Nightjars and Roding Woodcocks 15 June 2017

I am always a little wary about going on birding events largely because whilst everybody else is intent on watching and discussing a rare bird, I am usually struggling to find the bird (any bird) through my binoculars.  However, I had never seen nightjars nor woodcocks before, and so I could not turn down the opportunity.

I was not entirely sure about the meaning of the word ‘roding’ and felt I should first investigate.  It means to fly on a regular circuit in the evening as a territorial display, making sharp calls and grunts.  It appears to be only woodcocks who do this, according to the OED.

The instructions for the event stated that midge repellent would be essential.  I investigated the household midge repellent.  By referring to the date on the packet and by use of higher mathematics I calculated that this item must have been purchased in the dark ages.  So having invested my life savings in buying a new spray repellent, I then discovered that I was wearing so many clothes on the night that there was no skin available for its application.

Thirteen intrepid souls turned up for the evening walk at Stainburn Forest which was very ably led by Robert Brown.   Walking along the track the first thing we saw was a roe deer.  This was followed by woodcocks flying overhead and above the trees, their shapes and beaks clearly visible even to me.  These sightings continued as we walked along.

Then we came to a clearing surrounded by trees, where we waited.  And waited.  Suddenly an osprey appeared.  This was just the warm-up act for what was to follow.

More waiting.  Then we heard the churring sounds of the nightjars.  More waiting, and then suddenly as if out of nowhere a nightjar appeared.  Much white handkerchief waving was undertaken, whereupon this utterly beautiful creature began flying low over our heads to investigate us.  I was spellbound, and I suspect that my companions were as well.  Then, just as suddenly, the nightjar disappeared.  We stayed awhile but did not see it again.  No matter, we had experienced a rare treat.

Feeling happy and privileged, we wended our way back to the cars, by which time darkness was falling.  Grateful thanks go to Robert for organising the event, and for having the stamina and patience to put up with amateurs such as myself.  And I really do not mind about the unused spray repellent, because I shall definitely be going to Stainburn Forest again.

Sonia Starbuck

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