Sunday 6 June 1915, New Romney
After Church Parade I motor-biked over to the western side of the beach to take a few snapshots of the gull colony. Most of the eggs were still un-hatched and I only saw five youngsters, two of which were out last Sunday. These last had strayed from their own nests and would no doubt have made lively attempts to elude capture had I been able to reach them. In a swampy patch, at the moment very beautiful with the sun shining on the silky pompoms of cotton grass,
I flushed a wild duck [mallard] from a nest of seven fresh eggs. Probably she had been robbed of her first brood. She flew off when I was within a couple of yards and made away without a sound. Later she circled round high overhead but otherwise made no claims of proprietorship during my presence.
Tart met me by appointment at 3 pm but he had nothing new to show me beyond a single egg of a Norfolk plover. The other two pairs of eggs known to him had hatched off last week. Two being the normal clutch, I naturally questioned Tart rather closely about this solitary egg. He had no suggestion to offer beyond the unsatisfactory one that the owner was either very old or had had the first one stolen.
As we were crossing the beach a nightjar fluttered up in front of us. By her actions I knew at once that she must have eggs or
young, so I was rather surprised to find that Tart was thoroughly deceived by this very ordinary avine ruse. The day before yesterday he had actually attempted to catch this ‘strange’ bird in his
hands! A moment’s scrutiny revealed the cause of her ‘peculiar’ behaviour – two eggs laid upon a patch of dark, peaty soil.
These appeared strangely conspicuous among the branches and roots of a dead furze bush and it was not until I saw the brooding female that I appreciated the choice of site. If the marbled, whitish eggs were very visible against the dark background, the bird itself could hardly have chosen a better environment. It
was almost impossible to ‘pick her up’ at ten yards, especially as she chose to sit parallel with the fallen branches that surrounded her. While incubating her eggs her eyes were kept closed, or
at most only the narrowest slit remained open. I am firmly convinced that this is done not so much to screen her eyes from the glare of the sun but to hide their conspicuous brilliancy from
As I sat and sketched her from only a few yards distance as sudden gust of wind caught the page. She instantly fluttered up, a sudden movement, as light and buoyant as a tropical butterfly. Flickerty-flick, flick, flick and then down she dropped again, a dazed bundle of feathers. I have never seen such marvellous wing power – a stroke and her weightless body leapt upwards, seemingly without effort, without resistance.
The next instant she had fallen limply to the ground, an exhausted, storm-tossed bird – at least so Tart thought and I believe he is still of the opinion that an energetic dog could have easily caught her. Tart declared that this is the first time a nightjar has been found nesting on the beach. When feigning disablement, the wings are loosely fluttered as though broken at the carpal joint. Sometimes they are moved with a quivering action while the bird sprawls limply on the ground. The head is slightly drawn back and the throat feathers much inflated. An owl in the act of hooting inflates its throat in the same way. The bird’s tail, its entire frame in fact, is often aquiver.
Ingram added at the bottom of the page ‘The following Sunday I visited her
[the nighjar] again and found her sitting in exactly the same position despite the fact that a stiffish wind was blowing from directly behind her. This aligning of her markings with the
longitudinal shadows of the prostrate branches is therefore intentional.’
For Collingwood Ingram