We will now make our way to the farmhouse through the wood. There is a little clearing in the wood where I usually find a Nightjar's nest. I say " nest," but, as a matter of fact, there is none, the two eggs are laid on the bare ground. They are not at all easy to find unless the bird gets up from them just in front of us as we walk across. This, however, she usually does, if sitting on them. Look carefully as you go or you may put your foot on the eggs. There goes the bird! There are no eggs, however, and it was probably the male bird resting on the ground. It looks hopeful, though, because no doubt the hen bird is not far away. I had hardly finished what I was saying when I saw her rise just in front of us. There are the two marbled eggs lying in a little depression in the ground amongst the dead bracken. This will be an excellent example for two different views, one taken some distance from the eggs showing the nesting site, and the other closer to show the eggs more distinctly. The eggs are peculiar in being the same shape at each end, and are not like most eggs, more pointed at one end than the other. I will not talk to you while you are taking the photographs, as you will require your undivided attention to prevent any mistakes occurring. When you have finished we will retire some distance and rest a while. We can watch for the bird returning to her eggs, and I can give you a few particulars while doing so regarding the bird itself. I will go over there and you can come to me when you have made your exposures.
Well, you have taken the two views. I saw the bird fly over your head and disappear again while you were focussing the second position, but she will soon be back and will settle down on the eggs. We are fortunate in finding them now, as the bird is one of our latest summer migrants and does not usually arrive before the middle of May. The bird is known by several local names, amongst them Goat-sucker, Night-churr, Fern-Owl, and Night-Hawk. The ancients believed the bird possessed the habit of sucking the teats of goats, hence its name of Goat-sucker. Of course, they were quite mistaken. The song is very peculiar, consisting of the rapid repetition of a single jarring note not unlike the noise made by the spinning of a wheel. It may be heard on a still evening for a distance of quite half a mile, and no doubt many persons would have great difficulty in explaining the cause of the sound should they hear it. The bird has another peculiar habit; that of sitting on the branch of a tree lengthways—not across like other birds—and with the head at a lower level than the tail. It is very difficult to see in this position, as it sits very close and looks more like a part of the branch itself than a bird. It will often take this position when put up from the ground. It has long wings, and if you listen next time you see one rise from the ground you will hear two or three claps made by the wings meeting over its back in the first few strokes it makes in flying upwards. It is a nocturnal bird, and although it does not object to the sunshine, it generally rests on the ground during the day. In the evening it may be seen flying about in its haunts actively engaged in capturing the large-bodied moths, cockchafers, and other kinds of insects upon which it feeds. It is furnished with bristles along each side of the upper mandible, which it is believed assist it in capturing its prey. It is altogether a most interesting bird, and I hope later on when the young are hatched you will be able to obtain one or two more photographs of them to add to your series. The young birds when first hatched are covered with down and are not unlike young chickens, but as they get older they become more like the old birds in appearance, and are very difficult to see when resting on the ground.
Let us make our way now to the farmhouse, where we are to have tea to-day. We are almost certain to find some completed nests of the House Martin under the eaves, and I shall be able to assist you in obtaining a photograph of them before tea-time arrives. But wait a minute! I can hear the Nightingale. It is curious we have not heard it before, as it is very common about here and I have often heard several singing at the same time. I should like to find a nest for you, but I am afraid we must not stay now, because we may have to search for some time and not succeed in discovering one after all. The nests are difficult to find, because they are so much like their surroundings.
It will not be a very easy job to photograph the Martins' nests as we shall have to obtain two ladders—one to tie the tripod to and the other to mount on when fixing the camera and making the exposure. It would be possible to do with one, but as we can readily obtain two from the barn it will make it easier for you.
In many cases it is much better to be alone when out for the purpose of Nature Photography. One will usually see more by oneself as there is no opportunity for conversation, and one is only limited by one's own stock of patience. A companion may not be so enthusiastic as one's self, perhaps, and so I say it is better for several reasons to be alone. And yet the Nature Photographer who is a real lover of Nature will never feel alone in the midst of so much of all-absorbing interest around him. In this case, however, some help is almost a necessity to enable the photographs of these Martins' nests to be obtained. Let me assist you to raise the tallest ladder against the side of the house, and the slightly shorter one we will place beside the other. You can now tie the legs of your tripod, one at a time, to the taller ladder, and make them quite firm by binding plenty of cord round. It will take some little time to do it properly, but there is no hurry, and when all is ready set the shutter and draw the slide, and the exposure can be made from the other ladder after you have allowed time for all vibration to cease in the one to which the camera is fixed. Now go and close the slide and put another plate in position and expose again. After arranging a subject like this it is better to expose two plates, as we have by that means a greater chance of success. It is better to have two eggs in one's basket than only one. When a subject is doubtful I generally expose two or three plates on it, and usually find in such cases all turn out to be good negatives.