We met for the nightjar survey 15 minutes later, and a week earlier, than last year. About 20 of us congregated at the end of King’s Ride, Camberley, Surrey, by the cattle-grid, eager to get out onto the heaths and record churring nightjars and whatever else was about.
This year the survey was run by James Herd, Surrey Wildlife Trust’s ranger for the Barossa reserve. This is dry heathland which is managed by the trust and is part of the Sandhurst military training area. This was James’s first year organising the survey, in previous years it was run by volunteer Patrick Crowley who did a super job. James efficiently supplied us with maps and aerial photographs showing the areas allocated to us. He had divided the area into seven, including two areas within the range danger-area (but MoD knew about the survey and wouldn’t be firing).
As I explained last year in my blog, I travel many miles to do the survey because the habitat is so different from the Chilterns and I have the chance of seeing and hearing heathland birds. I had arrived a bit early to enjoy the place before we got started, and had headed for the heather where I saw a Dartford warbler last year, but there was none that night.
I set off with my survey partner, Paul Briggs, at 8.30, clutching my map to show the area we should traverse. It was a fairly small area of open heathland with some wood and scrub. We walked round it in the growing dusk, and had a good siting of a tree pipit.
We had been told to expect nightjars from 9.45 onwards and, sure enough, at 9.47 we heard our first churrs. James said we should record any outside our territory too as back-up in case no one else had heard them. Soon the nightjars were churring from all directions and it was difficult to be sure exactly where they were.
We split up and walked the boundaries of our patch in opposite directions, I went up the hill into a wood then down through bracken, sweeping round until I met Paul.
Between us we heard about eight nightjars, of which three were in our patch. We reconvened at the cattle-grid at about 11pm.
Later James told us that it had been a good year, with 36 churring males as well as woodlark, woodcock, Dartford warbler and hobbies. So he concluded it was a good night. I can endorse that.