I am generally a happy chap around the office but today I am feeling even happier than usual, and its all down to the lack of sleep and exertion of a much-anticipated Saturday night "stag do"...

I spent the morning in the build up to the big event in the company of some very colourful, very special visitors in Nottinghamshire. I travelled up to see the bee-eaters that have become media darlings by settling at East Leake Quarry. Do go – the birds were constantly on show for the two hours I was there and there is plenty of viewing space to watch these rainbow-coloured beauties catching butterflies and bumblebees (I noted at least two species of each “going down the hatch”).

Seeing six bee-eaters really takes some beating (Andy Hay rspb-images.com)

Evening entertainment
It is a rare day indeed when seeing bee-eaters in the UK is just the warm up act, but the adrenaline was pumping by the time I set off for the evening. At 8 pm, I gathered up my gear and headed off to drive for just shy of an hour to the rendezvous point and what turned out to be a night to remember. There were all the classic ingredients of a good stag weekend: a pub, a special guest performance, getting back very late and picking up a minor injury in all the excitement. But as I'm sure you have guessed, this was a stag do with a difference.

This party involved just me, a net and my most wanted to see species of UK wildlife: a rare and localised creature that comes out at dusk, and one that I had already missed twice at the same location in recent weeks. This was a species with which I had a score to settle. It is one of the most iconic species of UK wildlife and one that almost everyone would know if they saw one. It is big, fearsome looking and, as I found out, can give you a nasty nip...

On the list
So today, for the first time in 22 years of writing about wildlife, I can say that I have seen a stag beetle. Not just one either – I saw four and even got up very close and personal with one. My good friend and ace photographer Ben Andrew has had success when he has been this year and he tipped me off to a spot nearby to where I had looked previously. A gap in the canopy on a wooded slope next to several large gardens was the place to look for the big, bumbling stag beetles to fly through. I waited, waited and waited. Chafers came and went briefly quickening the heartbeat, but nowhere near big enough to be the prize I was after.

It was five to ten, the brown long-eared bats were out and I was ready for a third “dip” in two weeks when the sight I’d been dreaming of came into view over the canopy of an ash tree. Legs akimbo, wings spread, a torpedo of a beetle slowly cruising through the grey sky. It bumbled into the canopy, landing clumsily, and then a second did a short, slow circuit about five metres overhead

Feeling happy, but a little underwhelmed at the views, I headed slowly and carefully back down the woodland path, spying the green glow of a glow worm at the base of a tree by the path. A nice way to end the evening, but little did I know, the party was just getting started...

No idea what made me think it was sensible to put my fingers anywhere near those fearsome "jaws"! (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

Back of the net
Music was thumping out of the pub as drunken revellers started to stagger home along the street. Two tawny owls, an adult and a juvenile, did their best to be heard above the din. Still clutching my net, I received a few strange looks, so I took a last minute decision to walk the other way along the road rather than back to my car, just in case. It was properly dark now and I relied on the streetlights to guide me.

Suddenly, from out of the gloom came a buzz, as a missile cruised past me about a foot above my head. A stag beetle! In my excitement (note – do not ignore road safety, even for stag beetles), I ran out into the middle of the road in hot pursuit, taking two failed scoops with my net. This resulted in complete panic that I had blown my chance. The beetle was rising and heading up towards the woodland. I knew I had one more shot, so composed myself, jumped up in the air and carefully and gently scooped. I had no idea if I’d been lucky and I only knew the sky was empty, as I scampered onto the safety of the path. I slowly opened up the net and there, in all its glory, was a male stag beetle.

In all the excitement, I then did something a bit silly. I reached in to the net and suddenly my thumb became caught in a vice-like grip (it really was strong!). The stag had latched on to my thumb and it was a good minute or so before it let go and I was able to extract it, and my thumb, safely to allow me to admire it. What a beast it was. I have been lucky to see a lot of the UK’s wildlife, but this was one of my all time highlights, up there with the very best. At the same time, another stag beetle flew past throwing me into a sense of confusion – to try and net it, or be happy with the one I had. I chose the later.

Simply stunning, but a conservation priority now (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

I was very conscious of the fact that I did not want to keep the beetle for long, so it could continue its search for a female, so I searched around for a nice big trunk on which to place it so it could continue its night’s activities.

Only last week in the build up to Big Wild Sleepout, I blogged about my ten favourite night time nature sights, sounds and smells and the stag beetle was the only one I hadn't actually seen.

With a 50+ score of purple emperors – and my biggest day count of 62 purple hairstreaks – at Fermyn Woods in Northants on Sunday morning, it was a stand out weekend and even as I type, that little throbbing of my thumb, and the pin-prick stag beetle inflicted wound is a welcome reminder of a very special night.