Every year I take part in the survey at Barossa and Poors Allotment, north of Camberley in Surrey, to count nightjars under the aegis of Surrey Wildlife Trust. The land is occupied by the Ministry of Defence and the counts are carried out for Natural England.
This year, unusually, we had two visits.
The first day, on 16 June, was uncertain weather. It had rained for much of the day but cleared in the evening. I arrived early to have a quick look at the heather patch where I have occasionally seen Dartford warblers in the past, but all was quiet.
I was paired with a couple who were new to nightjar counts. We walked past the belted galloways, doing useful conservation grazing.
We reached our allotted site at Deer Rock Hill and walked round it in the gathering dusk. When it was dark we stopped where we had the best view of trees in open country, hoping to see a nightjar.
We did see woodcock, and we heard at least one nightjar in our patch, and two more which were probably in someone else’s patch. So it was not as good as usual.
Because the weather had not been ideal and the returns were low, we were invited back the following Saturday.
This time, with two difference companions, I was allocated Poors Allotment, a plot to the east of where I was the previous week.
Again we walked around the plot, working out where best to look for nightjars when they started to call at around 9.30. It had been a fine day and the conditions were better.
I was pleased to see a spotted flycatcher and a stonechat, both of which have been infrequent this year on the ranges.
The nightjars started to call at 9.44 at which point we were stationed conveniently in the middle of our area. Sometimes it was hard to tell if we were hearing a new bird or a previous one which had moved a bit. We decided that we had heard at least four in our patch, and some beyond our boundary. I was sad that we didn’t see any. However, we did again see woodcock.
The sunset was magnificent.
As ever, it was an enjoyable and rewarding activity. Our leader, Ben Habgood of Surrey Wildlife Trust, will be in touch to give us the total count and its comparison with previous years.