2021 / 34
20:30 – 22:00
Calm, quiet and clear after a windy day. Mild day, but chlly now 8°C
Man Meets Angel
I have a feeling about this evening…
Left a friend’s house in Eastleigh a little earlier than I might have in order to come here on what has turned out to be a surprisingly peaceful evening after a blustery day with rain showers.
It is already lovely, even just walking down from the gate along past the chestnuts on the West side. Tall trees, as rich in yellowgreen leaf as any other, each of which seem to host either a singing Blackbird, Song Thrush or Robin. I can hear Goldcrests and Great Tits too, and almost immediatley there is a Woodcock over head, flying southwards.
Turning the corner, along south drive, another Woodcock goes over in the same direction closely followed a by a third. This could of course be the first bird again…? He’s really quite high, and seems to be heading off the site altogether, towards to motorway. Now there’s another, but this one is really shimmying and flitting in his bat-like roding display. He almost stops in the air, gives a lithe jerky twist and flies a tight circle overhead. Has he seen me and is doing a quick check?
I can see his head turning from side to side as he moves round, and the last of the sunlight on his feathers looks amazing. Rust, copper, bronze and a deep red. Intricate black and white barring under the rounded wings. He moves off, again southwards. All the birds so far have been travelling in the same direction, but they can’t all be different birds? One or two I guess have turned in loops and come back over me.
As I reach the top of the Crossing, where the trees part and the sky opens out, it is the most beautiful pastel blue, fading to pink as the evening arrives. It is ten minutes past sunset. The songbirds, already now becoming individual voices rather than a chorus, have about a quarter of an hour of their time left. The trees are fabulous in this early green, and it is remarkable how quiet and still everything is after such a windy day. I have come this way in tonight in order that the trees on the Chilworth side protect not only me but maybe the more open areas from the wind, but that has already given up for the day.
Why is it often less windy when its dark…?
WIthout the wind, there is also and suddenly less traffic noise as I reach the clearfell. For a few minutes, walking slowly, I can hear nothing at all. Like the gaps in conversation-flow in pubs and you suddenly realise you are the only one speaking and your voice is rather loud. My presence feels like this, and I have altered the course of my ambling walk to make sure I move on the left side of the track, tucked close in by the Pines. I want only to watch and appreciate this evening, I have no desire to intrude.
No stars yet, and it is still reasonably light. The yews are dark of course and hard to differentiate, but where the last fading embers of day fall on the west facing trees along the stream there is still a tapestry of greens, yellows and browns.
I started hopeful, and in the silence, the faint sound of that familiar churring starts from somewhere near the High Seat, right out in the middle. I have not heard yet of Nightjars being around in any numbers at all and I am thrilled to connect like this. My instinct proved me right. Better, because there is a bird flying right past, over my shoulder from the trees and out into a tall birch on the the edge of the Wood! I have no bins, but I can see its typical outline low along the branch. There are TWO Nightjars, already. My intention is to walk round the clearfell and out along the butterfly transect, but perhaps I don’t need to.
One or two Blackbirds still singing, the occasional burst of a Robin, and a Woodcock heading left to right up Firecrest Alley. Is that the one that flies up the Crossing…? How will I know. So many flying around this evening, I am already up to about 15 flights and fairly confident there are at least 4 birds involved. Perhaps as many as six.
Three this end, three the other end. two go past at low level in that dog-fight way. Different sounds, differently way of moving. I will never know – is this combat or display?
It is 21:17 when a Hobby comes over! That parakeet-like screeching, perhaps even more like the shrieking of an angry primate. I can’t see him, but I know that he will have shot straight into the trees under cover of relatively darkness. They have returned, a great relief after last year when the “Big G” arrived. That will be it for tonight, but how incredible to be in the right place at the right time. Maybe that was the bird actually arriving at the site from Africa? Now there’s a thought.
Wow, I am blessed. Calling Nightjar – quip-quip-quip; squeaking Woodcock; a screaming Hobby AND a male Tawny Owl hooting, behind me towards Chilworth.
The idea of walking out into the middle is irresistable, and there is still enough light for me to do so safely and (almost) unobtrusively. One Nightjar calling to the right, in that SE corner. Much quieter from here. Surely, given it is always in the same spot every year, it must be the same bird? Or at least one that has been born here. Always the first bird is in that corner. His song is brief, and only in short bursts, but the other bird is much more active, calling loudly and wing-clapping along the stream course. I see him twice, but on the third occasion it takes me half a moment to realise I am not this time seeing a Nighjar OR a Woodcock. In fact, its a Tawny Owl, disturbed from a Yew as I passed below it. She – I am sure its a female, as I can hear a family of young calling from the Ringers Clump – heads over to her offspring, circles the clump, rises up, banks and drops in, lost in silhouette.
Then up again, circling! My heart is thumping – what an evening. What a show!
I arrive at the high seat at the same time as the NIghtjar, and I lean against it, watching him. Up and down, flickering, dancing like a huge, glorious moth. Long, long thin wings small body no bigger than a Blackbird, even less. Fanned tail. Flit, flit, swoosh. SO close, checking me out, that I can hear his wingbeats as I am sure he can hear my breath. And up, hovering for a second before resting on a yew branch. Just like a Stock Dove. Immediately off again and below the skyline so I can’t see him. Wing claps and calling. A few moments later there is that clucking call they make in pursuit of another bird. The two must be together? Took-took-tuk-tuk.
When the bird is not visible, I can feel the excitement pulsing through me. Where is he? Which direction will he appear from next?
I risk calling, and deliver my best attempt at a soft “quip-quip”. I like to think it worked, because after just a few moments he approaches me directly, head on and then. I . Freeze. Breathless. The bird is just THERE, hovvering in front of my face, not 10 feet away. I am certain this is not coincidental or being caught unawares. The bird is watching ME…!
Never Moments. Nightjar Moments.
Wonderful wonderful birds. Here in this place, with just me. Gosh, that is a humbling, uplifting and completely smile-making thought. Most people will never see this. Many birders don’t get this. I haven’t until I found Hut Wood and established myself with permission from Forestry England (and the birds themselves) to be among them. Watching them in the New Forest or Dorset Heaths, Norfolk, Suffolk. Every year for 40 odd years since I first saw one at Thetford in 1982
I am well blessed to enjoy something similar every season now, at least one special moment with these amazing birds. And on the first night – that is really incredible.
Before I leave, I need to acknowledge the “supporting cast” of Woodcock, which have been unprecedented themselves tonight. As I cross as directly off the re-stock as I can, one comes in with a weird double-squeak, then whiffles like a duck and LANDS! I can’t see exactly where of course, but he came down there is no doubt about it. That in itself is a remarkable thing.
It feels good to get everything right. Instinct, judgement, experience. Site, time, weather.