10.30 a.m., Langsett Reservoir, lakeside path through conifer plantation.

THE TWO things that struck me about this bird were:

  1. How grey it was.
  2. That it appeared somehow hunched, almost as if it hadn’t got a head.

As I wrote in my notes, it was ‘grey and blockily streaky, like the bark of a pine tree’. It reminded us in size and proportion of a woodpecker. Barbara has a distinct impression of it having a ‘chopped off’ tail.

We’d seen two hikers walking along the fence bordering the cleared area at the other side of the reservoir and I suspect that this bird had been flushed by them and perched on the banking on the northern shore until we came along and it flew up to the cover of the treetops.

The first thing that the Collins Bird Guide says about the Nightjar, highlighted in italics as a diagnostic feature, is that it is ‘mottled brown, buff-white, grey and black‘ which to me equates well with my strong impression of it being ‘blockily streaky, like the bark of a pine tree’. The ‘headless’ look is also a characteristic of nightjars, which have large heads and inconspicuous beaks. As the Guide says, they’re ‘hard to detect’ when ‘resting lenghtwise on a branch’. So a bird noted for its close resemblance to pine bark.

The area on the far side of the reservoir has been cleared and is being managed in order to encourage birds of heathy, open clearings like the Nightjar and Redstart. Nightjars are summer migrants, arriving in May. Hope this one – if that’s what it was – settles and breeds.

Other possibilities from such a brief sighting are Wryneck – highly unlikely – and Little Owl  which is more of a possibility but it’s a bird that we’ve seen occasionally before and are fairly familiar with. It’s brownish rather than greyish and, even at a brief sighting ‘owlish’. The Little Owl has a ‘chopped off’ tail, but it has a distinctly rounded head.

We saw if fly for no more than 50 yards up the slope, but saw no trace of the undulating flight that is typical of woodpeckers or the ‘bounding’ flight of the Little Owl. It was silent in flight, as you’d expect from owls and nightjars.


No doubts however about the Common Sandpiper which we got an unusually close-up view of, looking down on it at the water’s edge from the road that goes along the dam wall.

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