Things that don’t just go bump in the night!
A report from our Nightjar Walk on June 22nd by guest blogger John Grant
Our ‘churring, gwiking, wing-clapping evening’ began in style with a three-course supper of Froize culinary delights…. The table was adorned with fresh flowers from the garden and the starter was entirely made up of edible loveliness plucked from the kitchen garden only an hour before we feasted. Main course and pudding, followed by an insight of the folk law and other facts about nightjars took us to 9.00pm and time to venture forth.
Consider, if you will, the passage of time.
I certainly did just that on this still, sultry Suffolk Sandlings evening. The day’s radiant blue sky slowly turned to flame-red and heather-purple in the west. The silvery glow of the slender crescent Moon, closely accompanied in the heavens by the attendant magnesium-white celestial lantern of Venus, became more intense in the darkening.
This intimate heath, enclosed by guardian surrounds of conifers, oaks and birch, took on glowing gold and lilac hues in the dying embers of this sweltering day’s brilliance.
It was a time to stand still. Stay silent. Wait, watch and listen. In the manic, helter-skelter frenzy of modern life, how often do we simply stand in nature and feel time ebbing away? We might often glance at our watches as the seconds tick-tock away, and we might often rush at seeming breakneck speed through the minutes, the hours, the days and the weeks as they merge into a blur of barely remembered times. So these were moments to savour. Standing still. Silence broken only by the classic hoots of Tawny Owls, the gruff caws of Carrion Crows and the distant burrs and brums of hurrying cars with occupants unaware of the softness of the day’s ending on the heath.
The minutes passed in peace, and there seemed a timelessness about the place. The same Moon and Venus movements, the same gloaming, would have been witnessed by those who made the Bronze Age burial bowl tumulus at the crest of the heath’s gentle rise, and by the Sandlings shepherds tending their sheep in centuries past, and by the smugglers furtively taking their ill-gotten gains from boats on the nearby River Alde along the sandy heathland tracks to be secreted in safe houses inland.
And these people from the past would have heard the very same, strangely mechanical, other-worldly Nightjar ‘churring’ that now drifted across the heather to weave its spell on us.
Two Will o’the Wisp males zipped, zephyr-like, past us, low down and merely feet away, their dazzling white wing-spots and tail-corners glowing in the now quickly descending gloom. Sharp, audible, intakes of breath from each and every one of us. And then more gasps as the birds’ falcon-like silhouettes were etched above the treelines, tracing wild arcs and roller-coaster dips in the silver moonlight.
Strange, frog-like ‘gwik’ flight calls, soft wing-claps and several more fleeting but entirely entrancing flight views concluded an enthralling Nightjar experience, but the darkness held more magic on our stroll back to normality. A host of little green fairy lights bejewelled our heathland pathway – flightless female beetles of the species Lampyris noctiluca – lit up their rear ends with bioluminescence to attract passing aerial males. These Glow-worms were enlightening us as to the derivation of their colloquial name.
Time had passed. I confess I hadn’t a clue as to how much. What time was it? It mattered not. We had passed precious time in the company of nature on a perfect heath, on a perfect evening. It was perfect alright…that’s as sure as night follows day.
‘I wish I was a glow worm,
A glow worm’s never glum
‘Cause how can you be grumpy,
When the sun shines out of your bum!!