8th July 2022 – Nightjar Evening

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A standalone group Nightjar Evening tonight. It was a bright evening with some hazy high cloud, and pleasantly warm although there was a fresher breeze on the coast.

We met in the evening, and as we had a little time before we had to be up on the heath, we had a quick look for owls first. As we drove up towards the coast, we stopped to admire a Little Owl on the roof of some barns. It was perched right on the ridge today, but once again we got some great views of it using the minibus as a mobile hide.

Little Owl – perched on the ridge

After a while, the Little Owl flew round the end of the barn. We weren’t sure where it had gone but we drove past and looked back. It was perched now in an old round window in the gable end. A very photogenic location!

Little Owl – in the round window

As we have said before, these barns are in the process of being developed for housing (presumably more weekend homes and holiday lets!), so the Little Owls are shortly going to be evicted. Very sad.

We drove round via some fields where Barn Owls sometimes like to hunt, but there were none in view so we parked and got out to scan the grazing marshes. Our luck was in here, as a Barn Owl was out patrolling back and forth over the grass. It was distant at first but turned and came steadily towards us. Suddenly it banked sharply and dropped down into the grass. When it came back up, we could see it had caught a vole, and it flew determinedly past us and disappeared, presumably to feed some hungry owlets somewhere.

Barn Owl – dropped sharply

While we stood and scanned, a Spoonbill flew over the back of the marshes. A few minutes later, the Barn Owl was back out again hunting. It did a quick circuit of the marshes and then we watched it disappear off towards Cley. We got back in the minibus and drove through the village to find it hunting out the other side. There had been a Night Heron in North Foreland plantation earlier, and we thought we might be able to see it quickly on our way past, but it had disappeared into the wood by the time we got there. We had other things we needed to do, so we didn’t stop.

Barn Owl – flew past us

We made our way up to the heath and walked out into the middle. The first Nightjar started churring behind us, bang on time tonight. Almost immediately, we heard one call in front of us and turned to see it flying in towards us, low over the heather. It flew straight past us, and disappeared into the trees.

There was clearly a bit of a territorial dispute, as the two Nightjars then emerged from the trees and chased round after each other, both males, flashing the white patches in their wings and tails. We had great views as they came out over the heath past us.

After a minute or so, one of the male Nightjars flew back round behind us, and a female came up from the ground below and joined it. We could see the female lacked the white patches. They flew round over the bushes together briefly, then dropped down into the gorse. The first broods have fledged already, so the females should be getting on with second broods now.

We could hear two males churring now, stereo Nightjars! We stood and listened. Over the course of the next hour or so, we watched and listened. Either males were churring or Nightjars were flying round over the heath in front of or above us.

Nightjar – flying round above us

What a way to spend a summer’s evening! As it started to get too dark to see the Nightjars, we made our way back to the minibus. Time for bed!

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