Last night I went on the annual nightjar count at Barossa and Poors Allotment, north of Camberley in Surrey. The survey is organised by the Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) on behalf of Natural England.
We gathered at the start at 8pm and Ben Habgood from SWT explained what we were to do and how to record the nightjars on the map so as to give maximum clarity.
Then he split us into groups. I walked with Rob and Jane, whom I accompanied on the first visit last year, and Florence for whom it was a first visit. Our patch was close to where we had started, and we were given a suggested circular route, which we completed three times between 8.30 and 11.00.
We started in broad daylight. It was a perfect evening, sunny with only a slight wind. We followed a path alongside heathland, then through a wood, under the row of pylons which crosses the site and onto a hill. Below us the belted galloways were doing their useful conservation grazing. Then we continued through a wood and along a track on the edge of the heath, back to the start.
On the first round we heard many song thrushes. We did not see any heathland birds; however, I had seen a young stonechat on my brief walk before we gathered.
As we started on the second round I saw a woodcock roding, at about 9.22 pm.
When we reached the hill for a second time we paused there. We heard our first nightjar churring, at about 9.40 and another at 9.45. Were they the same bird? We thought not. Between the two churrings, at 9.44, we had the first highlight of the evening, a male nightjar circled overhead, calling; even in the dim light we could see his wingspots.
We left the hill and heard, then saw (at 9.50), another nightjar churring; this may have been the one we saw on the hill. That was our second highlight.
We walked back along the track and enjoyed our third highlight: a nightjar perched on a branch illuminated by the night sky (10pm). He churred for some minutes and then flew off. Rob captured this on video which you can watch here.
We did another round and collected one or two more churrings, ending at the car park at 11pm.
We reported our results to Ben who will do some coordination and number crunching to produce the complete picture, sorting out overlapping reports from people in neighbouring sites.
We look forward to hearing if this year was better than last. It certainly felt good to us.