Wednesday 22 April 2020

Nocmig Mega!

All this nocmig shenanigans must be an entertaining sideshow for many birders, as one after another of us falls prey to its allure. Will it turn out to be just a fad? Will we all get bored with it when proper birding is on the table again? Or will our initial curiosity grow into something more profound, a genuine interest? Right now I am a nocmig advocate, no question. I am thoroughly enjoying it. Let me explain why...

Last night I sat out until about 23:40. I am now equipped with a fleece blanket for my legs. Like an old person. Apart from a couple of half-hearted Tawny Owl efforts I heard absolutely nowt. Not bird-wise anyway. Reviewing the recording this morning though, I came across this at 00:39...

Even I cannot muck that one up. It's unquestionably a Heron. More specifically, a Grey Heron. I imagine it could hardly be louder or more directly overhead. If only I'd done another hour, it could have gone on my BWKM0 list. Mind you, I've had the occasional fly-by Heron before, so I didn't miss out on a garden tick.

Actually, it's a good job I'm not a particularly list-oriented birder, or I'd have been weeping all over my toast about the next one.

Let me tell you how it is when you're reviewing the night's 'catch' in Audacity...

Basically you sit there, pressing the '>' key on your keyboard repeatedly, and scanning your eyes over the latest 25 seconds-worth of blank spectrogram for any interesting-looking blips and squiggles. Ideally you should probably do 10-second segments, but it takes me an age as it is. So, another 25 seconds of nothing. And another. And another. And suddenly, out of the blue, this...

Okay, only 11 seconds-worth, but you get the idea.

Out loud I said words. Probably 'Wow! Look at that!' or similar. Because straight away you know you've got something good. Plus, you know it's going to be loud. Nothing faint and wishy-washy about that trace. So I played it. I played it and actually laughed out loud. It was so ridiculously wild that I couldn't help myself! I thought: 'That thing flew right over my garden last night, and if I'd been sitting there at 01:13 I'd have heard it. Amazing!!'

I also thought: 'What the heck is it?!'

Here it is...

What's your first thought? Mine was Oystercatcher. It didn't seem quite right, but to my ear it had that kind of quality. It wasn't the steady (and obvious) series of single notes that I recorded the other night, but perhaps it was an excited Oystercatcher? I tried to find a match on Xeno Canto, but to no avail. I also researched Redshank, the other wader which came to mind. Nope, nothing encouraging there either. So I posted it to the Nocmig WhatsApp group. One or two suggested I check Avocet, which blew me away slightly. I would never have considered Avocet, but it's not a call I'm familiar with at all, so I did check. Again, there were similarities, but unless you were listening to a flock it was always a repeated single note, nothing with the triple-note call you can clearly hear from the bird in question. And it really does sound like one bird, not several.

And then someone said Stone-curlew. In fact a couple suggested Stone-curlew. And sure enough, among the many and varied noises which a night-time Stone-curlew can produce, that triple-note job is right there. Bingo!

The notion of Avocets flying over my garden was crazy enough, but Stone-curlew is just bonkers! And virtually overhead too I should think. I don't care that I cannot count it on my garden list (though the garden can!) because that's not what motivates me here. What keeps me doing this, and hopefully will continue to do so, are basically these two things:
  • The fascination of it all. What other mad birds fly over here at night? And how often?
  • The learning aspect. Nocmigging has revealed how woeful is my grasp of vocalisations, and I am really enjoying the humiliation.
Having said that, maybe it is just a passing fancy which will fizzle out when the lockdown ends. But I really hope not, because it has added another level to an already compelling hobby.


  1. Great work Gav - I'm sure you're aware that Chris Townend recorded Stone Curlew (over Budleigh) a few nights back too. what next I wonder? Loved your Lesser Whitethroat shots btw - stunning. All the best. Matt

    1. Ah, thanks Matt, much appreciated. 😊

      Yes, I was aware of Chris' Stone-curlew, and until last night was thinking what a jammy so-and-so he was, being a nocmig beginner like me! Seriously though, it does make you wonder how many must pass over us in the dark en route to their breeding areas. And makes you wonder what else does too! 😊

      All the best...

  2. Beginner's luck!
    Alternatively it happens all the time!

  3. Stone Curlew? That's just showing off.

    1. I've recorded probably less than 20 species nocturnally so far. That one of them is Stone-curlew is just daft.