Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Night activities

Assitant editor Mike Weedon writes:

As your copy of the latest Bird Watching magazine flops through the letterbox, and you eagerly rip it open, you will notice that I have written a feature on birds at night. If your copy hasn't arrived yet, it will, and if you don't subscribe then you should by going here and follow the links. Or you could just buy it in the shops from May 30 (WH Smith is recommended).
In the feature, I discuss the activities of birds during the hours of darkness and add a few tips. Last night (May 22, 2007), I tried a bit of night-birding myself. I had a pass from my wife to stay out late and my aim was to find a Quail. I didn't want to see one (which is near impossible) but to hear one singing.
I left home in the evening and headed down to my favourite Peterborian wader hotspot, Maxey pits. A rather runty, new-in Sanderling was the best bird on offer, but the night was still, superb and warm with a lovely atmosphere building and the air becoming jammed with millions of tiny mayflies.
At about 9.15pm, I left the site and headed slightly north for the fields around Baston and Langtoft pits (south Lincolnshire) and the road to Baston Fen. There are plenty of fields with crops and grass across these flat former fenlands. So, my tactic was to drive along a bit, find a field with a crop, then stop with the windows open, turn the engine off then listen for a minute or two before moving on another 400m or so.
The first few stops produced nothing. But as I turned toward Baston Fen, a lump on a wire angled down from a telegraph pole beside the road was unmistakable. It was a Tawny Owl, less than 10m from me. With the engine off, I quietly raised my bins and gloried in the beauty of this magnificent bird. It was staring down at a ditch, but I rudely made a tiny sqeak and it instantly rotated its head to stare right at me.
After several minutes during which it seemed to be completely unbothered by my presence, the owl flew across to my side of the road and perched on the wires above my car.
I drove on and 700m further down parked again. Surely that was the sound of a distant Quail? I got out of the car and strained to hear into the distance. No further sound, apart from Red-legged Partridges, but there was another Tawny Owl, perched as the previous bird out on a telelgraph wire over the road.

Red-legged Partridge by Mike Weedon

Another 100m on I parked and listened again, and there it was, the unmistakable 'wet-my-lips' of a Quail. Superb: my target bird achieved with minimal effort, plus brilliant Tawny Owl views thrown in.
Quails (I prefer the 's' plural) are out there somewhere. But generally you have to be out and about at odd owling hours to hear them for yourself. Go for it.

1 comment:

P said...

I went for a walk on my patch recently to watch bats, and ended up getting some good views of some scrapping tawny owls in the trees.

Looking forward to reading the article... I'm not a subscriber so I'll have to wait til it arrived in the shops!