As you might have gathered from previous posts, we quite like getting out in the countryside. There are several local parks and commons, and plenty of footpaths, so it’s quite an easy thing to do.
Last night, however, we did something different; we went on a guided walk with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. Billed as “A Night On The Common”, the idea was to arrive as night fell, to look for glow worms and to listen for nightjar, woodcock and owls.
Before even arriving we messed up; between Mrs Q. and I we completely failed to book out attendance, and by the time we realised this both the provided telephone numbers were diverting to answering services. Undaunted, we decide to turn up on spec to Snelsmore Common at 2130. 2130 is a late night for our children; they’re usually in bed pretending to go to sleep around hour earlier than that, so we did have some doubts that they’d make it to the start of the event without falling asleep let alone the advertised finish time of 2330. Nevertheless they seemed keen, so (after prompting them to clean their teeth) we set off for Snelsmore Common full of enthusiasm.
We arrived slightly early, which is unusual in itself, and joined up with our guide Keith and his party of mostly middle-aged-or-older nature enthusiasts. We had the only children in the group which was unusual for us and I for one hoped they’d remain well-behaved for the duration and not spoil it for the others. It turned out that we weren’t the only people not to have booked, and as a result the group was larger than the dozen or so that Keith considered ideal. It seemed there were half-a-dozen or so who were well known to Keith (and presumably turn up to these events repeatedly) plus a slightly larger number of new faces, ourselves included. In a brilliant bit of improvisation he nominated a couple of his regulars to bring up the rear and ensure he didn’t lose anyone in the twilight.
After a brief, er, briefing on how the walk wound be conducted, what to look out and listen for, strict instructions to stick together and not get lost, we set off. The pace was gentle, well suited to observation, and the group well-disciplined. After ten minutes or so we stopped to look & listen for wildlife; it was at this point that Keith discovered that, while he hadn’t lost anyone, he’d gained a further five group members who’d arrived late. He took this in his stride and proceeded to advise us of the best places to look and what sort of noises to listen for. A bird did fly over at this point; I thought out loud that it might’ve been a mallard, but Keith corrected me and pointed it out to the group as a woodcock. Our first spot!
European woodcock (with earthworm) by Ronald Slabke via Wikimedia Commons
The walk continued in that vein; around 10 minutes of slow walking (across the heath, in falling light) followed by five minutes looking and listening, usually in a clearing or similar open area. Keith the guide was in his element, and as the walk progressed he explained aspects of the flora, fauna and geochemistry that gave Snelsmore Common it’s character. Unfortunately the wildlife wasn’t playing ball; the glow worms weren’t glowing, the nightjars weren’t calling and the only owls we heard were in the car park before setting out on the walk. We did however find a spinney where there were several calling woodcock, so the evening was at least a partial success.
As the evening went on our children started to complain – very quietly and politely – that they were feeling tired. When the group returned to the metalled loop road around 2230 we made our excuses and returned to our car. The children both fell asleep in the car on the way home and barely woke enough to go to bed; I wasn’t far behind them.
Despite failing to see either nightjar or glow worms it was a good night out and we all hope to repeat it!