Sunday, 4 April 2021

So Much To Learn...

It was Monday, 13th April 2020. That was the date I first switched on a nocmig recorder and stuck it outside for the night. In a bucket. With batteries. It was all a bit of a disaster if I'm honest. But that faltering step was the first on a long, steep learning curve which I have thoroughly enjoyed. And here we are almost a year later, a few steps further along.

Following the odd night's effort in February, I started in earnest on March 1st. The kit has been out every night bar one (weather too awful) and I thought it might be interesting to share the results so far...

No megas in that lot, but several pleasing records, and one or two surprises. Like two occurences of Common Gull on 29th, and Jackdaw twice. Curlew on five nights, Oystercatcher and Wigeon on three, Redshank on two, and a lovely Golden Plover call on 5th are all worthy of mention. Of the rallids, Coot and Water Rail are both scarce, but Moorhen is almost expected. And it's been good to get a spring passage of Redwing; those seven on 28th are my most recent, so perhaps they're finished now. And finally, a single occurence of Common Scoter on 26th, the species which originally got so many of us out in the garden after dark last spring.

If you had asked me a year ago what species I thought might fly over my garden at night, few on that list would have occured to me. Not only has nocmig opened my eyes to new things, it has also taught me so much about vocalisations. For example, today I really surprised myself. Someone on the nocmig WhatsApp group posted a mystery recording, and before he had even typed out his question I knew it was a Stone-curlew! Yet I never hear Stone-curlew locally. In fact I need only two or three fingers to count the number of times in my whole life that I've heard one in the field! But the nocmig bird I had here last year is etched indelibly in my mental sound library, and I recognised the similarity instantly. On the other hand, nocmig reveals the many, many gaps in my knowledge too. Analysing last night's recording earlier, I came across this...

So, what's this, warbling away at 02:46?
[PS. That's a faint Moorhen at 14:46:35]

Even before I played it I knew this was something new to me; the shapes were totally unfamiliar. I was none the wiser after playing it. Here it is...

I needed to tap the expertise of the WhatsApp group members, who identified it as Golden Plover song. Sure enough, I found near-enough identical recordings on Xeno Canto. However, later today I learned that our local wintering Golden Plover can be heard making this sound in flight. I can honestly say I have never consciously heard it before. Is that simply because I've never actually listened properly? Nocmig has opened my ears, for sure.

I've done a lot of birding in the last couple of days. Three outings, probably eight or nine hours in total. My tally in all that time comprises:

Willow Warbler 1
Blackcap 21
Chiffchaff 25
Sandwich Tern 4
Swallow 4
White Wagtail 1
Great Crested Grebe 1

Obviously there was other stuff, but that's all I recorded. No Wheatears at all, hardly any hirundines. Bit of a struggle really. And yet it hasn't bothered me one bit. Firstly, I know it's a temporary thing, and migration will get going again soon enough. But secondly - and mainly - I've come to appreciate that the getting out and walking is at least as important to me as seeing birds. And as I pottered around Cogden and West Bex this evening I found myself looking at common birds and realising how little I know about their breeding habits. Strewth, I am so ignorant! Take Linnet. Where does it nest, exactly? On the ground? Off the ground? I could make an educated guess, but I don't actually know. What do its eggs look like? No idea. How many does it usually lay? Do both sexes sit on them? How many broods? Er...


As regular readers will know, I can give you chapter and verse on the tricky nuances of Caspian Gull ID, but when it comes to basic knowledge of our commonest birds, there are big empty spaces. It's actually quite humbling.

Anyway, this is what happens when the birding is a bit tepid. You get to thinking about things you shouldn't. Once the migrants begin to flow again I shall forget all about how little I know. And will probably think I'm quite clever if I am fortunate enough to find something scarce.

Anyway, enough introspection. Here is why the simple action of getting out and walking is such good medicine...

Looking west this evening. NQS readers must be getting tired of photos like these. Sorry.

Looking east.

In the last two days I've taken photos of just two birds. One was yesterday's White Wagtail. The other was this...

Great Crested Grebe off West Bex this evening.

I've posted both these photos because they are from the same burst of three shots, and illustrate another situation which benefits from the P900's 'high speed burst' setting: a bird bobbing up and down in lumpy water. For obvious reasons.


  1. Gav, I've discovered one Linnets nest in my time. Suburban street, in a dense hedge at around five feet off of the ground.

    1. Cheers Ric. As a youngster I worked out that they liked gorse, but I've never searched for a nest. Perhaps gorse was the reason why not! 😄