Monday 23 April 2018

Nocturnal migration


You can see where it came from but it is a fundamentally silly word. 

And it a very silly thing to start doing. Frankly it has moths written all over it. Slippery slope.

I am only on day two, but I would say that it has startling similarities to mothing, chief of which is that the spectrogram has the equivalent of lots of small brown and wholly unidentifiable moths on it. The micros of nocturnal calls. Equally it has some very obvious things, lets call them Elephant Moths - so far these include Mallard, Tawny Owl, Coot and Fox. Oh, and this being London, the A12, planes, helicopters, sirens, motorbikes, gunshots, screaming....

I did not buy the kit luckily. On the cusp of doing so I remember that Mrs L had previously flirted with a singing career, and had needed at times to record herself warbling. She is now a teacher - prone to the odd warble still, but not - thankfully - in need of playback. I have found the device, dusted it off, and pressed it once more into service recording a different cacophony. Before I go to bed I simply place it out on the balcony and let London do its stuff. 

And there is a great deal of stuff - not ideal for someone already busy. Happily you don't have to listen to the whole lot in real time - you whack it onto the computer, convert it to a graphical representation, cut out the low pitched rumble of traffic and then advance about a minute at a time looking for what might be higher pitched bird sounds. Unfortunately these can be also be foxes, car doors slamming, cats, a person whistling, and late night garden trampoline enthusiasts. Occasionally you get an identifiable bird - the whirring of a duck's wings with the unmistakable quack of a Mallard. Much of the time you are left scratching your head. 

Last night for instance I have something that sounds a bit like a Corncrake, which is surely impossible. It has that doppler effect to it so the two calls sound as if whatever made them is travelling, but as far as I know Corncrakes do not call in flight. I have no idea what it is. I had considered Garganey but it does not seem quite right for that either. Insect, bat, someone who recently stole my phone and was running down the street with it (if you know me you will understand...). You can judge for yourself using the link below.

Anyhow, I will probably never know and it is of no great importance, but let us presume for a minute that it is a definite nailed on Corncrake. No doubts, it just is one - ID established and the great and the good are happy. Right, on my list it goe..... ah. This is the conundrum of which I spoke yesterday. How can I possibly tick a bird that flew over while I was asleep?! Can I put it on the garden list? What about the patch list - not mine but the wider patch? THE list. Other than historic records, can we have a bird on there that not a single person has seen or heard? I am not sure that we can. I suppose a records committee would accept it for London, but even so it would just seem a little bizarre, to me at least, to have something on the list purely on the basis of a nocturnal recording. Corncrake would not as it happens be a patch tick, there are records from the early 1900s which make it out to be a regular summer visitor - a kick in the teeth from over a hundred years ago - but you know what I mean. If we knew that a new bird for the patch had overflown us the previous night, what would we do?

What would you do? Other than stay up all night sitting on the balcony?


  1. You can't have that! Even if it was a corncrake and not a bloke on a bike with the back brake rubbing a bit cycling past your house (possibly having nicked your bike - best go check hey?), YOU didn't hear it, the recorder did. You just heard the recording. May as well start counting stuff you see and hear off the telly!

    Assuming yer telly is on patch and hasn't been nicked as well....

    1. Bike still present and gathering dust. Re listing this is exactly the dilemma. Are all these hundreds of birders adding these things to their lists? Are they submitting the rares and scarce like Ortolans? If so, who are they putting as the observer??!