Saturday 17 July 2021

Prime Wader Habitat?

In the last post I stated that locally we have very little in the way of wader habitat. While this is true, it is also not true. Certainly we have nothing obvious though. No local marshes, no wader scrapes, no vast expanse of estuarine mud, ie, no location where you might roll up and routinely expect to see a nice collection of waders. We do have several miles of beach though, a tiny estuary at West Bay, the odd bit of seasonal flood and a few little pockets of other stuff. Thursday's Little Stint was on one of the latter. However, we do have stacks of that habitat frequented by all birds capable of flight: the sky.

Like any other group of birds which migrate, or for other reasons use their wings to travel from A to B, waders use the sky on a regular basis. Admittedly their appearances in it might be fleeting, few, and depressingly far-between, but you can absolutely guarantee that waders will at some point be flying over your head. Of course, from a birdwatching point of view, the challenge lies in detecting the blasted things.

Enter nocmig.

Since the beginning of March I've recorded at least 13 species of wader over my home, which is situated three miles inland from the West Dorset coastline and nowhere near any traditional wader habitat. Since recording my first 'returning' wader in the early hours of June 24th, up until dawn this morning a total of eight species have occurred. Here they all are, chronologically in medley format, like a beginner's course in flight-call identification...

The quality is a bit variable, depending on range, weather conditions, etc, but for me this does not detract even a tiny bit from the sheer wowness of them all. Seriously, just brilliant! So, just in case you are a beginner, and want to know whether you identified them all correctly...

1. Curlew. A regular migrant along the coast here, but I can't recall whether I've seen one on the deck yet.

2. Common Sandpiper. Another regular migrant encountered on the coast, and sometimes on or close to the shore.

3. Redshank. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen Redshank locally. Not common. You can just about detect that two or more birds feature in the recording.

4. Green Sandpiper. This is only my second nocmig Green Sandpiper, and the only place I've actually seen them locally is the Bride Valley Fish Farm, near Burton Bradstock.

5. Oystercatcher. Again, a fairly regular sight on the coast, and one of my most regular nocmig waders too.

6. Whimbrel. Commonly encountered in flocks on spring migration, but in autumn I reckon most local records will be ones and twos. This recording clearly involves at least three or more birds. They were audible for more than four minutes! Such an evocative sound.

7. Dunlin. Quite a faint recording, and just a single bird I reckon. A regular migrant locally, but again like so many others, usually coastal fly-bys or briefly decked on the beach.

8. Little Ringed Plover. A lovely clear recording at 02:08 this morning, these are the loudest two of a nice series of calls. It's so good to hear the volume increase as a bird approaches, and fade away as it flies past. Thus far I have seen just one local LRP, at the West Bex Mere in April this year. And I have three or four definite nocmig records from 2020, beginning July 14th.

One lesson from all this is that nocmig might significantly influence a species' perceived local status. For example, I wonder how many Bridport records of Stone-curlew there are? Very few I'll bet. Yet just my nocmig records alone reveal that it is possibly annual, or has been for two years at least!

And just as everyday birding can throw up the occasional exciting rarity, so can nocmig. Wader-wise I would like to mention two recent stunners. The first is Mark Pearson's amazing American Golden Plover up on the east coast of Yorkshire on May 13th, which Mark has written up here. The second is even more staggering. Recording in Ireland, Seán Ronayne had already struck nocmig gold on June 24th with a Baillon's Crake in County Wicklow, but topped it in spectacular fashion just a few days later. Posting on the nocmig WhatsApp group I belong to, Seán wrote that on July 2nd he had recorded a Semi-palmated Plover over Lisagriffin on Mizen Head, at the south-western tip of County Cork. Along with the recording was a detailed account of the identification process. Fascinating stuff.

Fascinating stuff indeed. If you believe it...

