Wednesday, 17 December 2014

What's That Sound?

The night before last I was up and about at something like 3.40am, which isn't unusual for me, as regular readers of this twaddle will perhaps know. Anyway, now and again I'll wander outside, often just to get some exercise, which seems to help when I go back to bed and try to sleep, but also I do it to gaze up at the immensity of it all and get all philosophical and stuff. Let's face it, it is pretty amazing up there, especially when you live somewhere like this where the clarity of the night sky can be so crisp, the Milky Way so clear as it stretches like fine gauze all the way from one horizon to the other, that you see detail that you'd very rarely get to see back in the UK. One of the reasons is simply the amount of light pollution to be honest. Here, living as we do half-way up a mountainside, we're affected by virtually nil manmade light during the dark hours and so can easily watch shooting stars and satellites drifting by with the naked eye. As the Americans would say, and I'm with them on this one, awesome.

So, anyway, there I was out there in the chill night air, temperature down to a seemingly bonechilling 8 or 9ºC, and I heard this weird noise coming from somewhere beyond the end of the orchard. The best way I could describe it would be like some small electrical machine running, perhaps a small compressor for blowing up bicycle tyres or something. It was virtually constant and had me flummoxed, I can tell you.

In the end I gave up wondering what it could be and, since it would have involved going out the front gate and off along the lane for who knows how many hundreds of metres in my dressing gown and slippers with no guarantee of solving this nocturnal mystery, I decided to go back to bed and contemplate it as I tried to drop off again.

By lunchtime yesterday I'd kind of forgotten about this until I was asked to go up the hill to our nearest neighbours' house with my chainsaw and help them attack a tree that our recent whirlwind (My wife says I'm being overly optimistic calling it a tornado) had almost torn out of the ground, before they could attempt to right it again and hopefully save it from dying. Just as a side point, if you go to the Oxford Dictionary's web site and type in first whirlwind and then tornado, you'll be hard-put to notice any appreciable difference. Nah, nah, ne, nah nah. Childish, moi? 

So there we were hacking off branches and boughs when, stopping the machine for a moment to clear away stuff, we talked about this noise. Dunno why it came to mind, but it did and so I told them about it. 

"Nightjar!" They both said in unison. "We've looked it up with Google," they told me. Why has they done this? They'd been driven almost mad by the same sound, but at much closer quarters, a while back. they have a flue rising from the house above their fireplace and on the top it has one of those revolving cowls that looks like a black crow that's suffering from the desire to resemble that American Stealth bomber, know what I mean? They're quite common here. Well, as it happens they'd heard this noise drifting down the flue into their lounge, so loud that it quite put Mac off his football match on the telly. What did he do? Eventually, after a few attempts to diagnose the problem without success, he decided to creep around the house from the rear, so that he could pop his head round the corner of the wall and get an eyeful of the cowl before whatever was there decided to leg it. well, "wing it" would be a better description of its manner of departure I suppose.

Sure enough, there was this bird, emitting this mechanical sound that really can make you think that some small machine is running somewhere nearby. Have a listen if you like, HERE. Now this made all kinds of other things that had happened to us recently as we drove up or down our 1km of lane after dark make sense at last. On several occasions we've approached what looked like a piece of wood, almost large enough to be collected and taken home for the log-burner, laying in the middle of the lane. As we'd drawn closer though, the full glare of the headlights well illuminating the object, it had suddenly sprouted wings and took off into the night. Now, having Googled "Nightjar" myself, I discover that these elusive, nocturnal birds like to do just that, snuggle onto the ground with their wings down for something to do. If you are interested in this stuff, this is a good article here. Must say at this point, me and the better half are suckers for a good bird sighting.
Courtesy Hanne and Jens Eriksen.

On not a few occasions too, we've been driving up our lane late in the evening, pursuing our resident hare who seems to take delight in waiting for our approach, before bounding out into the lane and bouncing along in front of us in the full glow of the headlights for about fifty metres or so before verging off into the undergrowth, when we've also spotted a bird flying around above us. At first we thought it was bats, but it's the size that gives it away as a bird. Well, now we know what it is - a Nightjar.

If this kind of stuff gives you the bird, then look away now. If it interests you at all, try these two links below too. The Youtube one is especially lovely.

1. Nightjar research youtube.
2. Birdwatch article, European Nightjar.

OK, so if it's not your bag, have you been prompted anyway to rack your brain over that expression "What's That Sound?" that I used as the title of this post? Want to be put out of your misery? Well, even if you don't, I'm going to explain anyway. It's a line from one of the most seminal rock songs ever written. The song is actually entitled "For What It's Worth" but is universally better known as "Stop, Children, What's That Sound?" and was written by Stephen Stills when he was a member of Buffalo Springfield back in the 60's, along with Neil Young of course. If you want to hear it. Click here.

See, come on folks! You get educated on RFR don't you? Eh? Where are you going? I haven't finshed yet!! Come back!!


  1. Your posts are all developing a musical theme, John! This one was interesting not least because it reminded me of days, or rather nights, when we lived on a farm in Sussex nearly 40 years ago and regularly heard nightjars. Along with many other birds which seem to have vanished, or at least, become scarce here in the intervening years.

    1. Yea. Amazing that I lived for over 50 years in the UK and never saw one. In the past few weeks we've seen two!!