I have always found the sound of nightjar really interesting. I think its partly because they sound so other worldly, strange and weirdly musical. They sound to me a bit like white noise filtered with an LFO on an old synth like a moog voyager and have a wonderful woody quality. They also look really strange and are so well camouflaged you can walk right past them very easily without noticing. In spite of this interest I have only ever heard recordings and have never heard them in the wild so I decided to try and get a recording for myself. After asking around I found out a good spot not too far from Edinburgh is Dalby forest in Yorkshire. I spoke to a local bird ringing group who kindly agreed to take me out and show me some good spots. They also took me out ringing nightjar with them which was amazing as it allowed me to see them up close. To put the rings on nightjar they are caught using large nets and then weighed and measured and a small metal ring is placed round their leg so that they can be identified in the future and data can be gathered about their health and movements.
Getting so close to them allowed me to spot a few details that I would never have spotted otherwise. The first was that they have really tiny little feet. Much smaller than birds like robins or warblers whose body size is much smaller. You can also see their eyes through the roof of their mouth. One of the guys I was with thought that this allowed them to actually see through the roof of their mouth as they open it to catch moths, which are their primary food source. Pretty amazing!
Here is a picture of us setting up the nets and of one of the nightjar we caught:
Nightjar are nocturnal and usually start singing, or 'churring' as its often called, around 10pm. The best place to go is spots of clearfelling that are around 2 or 3 years old so that the vegetation has started to grow back a bit and from 10pm onwards, depending on the weather, they will move around the clearing 'churring' from various points till about 2am. If the weather isn't good they will often stop around 11.30pm.
I also found that they tend to have a favorite spot to sing from so when you have identified this location you can be pretty sure the nightjar will sing from the same place at some point during the next night. This is very handy as it allows you to set up you mics for recording. Below is a recording made with my parabolic reflector. It has been EQed slightly. The recording isn't perfect as you can hear a little bit of hiss due to the fact I didn't quite get close enough and had to turn up the gain but I was happy with it and the fact its not quite perfect gives me a excuse to go back and have another go!
Here's another recording, this time in stereo, with two nightjars singing towards each other. You get some nice phasing sounds as the two songs interact.