Nature's nightshift – the 10 best sights, sounds and smells...

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Nature's nightshift – the 10 best sights, sounds and smells...

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Big Wild Sleepout, supported by Rohan, is taking place from 28–30 July, so to help get you in the mood for a night under the stars, here are my 10 top night time wildlife delights to look out for...

Are you a lark, or an owl?
I can get up early when I must, but am much, much happier in the twilight and always have been. It's that mysterious period when the day shift gives way to the creatures of the night and spooky things happen (allegedly). So as a self confessed night wildlife nut, I thought I’d share my favourite experiences of watching nature by night. Please let us know about your favourite night time wildlife, and your best experiences, by leaving a comment below, or emailing

What goes on in your garden as the night shift takes over? (Chris Shields

1) Badger parade
I’m really lucky to be able to watch these stripy-faced animals literally on my doorstep in the evenings. I’ve been feeding my local badgers for a few years now and they come about half an hour before dark every night to parade a few feet from our back windows – more precisely, they come to stuff their faces. For a truly wild experience to put your tracking and fieldcraft skills to the test, seek out a badger sett at dusk and wait patiently with the wind blowing into your face to keep your scent away from these super-sniffers and watch their fascinating behaviour.

2) Go batty for bats
Much easier to see than badgers, and just as much fun to watch, are our bats. There are several species in the UK, many of them rare and localised, but if you get a bat detector you should be able to identify several from their echolocation calls, that help them locate food. Common pipistrelles are easily seen around gardens and you might also find the rather brilliant brown long-eared bats with their Batfink style ears and habit of hovering at vegetation to pick off insects. Noctule bats are big and fly high across the sky on long wings.

3) A kaleidoscope of moths
There are around 2,500 species of moth on the UK list and they come in a tremendous variety of shapes, sizes and colours. From the angle shades that looks like a crumpled leaf to the super shiny burnished brass; the colourful chunky hawkmoths to the ghostly swallow-tailed moth. If you thought moths were all small and brown, you’re in for a treat.

You might even get tigers visiting you at night (tiger moths that is) – this is a garden tiger (Tom Marshall

4) A quartet of owls
Tawny, little, barn and long-eared – four owls that you could find near you if you tune in to their calls at dusk and through the night (there are no tawnies in Northern Ireland though). Barn owls have an unearthly hiss that will really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It doesn’t fit their cute, dewy-eyed appearance, or graceful look as they patetiently fly over a field or roadside verge looking for small mammals to eat or take back to their nest. Little owls are full of character. Look and listen for them before it gets fully dark. We have one that pops up on a tree by our garden every evening.

Barn owls are surely on everyone's favourite night wildlife list? (John Bridges

5) Anyone for cricket?
One of my favourite sounds of dusk is the “chirp” of this secretive cricket coming from hedges, bushes and taller plants. Have a listen between July and October and you’ll realise it is one of those sounds you hear all the time, but perhaps have never checked out what’s making it. When you hear it, approach carefully and slowly, peer in and you should be able to see the cricket.

6) Take a moonlit walk along the beach
It might seem a strange entry to the top ten – but bear with me... Waders are returning from the Arctic throughout July, stopping off on our beaches and estuaries to rest and refuel on the abundant, often slimy, goodies that live in the soft sand and mud. Not all birds go to sleep at night, including waders who take the opportunity to continue feeding. You should be able to pick out several wader calls, from the excitable piping of oystercatchers to the "cour-lee" of curlews. Choose a still, moonlit night and enjoy.

7) Hedgehogs!
The decline of the nation’s favourite animal has been all too apparent in my part of the world. I rarely see them on my patch now, but when I do it’s very exciting. I know many of you do enjoy them regularly though, from the great pictures and stories you send. Keep them coming – it’s good to know they are still around.

8)  Glimpse a goatsucker
As you’ll see on the next cover of Nature’s Home magazine, nightjars look like nothing else you can see in the UK. There’s still plenty of time to enjoy these crepuscular crackers over the next few weeks, so head to a heath, moor or woodland clearing and peel your eyes and ears for the males’ churring calls and their erratic, graceful flight. They also have lots of spectacular alternative names, including the goatsucker!

Mysterious nightjars come out at about 9.30 pm at this time of year – well worth staying up for (Chris Shields

9) The sweet smell of honeysuckle
We have three honeysuckles in our garden and they smell nice in the day. In the evenings, they smell amazing though! To attract night time pollinators such as moths the scent increases, and what a smell it is! Just brush past a honeysuckle bush and you’ll be immersed in one of nature’s nicest niffs.

10) Stay up late for a stag party
I thought long and hard about including this one because the truth is I have never seen one. I am assured though that it really is an experience to savour! It remains my most wanted to see species of UK wildlife and there is a horrible stag beetle shaped hole in my “lifelist”. I was confident of breaking my duck at the end of June when I made back-to-back visits to a hotspot where they had been seen just the day before, but no joy (just its lesser stag beetle cousin).

For more ideas of things you can do at night to make your Sleepout extra special, check out Anna's blog post from the summer solstice.

A special offer for RSPB members
To help you enjoy your Big Wild Sleepout and enjoy nature by night, we’ve teamed up with our partners at Rohan, official supporters of Big Wild Sleepout. They pack a whole load into their clothing from sun protection to waterproofs and are offering RSPB members 10% off, including sale items. Plus Rohan will donate 5% of sales from this offer to the RSPB. Simply visit and enter code NHM3 at the Basket Page or mention the offer at your nearest Rohan shop. Offer ends 13 August 2017 and cannot be used to purchase gift cards.

Watch the Big Wild Sleepout film!
Make sure you also check this superb Big Wild Sleepout Film from our friends at Rohan! It's sure to get you in the mood for a night under the stars.

  • Like your comments about things in the night especially about Hedgehogs we are very lucky to always have had them in the garden of all the places we have lived at the moment we have 2 but the other day I got a feeding cage from the RSPB but had the large holes as wanted to give blackbirds etc the chance to feed.However when I went into the garden the other night there was one of the hedgehogs in the feeder I was amazed that she could get in so sat and waited to see how she got out but she didn't she got stuck I waited to see if she could get out but eventually had to assist her. People with the cages might be aware of this and maybe take them down at night we wont always be there to assist.