One thing that appears to go hand-in-hand with the relatively recent popularising of nocmig is a big fat dose of scepticism. I suspect that some of that is based on little more than an almost instinctive resistance to something 'new' by a minority of old stagers, but that aside, isn't it quite reasonable to view with great caution a rarity record that consists of just a few brief noises and some squiggles on a laptop screen?

Back in late May I think, a heard-only Little Crake was reported from Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. By all accounts it was distant and faint, but eventually it was sound-recorded using a parabolic reflector. Unfortunately the Little Crake proved to be actually a Shelduck. At which point the eye-rolling sceptics could have smirkingly pointed out the folly of all this sound-only nonsense. However, I can't help feeling that the Little Crake episode has exactly the opposite effect, and in fact reinforces the case for the defense. Because, in the end, a correct identification was made. The same as happens on a regular basis with sight records, careful investigation by experienced birders revealed the error. No big deal.

And sound-only records can be analysed to a minutely forensic degree. If the sound quality is good enough (and it doesn't have to be brilliant) a sonogram (aka spectrogram) can be as diagnostic as a wing formula. My Night Heron last year proved that to me. And personally I have no doubts at all about the veracity of Mark's AGP or Seán's Semi-P. Both have been approached with a healthy caution, and demonstrate to me the amazing potential of nocmig recording. I do sometimes wonder why nocmig seems to have such a minority appeal though. As hinted at by my own Stone-curlew records, there is so much to be discovered...

Talking of scepticism: Ortolan Bunting. [winking emoji]


  1. I do love a nocmig account, and a mix tape as well, pure gold.

    1. Thanks Dave. Every day I sit down with eager anticipation to go through the previous night's recording. Love it!

  2. With apologies to Tony of 'Tony's Journal' blog ( I accidentally deleted a comment left on this post, and cannot retrieve it. Hopefully this is more or less the same text, copied from an October 2019 NQS post: 'Questions and Answers'...

    Hello Gavin

    Great blog it is superb! I had a good old read last night. I can relate to the fishing and bird watching during the 1970's and early 80's being a sixties baby. I tend to use vintage tackle nowadays but I still have some carbon. I really enjoyed reading about your early days. I also miss West Dorset after living there in Bridport then Beaminster from 2004 - 2011, walking around some of areas that you have visited. Sadly we had to move back to Hampshire due to ill heath in the family. I have a keen interest in old optics especially from my youth, and was wondering what became of your Diaylts, did they get refurbished or have you moved on? I did spot an Optylth rainguard on one of your Sea watching session.

    Stay safe

    Kindest Regards


    1. Hi Tony, and many thanks for your kind words. I did get the Dialyts optically refurbished, but to be honest they are not much improved. So I will now have to sell a kidney. There is a story attached to the Optolyth rain guard, which I still use. One day I must tell it; it's got to be worth at least a paragraph.

      I suspect that a lot of us '50s-'60s vintage birders/anglers/etc are similarly nostalgic, with fond memories of the old places and the old kit. Much of the tackle I lusted after as a lad is now lusted after by elderly folk - me included (up to a point) - and I wish I'd kept it. It's mostly the reels I miss, not so much the rods. The original Mitchell 'Match' with finger-dab bail (and no roller!), Cardinal 44 Express, Match Aerial; all bought new in the early '70s with hard-earned Saturday job cash. Not to mention an army of earlier Intrepids, including the Black Prince, Extra and Super Twin! Which is why I stay away from the vintage tackle category on eBay!

      Again, apolgies for accidentally deleting your original comment.

      All the best...

  3. Absolutely no problem Gavin. Now there's some names of reels and they've stood the test of time. During the 90's birding took a bit of a back seat so I am playing catch up now. But I still thoroughly enjoy it. I found your blog enjoyable, interesting and inspirational and I will visit frequently. Do you mind if I put a link to your blog on to mine?

    Thank you for the reply and all the best you too.

    1. Cheers Tony. 👍
      And yes, of course, please feel free to link this blog on yours. 😊