of orchids dotted all over the place (but sadly no gentians). I'm no expert on orchids as a lot of them look very similar to each other, but I do know that there are common spotted, heath spotted, southern marsh and marsh fragrant orchids growing here. If I had to guess, most of what we can see were either common spotted or heath spotted as their leaves were very spotty.

Southern Marsh Orchid

Bell Heather

After re-joining the main path, we waited for our companions for the evening to arrive. But just before we received a call from them, we spot a strange bird swoop close by. It had disappeared by the time I figured out what it was, a nightjar! The light was still light enough to see it, but it was definitely a nightjar. It was the size of a kestrel, dark brown with the head of a swift and was gliding so quickly that it was gone before I could even point my camera at it.

Marsh Helleborine
Our two late arriving companions eventually joined us and we went exploring again in the heath to show them the orchids. We found some marsh helleborines this time round. We were admiring these pink and white flowers, when suddenly, a herd of semi-feral horses started galloping towards us from nowhere! These horses are here to graze this habitat as part of conservation management and are not fully tame. So when surrounded by a herd of these large animals all of a sudden was a bit intimidating and I got slightly nervous. Thankfully, they did not trample over us as I first feared, but had a quick look at us and went on their way. Phew!


Sunset over Buxton Heath
It was time to head back to the path and wait for the nightjars to emerge. The light was now fading fast. The sky was clear above us and the clouds in the horizon were forming various shapes with the light of the setting sun highlighting them. From one side of us we could see Mars and we could see the bright planet of Venus in the other direction. The song of the song thrush was replaced with squeaking croaks of woodcocks as they began their roding flight displays above the woodland canopy in the dark. Then, as it was starting to get late (well after 10pm), the nightjars began chirring. They were on and off, one minute chirring, then the next they were silent for some time. My companions managed to spot one briefly, but I missed it. The sound of chirring soon surrounded us and I was able to record the sound in the video below. It is such an eerie sound that you could understand that in the past people use to believe that they were the sound of ghosts or evil spirits. It is an unforgettable and unmistakable sound that I never tire of listening to.


Today was July 4th, Independence Day. Though, as a Brit, I don't celebrate it, but somewhere in the distance, someone was. Fireworks (and a bit of distant lightning) were lighting up part of the night sky. Not to out compete the fireworks, there was a natural light show on the heath. Tiny green lights were shining brightly amongst the heather and brambles. These were the bioluminescent lights of female glow-worms. I went over to pick one out of the vegetation to show my companions. We had a good look at her with her abdomen still glowing bright green. Only females glow and they are also flightless. They use their light to attract the much smaller, winged males to mate with them. Once we had finished looking at her, I left her where she was to continue shining her light in the undergrowth. What a magical night it has been!

Glow-worm light!

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