Yesterday evening, although showery and overcast, I decided to go to my favourite local heath-land site to try and experience some Nightjars. As dusk descended, around 21:00pm, the rain began to ease and I became more hopeful of encountering some of these spectral fliers. For 30 minutes, leading up to this point, the rain had fallen persistently upon the arid ground. I stood it out, foolishly dedicated – maybe, wet-through – certainly, but disappointed – far from.
I heard a gentle ‘churr’, distantly to my right and walked towards it – my senses were becoming attuned to this eerie world. The rain had stopped and the mixture of stuffy air and descending gloom, made a somewhat heavy atmosphere. Suddenly, in the failing light, a bat-like, raptor-shaped shadow rose to the air in front of me. It was a patrolling male Nightjar and it flew around and over me, inspecting its territory and inspecting me.
Then another ‘churring’ male started up behind me, the first one landed even closer and they began to try and ‘out-churr’ each other. At one point, the sound of their robotic songs rose so high that it literally rang in my ears.
At least once, every early-summer, I make a pilgrimage to spend some time with these magical birds. Two years ago, I wrote about Nightjar’s for the book – at exactly the same location as last night. This forme d a key component of the chapter ‘A Pipit, a Woodlark and an evening concerto’ and I’ve decided to share an extract with you here:
“Eventually, the gorse tunnel receded and open heathland lay sprawling out to the left and right – a treeline running distantly across the shadowy vista, outlining a clear boundary. The path flowed, bowing round to the left and skirting along the edge of these trees. Walking slowly but purposefully, arriving at a natural halt, feeling like a good position to wait for the spectral fliers. Standing, waiting – really should have brought a chair. Ambling and agitating – was it the wrong evening?
Then it began.
How do you even begin to describe the ethereal singing of the Nightjar to someone who has never heard it before? The first adjective that springs to mind is ‘mechanical’ and in keeping with this word, it does seem to shift up or down a gear in pitch. The ‘jar’ in Nightjar is derived from ‘churr’, which is what the song is supposed to sound like. That churring was the exact sound reeling away behind me, so I headed back towards it, closing in on a cleared area of gorse. In the semi-darkness, sitting in full view on a tree stump and looking somewhat like a broken branch, was the purveyor of the song.
Oh, to be so close to such an oddity of the avian world. To be alone – on a warm summer evening – in the company of nothing else but nature. I spent an hour in the presence of four Nightjars, treated to an otherworldly display of churring and wing-clapping. Darkness fell and the whirring orchestra continued all around me, creating a panoramic soundscape. I couldn’t see them but I could certainly hear them and feel their presence. At a natural lull in their evening concerto, I began the long walk back to my car – feeling elated, ecstatic even. I was only a few miles from my house, yet I was able to experience something so magical and powerful. A privilege of nature.”
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