There’s a wonderful stretch of the upper Wye where I can always find nesting Common Sandpipers in summer. The journey to Newbridge-on-Wye passes through the rolling hills of northern Carmarthenshire, all intensely green at this time of year and only takes about an hour and a half. The river is magic up here and with plenty of rain over the last few weeks, it glistens in dappled sunlight through the trees. At this point the water always runs fast, exposing riverbed-stones, ideal for Common Sandpiper, Dipper and Grey Wagtail perches.
The Oaks are alive with noisy newly-fledged tits and below the bridge a pair of Grey Wagtails feed a couple of fledged young; they’re a delight to watch and are common on these upland streams. I hear the simple song of Pied Flycatchers in the woods along the bank and am reminded I must be at least 500 feet above sea level; I don’t see any nest boxes and so these will be using natural holes in trees. The thin piping sound of a Common Sandpiper disappears upstream; I must have just disturbed one. I walk along the bank and find two, obviously a pair and get close; with bobbing tails they feed oblivious of my presence now just yards away. I compare them with Spotted Sandpipers and remember a juvenile, which stayed the whole winter by a reservoir near Cardiff a couple of years ago. More vividly I recall about twenty on the banks of the Patuxent River last autumn in full summer plumage showing their lovely spotted breasts.
I can't find Dippers, no doubt they're about, but the Common Sandpipers are more than enough as I head off to find Nightjars a few miles down the valley. I arrive in a forest clearing as the light fades; it’s warm and still, the conditions are perfect. A few late Blackbirds, Robins and Coal Tits call, but little else stirs. Almost at once eerie Nightjar churrings drift across the conifer plantation. Even though they’re all around me, seeing them is not easy. It’s difficult to tell which direction the calls comes from and with hardly enough light left I just make out two in the darkness, but well enough to see the white wing patches on the end of their wings against the night sky.
As the light fades completely I sit and listen to the eerie calls in the blackness. I recall autumn ringing trips to southern Portugal years ago and catching European and Red-necked Nightjars in the same mist net. We used a tape-lure under the net, which I suppose was cheating.