Nightjars and woodcocks

Call me a wuss, or call me sensible, but nocturnal birding has never been my strongpoint as I’ve never been one for wandering round lonely areas in the pitch dark on foot. So last night I siezed my chance to catch up with a couple of night-dwelling birds on a SBSG guided walk at Wharncliffe Heath.

The target birds for the evening were nightjar and woodcock, and it proved to be a very popular event, with over fifty people joining the walk. We got on to the heath about 9.40pm, and before long heard our first tawny owl, and very soon roding woodcocks appeared, one flying almost straight over the assembled group. I was as excited about this as the nightjars, as it consituted one of those “I can’t believe I’ve never seen one” life ticks.

A short while later, the distinctive churring of the nightjars began. We were advised that the time to look for them flying was when the churring stopped, as this was the time they’d be moving between perches. And sure enough, as the sound stopped, it flew across the sky, and there was enough light left to make out the white spots on the male’s wing, as it caught up with a second nightjar nearby. Brilliant stuff! We were greeted with lots more churring, and another good view, before the night was out, and it was great to see a bird I’ve only ever heard before.

On the way back, a quick poke of the torch into a pond revealed a few newts, presumably smooth newts, languishing in the water.

Unfortunately the most common animal of the evening were the bloody mozzies, and this morning I’m covered in itchy bites, but it was well worth it to see some fantastic night birds.


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My name is Pete

7 thoughts on “Nightjars and woodcocks”

  1. Hi
    thanks for this, I’ll try to get out there soon.
    I’ve been up there before, saw a tawny owl which we flushed in the woods, and tree pipits in the plantations.

    I don’t suppose you can give us a better idea of where you were – Wharnclifffe Heath (on my leaflet N at the top) looks like a rectangle tipped 45 degrees with the pond in the upper right corner. Did you get to the area from Deepcar or Grenoside (which is where I’ve started from – and it was quite a walk)

    Any way thanks for your blog which I’ve enjoyed reading.


  2. Hi Rob, thanks for the comments.

    The walk started on Soughley Lane, on the bridge over the Don at Deepcar (although the way we went would be accessible from Station Road, I think Soughley Lane was chosen because it has better parking). It was still quite a walk from there – well over half an hour, past the river and then along Wharncliffe Crags and on to the reserve.

    It was quite a tricky walk back in the dark too… I definitely wouldn’t recommend it without a good torch, and probably not on your own.

    Oh, and learn from my mistakes and take some insect repellent if you go out there. I look like I’ve got some bizarre pox today…

  3. Hi Pete,

    Good to hear that the Nightjars are still hanging around the Heath and glad to hear that you all enjoyed yourselves. I spend most Saturdays and Sundays trudging around Wharncliffe Woods and over the Crags, the Heath and the Chase. Managed to get a wonderful view of a Tawny Owl last Saturday and he was quite content to let me stand at the bottom of the tree he was in and let me ogle him!! Pure fluke really as I just happened to be looking why the Long Tailed Tits were so agitated and there he was.. The tree was just around the corner from the newt pond you speak of and just before you go through the swing gate to go onto the crags…Still cant find any Crossbills though although there are plenty of reports of people seeing them. Being new to birding I,m probably missing them but my suspicions are that they are in the woods to the south of the Chase as opposed to the woods on the North side .. Any suggestions ??



    Rob, I park my car behind the riding stables on Finkle street Lane and walk to the crags from there, its only about a 20 minute walk taking you past the fire pond and then off to the crags/heath. Can supply details if you want.

  4. Hi Dave,

    I know it’s been a very good year for crossbills so far, but not actually heard of any at Wharncliffe – but looking on the SBSG recent sightings site I see there’s been some reports in Wharncliffe Woods.

    If I hear anything more specific I’ll let you know.


  5. Hi Roger,

    I don’t think anyone’s really sure at the moment, but at least two I think.

    Apparently there’s been quite a few churring males at Agden this year too.

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