Monday, 22 June 2015

The longest day of the year

Sunday 21 June

Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus (from Internet)
For me it certainly was the longest day of the year with little more than six hours in bed - and that also being in two countries!  The first two and a half hours were spent at the wedding reception near Overath, about thirty kilometers east of Cologne, before finally getting to bed.  Then it was up and a late breakfast in sunny weather before starting our, now very wet most of the time, journey westwards to our dear friend Marieke in Wuustwezal, Belgium.

Following lots of chat and a lovely early dinner and the weather outside calm and almost clear (there had only been a slight drizzle very early in the day), Marieke and I set off for the nearby military fields where she undertakes her Goshawk and Honey Buzzard observations and studies to see if the Common Nighjars would put in an appearance.  We were not to be disappointed.

Leaving the car in the small parking area we crossed the road and set off about 200 metres down the track before taking to the heathered fields to find shelter near a group of large trees in order to watch the open space in front of us. Just on thirty minutes later at about 10.30 we had our first "churring" and a very brief glimpse of a fleeting Nighjar across the centre of the field.  All was then quiet until suddenly out of the blue, well not so much blue as it was by now a distinct grey colour, a silhouetted appeared from our right and passed immediately overhead and which we were immediately able to identify as a Woodcock doing its early evening rounds, probably visiting one of his many (?) concubines in the area.  So close and clear that had I taken my camera then most certainly I should have been able to get a reasonable shot.

Woodcock or Snipe?
Internet gathered shot of a Woodcock Scolopax rusticola
Thirty minutes after our first hearing, at about 11pm, we had more churring and wing-clapping along with a "queek, queek" which may well have been a territorial or love call, from another Nightjar to our left as we looked out into the field.  And then the bird was in view, arriving form our left and passing behind us quickly followed by a second individual.  That would have been great for most but barely ten minutes later both birds flew immediately in front of us at about two metres from the ground, swerved and turned behind us as if using us as a roundabout.  So close that the white wing flash was blinding and also seeming to illuminate some of the wing barring.

European nightjar - stock photo
Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus (from Internet as above)
What a sight!  And then it was back to Marieke's home arriving about 11.30 and managing to get to bed just before midnight.  Two beds in one day in two separate countries!  And what was Jenny doing whilst Marieke and I were up in the woods?   Sensibly, she decided to have an early night to catch up on the missing sleep but was then woken by a visit from two policemen making enquiries about a grey Corsa seen parked in the military car park in the nearby deserted woods.  "Do you live here?  No, I am only visiting.  Do you have a grey Corsa?  No, I think that it may be the owner's and she is up at the military with my husband looking for Goshawks - no, I mean Nightjars.  Oh, that's all right then."  What does this tell us about Belgian police?  They fluently speak and understand English, they know all about the local avifauna and they expect most guests to take their hostess up to the woods for the evening and leave their wives behind to guard the house!  Never let it be said that Belgium is a boring country.

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