Sunday 26 April 2020

Learning New Things

I will admit to not being that great at bird calls. Despite the fact that very often it's a vocalisation which first draws my attention to a bird, what I see with my eye is what normally dominates proceedings. I suspect that many birders operate this way. Which is why nocmig really has me stumbling in First of all, I am discovering that my mental library of readily-identifiable bird sounds is much smaller than I would like. Secondly, when you are presented with just a vocalisation, and no context to put it in, it can be surprisingly difficult to identify the culprit. For example, when you are out birding and hear a single, clear 'peoo' call, and see that it's coming from a small plover flying overhead, it's dead easy to identify it as one of the Little Ringed variety. A single, clear 'peoo' on your nocmig recording is a different matter. Believe me, I know. What I tentatively identified as LRP was in fact a Turnstone. Comparing the two calls it is quite easy to hear the difference, so perhaps I really must be a bit useless, mucking that one up. What can I say? Still, I wonder if some other birders might be in the same boat as me...?

Anyway, here's another cock-up...

A couple of posts ago I published the original version of this spectrogram, and the recording that went with it...

And I added that I must have completely missed this astonishing Curlew call, because almost certainly I was outside, listening, at the time. I'm going to be honest here, and confess that finding this belter on the night's spectrogram was the main reason I am now very carefully logging any 'out-loud' playing of bird calls while I'm in the garden, naked-nocmigging, because I found it so hard to believe that I didn't hear this. Racked with doubt, I cast my mind back to the previous evening. Had I played some random Xeno Canto recording of Curlew for some reason? Had the microphone picked it up? And was that what I was looking at here? Well, the answer was no to all, but it had me worried. With hindsight, it turns out I was almost certainly not outside, but indoors when this bird went over.

However, the main reason I am revisiting this incident is because it is actually not a Curlew! Be truthful, dear reader. Did you listen to the lovely recording and say to yourself, 'Hmm, Gav has cocked this one up big time. That is so obviously a nice bit of Whimbrel song!'? Because that is indeed what this is - a singing Whimbrel! I am grateful to Chris Batty for pointing that out for me, and doubly gutted that I never actually heard it.

So, certainly I am learning new things regarding bird vocalisations, and my pitiful knowledge of them. Anything else? Yes...

This morning, and again this afternoon, I stood in the garden, sky-watching, for quite a long time. I notched up two new #BWKM0 ticks - Lesser Black-backed Gull and Peregrine - and enjoyed great views of two lingering Red Kites, a few Swifts, House Martins and Swallows. What I didn't see, and would never in a million years expect to, were any Moorhens, Barn Owls, Whimbrel, Ringed Plovers, Stone-curlews or Nightjars. However, I now know that all those are realistic expectations after dark. Admittedly, a couple may be less 'expectation' and more 'hope', but you get the point. Three weeks ago I didn't know that.

Very, very much I am learning new things about what flies over my garden during the course of a 24-hour day. And I am loving that.

I realise that some birders are not interested in getting involved with nocmig because it means buying kit, and investing time and energy which perhaps cannot be spared. To some extent that was me, until the coronavirus lockdown. Plus, because I'm lazy, I didn't fancy the inevitable learning curve. So, 'not interested thanks' I get, one hundred percent. However, with nocmig there also seems to be something else. Am I imagining it, or are some birders a bit scathing about it? Hopefully I am imagining that. Because although nocmig may be a minority pursuit right now, and still in relative infancy, there is surely no doubt that it is opening our eyes to birdy stuff that we had no idea was happening. It's turning what we knew into what we thought we knew. And in my book, that's exciting.

And finally, on a less provocative note, some flight shots from this afternoon's sky-watching...

Red Kite
Swift. This photo gives me hope that if I'm ever jammy enough to find an Alpine Swift, there could in theory be a record shot to prove it,
Red Kite. Overhead, and away...


  1. Currently I'm pleased if I can get to the right family. FWIW I listened to your call and was completely accepting of it being a Curlew, right now I know no better. I just don't see any waders where I live, let alone hear them. I know I can identify them with my eyes, but that's not the whole bird is it?

    I can walk around my patch here in Wanstead and confidently identify most if not all of the birds on it by ear, mainly because I have years of familiarity. I know where to look on the patch for certain things, I know when, I know what they look like, I know what they sound like, in many cases I know what they're going to do next when I'm watching them. Within this small subset of species I'm actually quite proficient.

    Nocmig has smashed that comfort zone to pieces and, as you note, sent me back to school with a little "C minus, must try harder" note clutched in my hand. It's excellent.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment, Jono, it's nice to know I'm in good company. 😊

  2. "Am I imagining it, or are some birders a bit scathing about it"?

    Of course they are Gav. This aspect of birding means that if they wish to compete with others for great birds, they'll have to work a lot harder than they would like to.

    Far easier for them to dismiss this branch of birding, than admit they are just too lazy and set in their ways to get out of bed of a night.

    As for the learning curve and competency aspect of any new endeavour?

    I'm one for taking whatever talent I have and working on it until I've covered about 98% of my potential - takes about 18 months of application. The last 2% I don't bother with since I'm at best still 15% off the top.

    However, these days I tend not to bother taking on much of the new beyond the idle passing phase for the basic reason that by now I know I'm not going to be great at anything.

    Take the expression, 'Everyone is good at something, they just have to find out what it is'.

    Not true.

    The reality is 'Everyone is not rubbish at everything, they are simply fortunate if they discover what it is'.

    1. A very pragmatic philosophy!

      As you know, I'll have a go at anything, Ric. But only on one condition: first it must interest me sufficiently. Then I'll milk it for all it's worth and see where that leads, even if there's little evidence of much talent. Thus far, nocmig has not disappointed! 😊

  3. People with hobbies always find their parameters and look down on others that vary from them. It's like fishing with a fish finder is bad boogaloo to some but acceptable to others, the same with the upstream fly vs the rest. Ignore them and do what you want.

    1. Couldn't agree more, Dave. The cane and creel approach has never appealed to me, but I completely understand why it does to some, and would never knock it. Ditto the 'camping with rods', whole week in the same swim deal. That would drive me nuts, and is easy to deride if you want to, but if some enjoy that, bully for them. In birding it is similar, with various approaches having their fans and detractors. It's a shame.