14th June 2023 – Nightjar Evening


An evening tour to look for owls and Nightjars. It was a lovely evening, clear and bright, although there was still a slight chill to the E wind, even if it was lighter now than earlier in the day.

We met in Holt in the evening and headed down to the coast to look for Barn Owls. A drive along the main road drew a blank, so we stopped and had a walk down across the marshes. It was rather cool out here, and perhaps that was why it all felt a bit subdued – a couple of Reed Buntings were still singing and a distant Marsh Harrier drifted over the bank in the distance. There were a few Common Swifts over the village, but not screaming about like they often do in the summer. Three Little Egrets flew past, heading off to roost. And no sign of any owls.

We decided to try a little inland, to see if they were out hunting where we had seen one the other night. As we drove through the village and out the other side, we spotted a Barn Owl hunting over the meadow by the road. We pulled up in a convenient layby, but by the time we had got out the Barn Owl had flown across the road and over the hedge the other side. We checked from the gateway next to us and there was the Barn Owl hunting over the grass.

Barn Owl – out hunting

We watched it now as it made several circuits around the grassy field, at one point flying straight towards us and seemingly only seeing us at the last minute and veering away. It disappeared over the hedge at the back but came back just a moment later and resumed its circuits. Great views.

Barn Owl – lovely close views

Eventually, having caught nothing, the Barn Owl flew back over the hedge and back over the road. We watched it now hunting the meadows in the distance. It dropped down into the grass, but came up without anything again. Then it disappeared through the trees at the back.

We drove on down to the bridge to see if we could refind the Barn Owl, but it had gone. Still, it was a lovely spot to stand and scan. A Marsh Harrier quartered over the meadows in the last of the evening sun. Then it was time to head up to one of the heaths for the evening’s main event.

The sun was just setting as we walked out onto the heath. We stopped to admire watch a pair of Stonechats perching on the top of the gorse bushes. We got ourselves in position in the middle of one of the Nightjar territories and we didn’t have to wait long before the first Nightjar started churring. They were early tonight!

The first Nightjar was rather distant, back the way we had just come, as was the second which was out in the middle of the heath. Then a third Nightjar started up from the trees a bit further on, so we walked a little further on to listen. An amazing, other-worldly noise, it is easy to hear why these birds would be the source of so many old myths and legends.

The male Nightjar whose territory we had positioned ourselves in earlier now started churring close behind us, so we turned and hurried back to our earlier spot. We were hoping it would come out to a nearby dead tree, but perhaps we were a bit too visible now and it flew out and headed out over the heath. Thankfully some of the group saw where it landed in a large oak tree and we were able to get it in the scope through a gap in the leaves. We could see it churring.

Nightjar – landed in an oak tree

The Nightjar didn’t stay long enough for everyone to get onto it, and dropped down into the gorse. Thankfully only a minute or so later it flew back up and landed on the same perch. The scope was still on it, and it stayed longer this time, so everyone could get a look. Eventually it flew off again.

We stood and watched for a while, several times Nightjars flew round in front of us, males with white flashes in their wings and tails and darker females. We could hear several churring, with others calling as they took off and wing-clapping.

Nightjar – a male

The light was starting to go, and the Nightjars on this part of the heath seemed to go a little quiet, so we began to make our way back. We stopped to listen again further on, where another Nightjar seemed to be churring particularly persistently. A Tawny Owl hooted in the distance too. Then it was time to call it a night.

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