Friday 3 April 2020

Naked Nocmig and Other Stories

Last night nearly the whole birding community was mobilised in a shared endeavour: getting Common Scoter on the BWKM0* list. After dark, seething hordes of them lift off from their wintering grounds and undertake a stealth migration. Their nocturnal route takes them overland, and their calls can be heard from the ground. It's a route which carefully avoids Bridport.

I was outside in the amazing silence for two hours from 22:45. The only definite bird noises I heard were an optimistic Robin and something which sounded like a muted version of a Great Spotted Woodpecker's 'kik', presumably a Tawny Owl. Ultra-distant dogs are a pain. Their yaps and yelps can easily sound like an interesting flight call. Or perhaps it's the other way around, and I mucked up several cool birds by dismissing them as dogs.

So, of the 5,320 birders either outside on the patio or recording last night, it seems that just me and three others failed to get Common Scoter.

Naked nocmig? That's the acoustic kind, with ears, as opposed to the electronic version, with its microphones, recorders and software...and blissfully sleeping operators.

I did make one schoolboy error. I thought it would be pleasant to start the session with a nice cup of tea and some biscuits. The moment I bit into my first chocolate and ginger cookie, I realised I shouldn't have. Crunch, crunch, CRUNCH! It's deafening. From then on it was 'dunk and suck'.

I shall try again, but it was not an auspicious beginning...

My BWKM0 list is pretty rubbish. I'm on 33 right now. Today's additions were Coal Tit, Bullfinch and Grey Wagtail. The sky was enlivened by a Red Kite - my first for several days - and up to six Buzzards, plus one or more Sparrowhawks and a Raven.

My first hirundine of 2020 was a Swallow on April 1st while out for a bike ride.

This might be Buff-tailed Bumblebee. Whatever, it's number 2 on the bee list.

Raptor Watch Squad. Very useful to have around.

Nikon P900 on a tripod. ISO 100 and a 2" shutter delay. Very pleasing

I've heard tell that you can set up your scope and point it at the full moon, and then enjoy the spectacle of nocturnally migrating birds passing across its glowing orb as silhouettes. I first heard about this back in the very early '80s when I was quite new to proper birding. The bloke who told me about it was a well-known (at the time) London birder, a lot older than me, and he happily bragged about the two Cranes which had repaid his moon-watching efforts just the other night. I lapped it up of course. The notion of such 'advanced' birding, and the skills it clearly required, impressed me hugely. However, as I later learned, the birder in question was actually a notorious stringer...

For some reason I have never forgotten that little experience, and have consequently not once pointed my scope at the full moon and sat down for a session of moon-migging. Have I missed anything?

Who said 'Loads of Scoter!'?

Blue Tit posing.

Coal Tit. Not an everyday garden bird for me.

Slow worm today. Just look at that slinky perfection.

* That's 'Birdwatching at Kilometre Zero'


  1. Factor in the noise of a room-side babbling burn (currently doing its best and noisiest impression of The Amazon River) and the ceaseless wind in the Sitka trees across the road and you'd do well to pick up a flock of overhead Curlew or Oystercatcher, never mind scoter noise! But it's great to think that there are folks way down south doing the very same thing as I am up here - listening for nocturnal noises from above (unless you're in a block of flats, in which case it'd be downright annoying).

    1. Lots of distracting noises here tonight too, sadly. When it's quiet it really is lovely to be outside, listening. Just need some birds to make it complete!

  2. Cook's Petrels taking a short cut across NZ North Island from the Tasman Sea to their breeding grounds on Great Barrier Island is my experience of Noc-mig.
    You can hear them and in Warkworth, can see them as they fly fast overhead, lit up from below by the light of the town.

    1. That's pretty amazing, Ric. Sitting out in the dark has reminded me of night-fishing exploits, and hearing Curlew and Whimbrel over the constant drone of M25 and stacked jets in the Colne Valley.