Monday, 18 June 2018

Evening on Chobham Common, Surrey.
Dartford warbler at Chobham Common by Sally Douglas .

Evening on Chobham Common, Surrey.

A fine, warm June evening saw three Aylesbury Group members visit this Surrey heathland, known especially for the nightjar , a summer visitor to the UK and always allusive and mysterious.
The group were also very lucky to get good views of two woodlarks, a hobby, stonechats, and a pair of Dartford warblers taking food into a nest site.

The Dartford warbler is one of the two resident warblers in the U.K. ,but looking more like it should be a migrant and more at home wintering somewhere warmer in Europe. It is on the northern edge of it's range and prone to cold winters , especially snow. During the severe winters of the 1960s the population dropped to just a handful of pairs, but has since made a recovery and even increased it's numbers to more sites.
Presumably it would need to find a lot of spiders and other insects deep in the gorse to survive the winter.
The males have a scratchy,repeated song and this is often the first sign of it's presence in the gorse. On hearing a rather buzzy ' chaairr ' alarm call and seeing a rather small round bodied bird cross a path we stopped to see two Dartfords carrying food into a nest site. We could hardly believe our luck , as both birds showed well and we watched them for several minutes .

The bird itself looks tiny, the males have a grey head and upperparts, with wine-red underparts and a lovely red eye . The female is browner, with more pinkish underparts. Both have yellow legs , the male especially showed up bright yellow. Their very slim tail looks as long as the body and constantly flicked from side to side
We were also lucky to get a good view of a woodlark sitting on top of a post. This bird really posed for us and showed the rather crouching stance they have. There is a distinctive white/black/white pattern on the wing and pink legs , we could even see that this bird had been ringed on the right leg !

Our main target bird made it's presence known at 9:50pm with the distinctive , churring song of the
nightjar. It almost sounds mechanical ,like a switch has been flicked to turn it on.
Nightjars are summer visitors to the UK from May to September and winter in Africa.
The flight is silent and rather ghostly,with long pointed wings,as it hunts for months and other flying insects.
The bird we saw gave a short fly around , just long enough to get a view of the white patches on the wings. Males display with these patches on tail and wings, which just show up in the gloom, so unless they fly they are almost impossible to see. They will even perch lengthways along a branch to break up their outline during daylight hours . At 10:15pm we had to find the car park again with a torch in the dark,but it's definitely worth the effort to get a glimpse into the world of this secretive bird .

15th June, 2018.

Report by Colin Strudwick.