2020VISION Assignment: Nightjars

Wildlife photographer David Tipling was set the task of capturing one of Britainʼs most alluring yet secretive birds: the nightjar.

Wildlife photograph of nightjar on heath in Britain by David Tipling
Wildlife photographer David Tipling was set the task of capturing one of Britainʼs most alluring yet secretive birds: the nightjar.
iWitness Assignment: Nightjars
Location: On a heath, somewhere in East Anglia
Photographer: David Tipling
“Crikey, it’s a bomb,” or words to that effect left my mouth as I looked back at what I had just tripped over.
An old World War II bomb, to be precise, nicely rusted with its tail fin poking out of the peat. But what to do?
I was just 10 metres from a nightjarʼs nest. I thought about calling a bomb squad, but they would come along and blow it up – and probably the nightjar too.
“Itʼs away from the path,” I thought, “At least I can leave reporting it until my nightjar chicks are on route back to Africa. After all, it’s lasted this long.” I figured it was unlikely to go off.
I promptly forgot about it and got on with documenting the life of my nightjar family.
I say "my nightjar" because I felt a strong affinity to the male of this pair. I have known him for four years now, and I figured he was quite familiar with me.
I don’t like the way some wildlife presenters anthropomorphise their subjects by calling them names, but I have to confess I know my nightjar as Nigel.
I’m not sure he was calling me Dave in return, but I felt sure he was content to have me around most evenings.
Nigel had starred on the BBC’s Springwatch, alongside Chris Packham no less, and I had immortalised him in hundreds of pictures. I reckoned he rather liked the attention.
I could sit within three metres of one of his favoured song perches and in he would swoop to churr for a couple of minutes, sometimes offering a fly prior to landing.
This spring, Nigel paired with a female who decided to lay not only a few metres from a bomb but in an exposed spot under a tree.
I felt sure the eggs would be predated after seeing a fox approach one evening as dusk settled over the heath. But against the odds, two eggs hatched and eventually one evening in early July, I had the joy of watching one of the young take to the wing for the very first time.
A few days ago I totted up the number of evenings I had spent on the heath this summer to take pictures – it came to 38 in total, and most of those visits had been of little use for photography.
Perhaps the photography was just an excuse to experience that magical few minutes when day gives way to night and animal instinct takes over. We lose our sight but our hearing becomes acute.
The distant bark of a roe deer, a hoot of a tawny owl and the squeak of a roding woodcock all build up into a sound that is the epitome of a summer night on an English heath. And for me, at least; a churring nightjar.
As for the bomb – I went back a few weeks ago and found it had become buried under a pile of cut gorse. I really must call that bomb squad.
Top wildlife photography tip:

I work by choosing a subject and then concentrating on it for days, sometimes weeks or even months, until I have the images that satisfy me.


  • One of the most important attributes for success in wildlife photography is being able to persevere.
  • My nightjar images have come at a price – time. Over four years I have spent more than 150 evenings with the birds to capture perhaps 30 strong images.
  • Get to know your subject intimately and keep working at it until the wildlife images you have in your mind’s eye become reality.

2020VISION is a multimedia project that highlights the link between people's well being and the restoration of natural systems.

Uniquely, it pairs the talents of 20 of the UK's most skilled outdoor photographers with writers, editors, videographers, sound artists and scientists to make a compelling case for rewilding landscapes - for wildlife and for people.

To see some of the best images taken on 2020VISION assignments so far, click here.

To find out more about 2020VISION, click here.


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