Thursday, 2 July 2009

Cannock Nightjars with the RSPB


My British bird list includes a few I've not seen for a decade – a legacy of spending most of this century in California then Scotland. Yellow wagtail was one such and a heard-only nightjar another. For a while, I've thought of searching for nightjars on Cannock Chase but quailed at the size of the place. Yesterday, though, I caught wind of an RSPB evening visit, which seemed perfect for pointing me in the right direction.

An amazing 30-ish people gathered at the Katyn Memorial and trooped off to the Sherbrook Valley, as being the most likely spot. We were early, by at least an hour, but we also hoped to see woodcock. The hour came and went, we moved back closer to the car park and, apart from one hobby, our staple fare was wood pigeons and crows.

Dusk fell. A couple of stonechats bush-hopped and a distant cuckoo fired up then shut down again. Still we waited for the nightjar’s churring.

Nothing. Even after a couple more shifts of location nearer still to the cars. It was ten o'clock. Some of the party called it a day; some of us tried a final time, across the road, past the café.

We had strung out by then and a handful of us got lucky: a couple of pissiting woodcock sped past, like one huge bat in pursuit of another. It was over in an instant and a further half hour’s wait brought nothing else.

Most of us then gave up and, right at the death, we heard a faint call and scurried back. Finally, two birds were serenading. I didn't get to see them, again; but, like quail, they just seem to be that way for me. I wouldn’t even have heard them if the presence of the group hadn’t kept me on the Chase for three hours; so, many thanks to all of them.

Just as an appetiser, I had dropped by Gailey Reservoir late afternoon for its black-necked grebe, which did give high-magnification telescope views. Like this year’s curlew sandpiper and phalarope, I had never seen this species in breeding plumage. It was a bonus added on top of my previous sighting in this country having been in 1999 – almost the lost decade.

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