Memorable moments with nature: Part 7
As our wardens look forward to returning to the home of the nightjar – the heathlands of Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire – we share our seventh instalment of memorable moments, and a favourite book…
“As a child I grew up in Middlesex – Teddington and Twickenham to be precise. Nowhere near as built up as it is now, it was still pretty urban in the 1980s! Fortunately, we lived close to two Royal Parks – Bushy Park and Richmond Park. Although we had a family car we pretty much walked everywhere and Bushy Park was practically on our doorstep. Long before the days of mobile phones my brother and I would venture out with school friends exploring on foot or by bike and be gone for hours!
The red and fallow deer herds at Bushy Park have been well established for years and as a child I didn’t pay much attention to them. We were too busy climbing the big fallen oaks, mini-beast hunting and playing hide and seek. The fenced water and woodland gardens in the park were just magical!
Fast forward to adulthood and, moving away from the area, much changed at Bushy Park. I still return from time to time for a trip down memory lane, and since developing more of an interest in photography I now appreciate time spent watching the deer (from a respectful distance. I’ll never forget the day a whole herd chased our family dog!!).
If you have never visited, I wholeheartedly recommend a visit post-lockdown. I’m sure you’ll create your own special memories!”
My love of parklands transferred to heathlands much later in life…
“Deciding to undertake an MSc in Wildlife Management and Conservation I carried out my dissertation at Chobham Common – on ants of all things! I was one of the fortunate few to get a ranger role with Surrey Wildlife Trust later on. Learning all about heathland habitats, and their incredible species, takes years and years and I learnt an awful lot at Chobham. Not surprising seeing as it’s a National Nature Reserve. But there was something about nightjars that just seemed extra special. Probably because they travel all the way from Africa, breed on our UK heaths for a short window of time, and can be quite elusive. I’d attended and run many nightjar walks during my time at Surrey Wildlife Trust, but one day an opportunity came to join the British Trust for Ornithology for an evening catching and ringing nightjar. I leapt at the chance!
I recall a buzz of excitement on the night, from everyone in the small group involved, not just from the insects buzzing around our heads. Sitting in a chair on a heathland path on a sultry summer night is just unique. Of course so as not to deter any nightjar nearby you really have to dampen this down and hold the excitement in! Chatting in low voices, waiting in anticipation.
I just felt privileged to see one of these birds up close – extraordinary wing markings and that quirky, gaping mouth of theirs, perfectly suited to scooping up insects during flight.
I was respectful and had my couple of minutes, and although a short interaction, it will remain as one of my most memorable wildlife encounters of all time. Well, there was that time I saw a nightjar perched on a stump in broad daylight but that is another story…”
Nicky’s favourite book is this Ladybird publication of 1968. Heath and Woodland Birds by John Leigh-Pemberton. It cost ‘half-a-crown’ – 2/6d. (12½ new pence.)