On 30 June I took part in the annual survey of nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus) for Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) at the Barossa nature reserve near Camberley on the Surrey/Bracknell Forest boundary. It was a bit later in the year than usual, and we also started a bit later, at 8.30pm instead of the traditional 8pm.
It had been a wet day, but the evening was bright, though cool and slightly breezy. I got there early for an explore along the top of the Saddleback Ridge, with good views over the reserve.
We met at the usual spot at the end of King’s Ride, and Adam Bolton from SWT explained where we were going and how to record what we heard. We split into groups, and I went with Patrick, Paul, and Jane (with whom I had walked in previous years) to Deer Rock Hill.
As we walked there we noticed how overgrown the site is becoming, with young conifers engulfing other vegetation. The heather struggles to survive, which means that the habitat is less good for Dartford warblers and woodlark.
Jane does voluntary work here for SWT and had noticed the changes. However, there is a clear strip under the pylons and this provides a good habitat for woodlark.
We reached our survey area, where there is now a thick wall of vegetation alongside the tracks, and patches of heather showing through.
We walked to the centre of our area, and Jane and I stayed there while Patrick and Paul returned to the track along which we had come. By splitting up we increased our chances of hearing and seeing nightjars.
At 9.30 we heard the first churring and marked the spot and the time on the map. Shortly after we saw two nightjars flying low over the vegetation, darting and dodging. We could see white spots on the wings of one bird, indicating that it was a male, but we were unsure about the other. Then we heard them calling quite agitatedly further off. Patrick and Paul heard them too and suggested that it was two males on the boundaries of their ranges having an argument.
We wandered around our patch for 45 minutes and in that time reckoned that we heard four males churring; we also heard wing claps. We saw birds in flight a number of times, silently flickering past. We couldn’t be sure it was the same ones each time, and we didn’t count them for the survey.
At 10.15 Paul and Patrick joined us and we walked back together, still seeing nightjars in flight, and we saw and heard woodcock too. Alongside the track to King’s Ride we saw five glow-worms.
It was another wonderful evening, and so rewarding. We await the total count, but if our patch was typical it will be a good result.
Two days later, in the Guardian‘s Country Diary, Lev Parikian gave a graphic description of nightjars on Thursley Common national nature reserve in Surrey. You can read it here.