Bird Watching (UK) - - Fieldcraft Night Birding -

The de­clin­ing Long-eared Owl might be nearby in such habi­tat. By this time of year it’ll be the young birds’ ‘squeaky-gate’ call to lis­ten out for, au­di­ble for up to a kilo­me­tre away. I’ve heard noises in the past which were cer­tainly owl, and def­i­nitely one of four species, but ex­actly which and of what age, still has me some­what baf­fled. Be­cause I don’t hear them very of­ten, I find it use­ful to do a bit of owl-sound prac­tice be­fore­hand, along with some other species that might be en­coun­tered. It’s worth be­com­ing fa­mil­iar with Stone-curlew for ex­am­ple, which are very ac­tive and vo­cal at dusk. Their call is far-car­ry­ing and fly-over birds are pos­si­bly even away from their recog­nised strongholds. Fi­nally, while out on the heath, don’t as­sume ev­ery bird dash­ing past you will be a Night­jar; I have seen Hob­bies still hunt­ing moths and bee­tles well af­ter 10pm. Con­tinue the night walk into farm­land: it’ll be qui­eter out here in the arable fields, but there might be some­thing. In in­flux years, Quail can be wide­spread; you don’t have to live in the East Anglian ‘prairies’, I’ve heard Quail singing from small ce­real fields in mixed-farm­ing coun­try. I’ve even got Quail on the gar­den list – if hear­ing one dis­tantly, while stood at the end of the gar­den with cupped ears counts – I’m tick­ing it. Their ‘wet-my-lips’ call trav­els well and is eas­ily picked up on a still night. A Corn Crake, how­ever, is a tall or­der, but you never know; it’s a true noc­tur­nal singer, of­ten con­tin­u­ously rasp­ing A Night­jar re­turns to its song post Blyth’s Reed War­bler is a very rare but in­creas­ing spring visitor to the UK, and a cham­pion night singer away for hours ev­ery night. Birds pass through south­ern and cen­tral Bri­tain on their way to Ire­land and the western isles of Scot­land; birds have turned up on pas­sage in suit­able habi­tat in the past. If not a Scot­tish bird, then per­haps a wan­der­ing bird from the Nene Washes in­tro­duc­tion pro­ject in Cam­bridgeshire is in­creas­ingly likely. Else­where, among shorter veg­e­ta­tion, Lap­wing will still be nest­ing and they will quite hap­pily dis­play at night, es­pe­cially when there is plenty of moon­light. If you en­counter an area of wet­grass­land, there can be lots of ac­tiv­ity from waders at night, par­tic­u­lar if there’s a Fox track­ing across the meadow in search of eggs or chicks, send­ing the Lap­wing and Red­shank into an alarm-call­ing frenzy. Now dark­ness has fully de­scended it’s time to head to the marsh for some proper night bird­ing. When I say night bird­ing, I’m not sug­gest­ing shin­ing torches in bushes look­ing for owls. In fact, torches are to be ac­tively dis­cour­aged. Ar­ti­fi­cial light will spook wildlife. As with bird­ing in the day­light, the idea is to be as un­ob­tru­sive as pos­si­ble. If you’ve been out since dusk, your eyes will have adapted to the de­creas­ing light lev­els, al­low­ing you to move about quite hap­pily with­out a torch, es­pe­cially if there’s a de­cent moon. Bird­ing at night isn’t re­ally a time for binoc­u­lars ei­ther – even if they are state-of-the-art, light­gath­er­ing, su­per-bins – now it’s bet­ter just to lis­ten. Many of the fol­low­ing species sing at dusk, as well, but so do a lot of oth­ers birds. These species will go on singing well af­ter dusk, they are true noc­tur­nal song­sters, they’ll be eas­ier to de­tect and en­joy when other birds have be­come silent. The sound of the sum­mer reedbed, supplied by the com­mon Acro­cephalus war­blers – Sedge and Reed – con­tin­ues at night. Not with the same in­ten­sity as early morn­ing, but, if you visit a reedbed in the mid­dle of the night, there will still be war­blers chunter­ing away.

RARE TAR­GET It was the en­sem­ble that was mem­o­rable: chur­ring Night­jar, drum­ming Snipe, along with oc­ca­sional per­cus­sion from a squeak­ing and croak­ing Wood­cock

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