30th June. Having heard but not seen the Nightjars at Slaley Forest this year I was pleased to have the opportunity of a quick return. I was accompanied by three friends who I had rather recklessly informed that I knew where to find Nightjars, so I was hoping for ideal conditions to aid the search. It was a warm and still evening with lots of insects about, so ideal conditions are what we got so I had no excuse if I didn’t deliver!
We initially walked onto the moor. There seemed to be very little about apart from Meadow Pipits. I did pick up the occasional call of Red Grouse which I was eager to point out to my companions so that they wouldn’t mark me down as a complete failure! Then we came across a pair of calling Golden Plovers with chicks. We kept our distance as the birds were clearly on their guard. Behind them we spotted a Brown Hare. That was about the total excitement we had during that part of the evening although my friends seemed to be happy enough. We retraced our steps to the car during which time there was a short shower which soon blew stopped to allow us to drink our wine, well watered for the driver, and eat our slices of cake. A lone Curlew flew over head.
Refreshed, we were soon back out again, this time intent on at least hearing Nightjars. By now I had played down a little my ability to deliver! I noticed on the walk lots of white flowered Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre and patches of what I believe where Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis. I also found some very tall Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii which showed to perfection how these orchids tend to grow tall under the partial shade of trees. The Mistle Thrushes were still feeding youngsters and bird song included Chiffchaff, Blackbird and Song Thrush. We began to hear and see Roding Woodcock. At least they have seen Woodcock, I thought to myself! We eventually stopped to let the night come in and also hopefully the Nightjars. As darkness came so did the churring of the Nightjars, although at first this seemed very distant. The churring increased and gradually became so loud as to suggest that the birds were very close indeed. I passed the usual comments about waving white handkerchiefs, rattling coins and hand clapping as I also picked up the sound of calling Tawny Owls in the distance. With the sound of Nightjars churring nearby we eventually decided that we would have to move on, at which point, timed to perfection, two Nightjars flew in from behind us as if to suss us out. This gave everyone a great sighting as they flew in front of us for a short time before eventually disappearing into the night. Was I relieved? Yes I was! We walked back to the car with the sound of churring still with us for part of the walk, and calls of Red Grouse coming from the moor. Everyone went home thinking that the evening had been a great success, I think.
I must say I have never heard the churring of Nightjars so loud and clear at Slaley as I did last night. In fact I don’t think I have heard churring so intense and prolonged anywhere on my travels abroad either. I understand wet summers have had a detrimental effect upon the Nightjar population in recent years. Does anyone know how well they are fairing at Slaley at present? I do know up to three years ago they were doing well, but I’m not sure about since then. By the sounds of last night they seem to be doing ok!