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