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Call of the Nightjar


Call of the Nightjar

Along with the arrival of Swift comes another bird of myth and magic - the Nightjar. While the Swift is a bird of the summer skies the Nightjar haunts the wooded heaths.

Rarely seen unless you know where to look, it’s ventriloquial ‘churring‘ call and ‘boomerang’ display flights start up at that time of the evening, just before dusk - what we, from the West Country, call dimpsey.

folding paper a nightjar flies from my hands
On this still, windless night the forest is silent.  The trees watch, like inscrutable sentries.  Moths flutter past silently, gossamer scraps pale against the darkness.  Bats swoop soundlessly, dusky shadows whose voices are beyond our hearing. It seems that the creatures that stalk the night woods are mostly unseen and unheard. But the forest isn’t quite silent. There is a whirring in the air, something that you wouldn’t really notice unless your attention is drawn to it. Something that sounds alien and a little eerie. It seems to be coming from the trees – all of the trees, as though the air itself is singing. Listen, and you’ll hear it too …

Source: The call of the Nightjar  by Andrea Stephenson (Harvesting Hecate)


Thanks to Andrea Stephenson for allowing me to quote from her excellent blog. And to Martin Smith who has also written about the Nightjar in his wood (Hut Wood) and unwittingly sowed the seed of an idea, and to Bagpuss (Small Films 1974) for the magic.

Artist Credit

The featured image is of a ‘Nightjar at Arne’ Dorset, England. From an original acrylic wildlife painting by Dorset UK artist Cliff Towler

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May 24, 2020 6:59 am

If you scroll down this post in my blog you’ll find sketches and a recording of a Danish NIGHTJAR. Beautiful haiku, Clive!

May 24, 2020 7:08 am

I love Andrea’s post about the mysterious nightjar, and the recording within it. Clive you might help me. On my walk yesterday in the woods north of London – and buttercup fields! – I saw a bird on a tree, about the size of a pigeon. I thought it might be a woodpecker and kept very still. It was mainly white with a black crest I think, and a distinctive black stripe down its wing and (I think) a long beak. It crept discreetly around the stem of the tree and finally flew away busily. Also saw a mass of swallows and swifts (?) screeching and partying around big oaks in the field. A great joy!

Reply to  Clive Bennett
May 24, 2020 11:02 am

I think it was a G Spotted woodpecker, it was black and white, not all white, but seemed slightly speckled. I can’t remember accurately but I think it did bounce away – rather unexpectedly as it moved quietly round the tree. It didn’t do any hammering – late in the year for that? – but I immediately thought – woodpecker. Only I had in my mind “red spotted woodpecker”!

May 24, 2020 11:27 am

Wonderful little verse! So simple, such impact! The Nightjar is a bird I have never seen except in books or on TV. Marvellous reference to Andrea Stephenson; thank you.
Dimpsey: such a wonderful word (the term crepuscular just doesn’t work for me).

May 24, 2020 5:53 pm

Such a beautiful poem, and I love the painting, too!

May 31, 2020 10:15 pm

Wonderful, Clive and I love Andrea;s writing too. I would love to see a Nightjar and just missed seeing a turtle dove tonight. Am terrible with the binoculars, it has been calling for a while and hubby traced it to high up on a chestnut tree. So much myth and magic.

Reply to  Clive Bennett
June 1, 2020 12:02 am

Too much is lost without many knowing but was glad to hear that there are turtle doves at the wilding project at Knepp Castle, Sussex.

Helen White
June 18, 2020 1:49 pm

Wonderful! I have only ever heard one once and was so thrilled as it was (and remains) so high on my wishlist to hear a nightjar!