Thursday, 30 April 2020

Nocmig - the Story After 4 Weeks

Four weeks ago today, I was tempted to sit out in the garden after dark and listen for migrating Common Scoter. I gave it two hours from about 22:45, probably a bit too late really, and predictably heard none. So, why did I do it? What made me have a go, no matter how improbable it might seem to expect flocks of Common Scoter to fly over my garden at night? Twitter was the reason. The reports from birders far and wide that Common Scoter were indeed being heard at night, and in numbers too. I thought it would be pretty cool to get the species on my garden list.

Not my garden. Not at night. Photo depicts Common Scoter making big error.

And that is exactly how trouble usually starts. Small. Innocent. A mild curiosity, that sort of thing...

I tried again the following night, in fact the next two or three, and heard nothing. But the very fact that I was sitting out there in the dark, all wrapped up against the chill, speaks volumes. Yep, I was in trouble...

Of course, I had heard of nocmig, and was aware of its potential, but for reasons I've touched on in earlier posts, I wanted none of it. And yet, look at me now.

On Monday, April 6th I ordered a digital recorder, the Zoom H4n Pro. That same night I once again settled in for a spell of naked nocmig. And a Moorhen flew over, calling loudly! After literally hours of nothing, this common bird had somehow contrived to put a smile on my face out of all proportion to its status. I was absolutely delighted. So the next night I tried a simple smartphone app for recording speech (Tape-a-Talk) and heard Moorhen twice, capturing one call on my phone. By this stage obviously I was doomed...

On April 10th the recorder arrived, and on Monday 13th it was powered up and left out for its first night of action. It didn't go well. We call this 'teething troubles'. To be honest I did wonder if I'd bitten off more than I could chew, but here we are just over two weeks later and things are looking altogether more promising.

I'm not really one for careful record-keeping, so cannot quickly tell you how many nights I've been recording, how many hours, how many of those hours have been nakedly monitored too, or anything else connected with commendable accuracy. Because I am very, very slack about such stuff. However, what I have been doing is carefully reviewing each night's recording and clipping out all the bird calls. So I can fairly easily report my findings so far. And here they are...

I've excluded stationary stuff like our local Tawny Owls, Robins, Herring Gulls etc. The first number refers to number of calls/sets of calls, not birds.

Barn Owl. At least 9 (at least 5 nights). Considering I had no clue that we had local birds, this is a biggie for me.
Coot. 2 (2 nights). One I heard naked and initially overlooked as Moorhen (but picked up on review), the other I mistook for Little Ringed Plover. Coots can pretend to be almost any other bird, it seems.
Dunlin. 2 (2 nights).
Grey Heron. 1, mega-loud.
Mallard. 5 (2 nights).
Moorhen. 11 (9 nights). So Moorhen turns out to be a regular, but always makes me smile.
Nightjar. 1. A massive 'Wow!' moment. I even identified it correctly by ear.
Oystercatcher. 2 (2 nights).
Ringed Plover. 3 (2 nights).
Stone-curlew. 1. A great story of unfolding amazement as the culprit responsible for this incredible call was revealed.
Turnstone. 1, which again I mistook for LRP, a species which has so far resisted my efforts to string it.
Whimbrel. 10 (4 nights) including at least one flock, and an amazing burst of song.

My simultaneous naked nocmig efforts have detected six of those species - Barn Owl, Coot, Mallard, Moorhen, Nightjar and Whimbrel. All except Mallard are garden ticks.

I don't know how many other local (or local-ish) birders are nocmigging right now, but in Budleigh Salterton to the west, Chris Townend has also detected Stone-curlew and Nightjar, and to the east in Weymouth, Joe Stockwell has recorded Nightjar too.

Clearly, here in Bridport things are not fast and furious, but in a way I am glad not to be faced with dozens and dozens of calls to analyse after each session. At this early stage I'm happy to have just a few to puzzle over. Mind you, I'm getting pretty good at Moorhen.


  1. I'm enjoying it a lot as well, and am also mystified as to why some people sniff at it as a 'recording' medium. My list is sadly less dramatic than yours, but has nonetheless been very eye-opening. Out of interest, what time is your cutoff? I cut it when I hear the first Robin, which at the moment seems to be about 4.30am. That's then nocmig over as far as I am concerned.

    1. Most mornings the first Robin is away just after 03:00, and initially I too was cutting off about then because the spectrogram became so busy. However, after Chris picked up his Nightjar at 04-something I thought I should try harder. So far I've picked out an extra Barn Owl and Moorhen by persevering. Plus it's making me learn to see through the 'background' of dawn chorus. Hopefully that will pay off at some future time.

    2. Actually my Little Owl recordings were both after the first Robin now I think about it...