Thursday 2 April 2020

NocMig Bucket List

As lockdown begins to set in I am trying new ways to bird from within the confines of Chateau L. So two nights ago I dug out Mrs L's portable recorder and placed it out on the balcony. The following morning I was able to enjoy six hours of wind and traffic noise and, somewhere in the middle of it, a solitary Redwing call lasting about a third of second. Excellent. I remember this from last time I tried Noc-migging, and I also remember that I gave up quite quickly.

That wasn't in lockdown though. So I did a bit of research yesterday to see how I might improve the experience and get a better quality recording. The answer - well, the cheap answer at any rate - was a bucket. Very low tech, but apparently by placing the recorder in a bucket you can block much of the wind noise. The size and colour of the bucket were not specified, but I am quite fond of subtle shades of red when it comes to birding.

Right, all set. I put it out at around 10.30pm last night just before I went to bed, and enjoyed a peaceful sleep untroubled by thoughts of what might be flying over my house attracted by my bucket.

The batteries ran out at 2.17am. What a rookie error - much to learn I still have. Nonetheless I had about four hours to go though, and so after my morning VizMig session during which I recorded a lot of Redwing, I made myself a coffee, fired up Audacity, and got to work. Sirens. Cars. Doors slamming. A few gunshots..... Welcome to London. The bucket had definitely made a difference though, the band of noise in the low register below 1kHz was much reduced and it was a lot easier to pick out the ususual sounds. I had a couple of definite Redwings at around 1am, and then at 1.19am a series of very interesting calls.

I was immediately suspicious as I did not recognise them. However many of the Noc-migging websites use Common Scoter as an example species as they are known to migrate over land in large numbers and give quite distinctive flight calls. These calls sounded quite similar to my untrained ear, the sonogram looked about right, and furthermore the birdy internet reported a lot of Common Scoter activity overnight. I wonder....

 (volume UP!)

I sent the file to our local WhatsApp group, one of whom also homed in on Common Scoter. Another friend said it was a Coot before settling on maybe a Scoter! Things were looking promising. Then I sent it to the wider East London birding group which has a couple of members who are well into sound recordings. I received positive affirmation immediately.


Common Scoter over my house! On my Wanstead li.......Ah. Dilemma. My fellow Wanstead birders were quick (some would say very quick!) to provide some helpful advice regarding the effect of rain on parades. I cannot count it, it would apparently be like counting a photo of a bird a neighbour took in my garden whilst I was on holiday. I think that's a little extreme, but I agree with the sentiment. I was physically present but not paying much attention, and only through the magic of technology and a red bucket do we retrospectively know that a Common Scoter flew over the patch. But what a shame! This is the first patch record since 1961, mega does not even begin to describe it. 

The question of course is whether I can stay awake all night in the hope of a repeat. A small part of me really wants to. However the rest of me is old and tired and doubts I can manage it.


  1. I'm really enjoying these lockdown blogs. Good decision re the scoter. Adding that to your list would have been beyond the pail.


  2. You can totally count that on your list! Bird observatories do, don't they? Or do they just blog about them to make readers jealous.

    The ducks at night thing is new for me. I had Mandarin flying over Queen's Wood, Highgate, a few nights ago as I walked the dogs. I couldn't for the life of me identify them and then two days later, on Hampstead Heath, three of them flew over me early morning and bingo!


    1. Opinions seem to vary. I think my fellow patchworkers are secretly jealous, even though they were asleep too!

  3. It counts.

    You put yourself out in order to obtain a result and you got one. Better than that. You have tangible evidence. And the evidence that you have is you have recorded (literally) a Common Scoter flying over your house.

    If others are envious, tell them to put out their own buckets.

    1. Cheers Ric. I'm going to try the direct to ears approach tonight, but I am really chuffed with that recording especially as the main flyway seems to be a lot further north.

  4. I have recently ticked Tengmalms Owl on my life list. I've never seen or heard one, as I was in bed when people were watching it but I have been shown a photo of it so that will do eh :)

  5. Yes, a bit. Gyr Crakes over in the Channel Islands said:

    I genuinely think that this remote nocturnal recording of migrants is fascinating stuff, but all I can think of is Jim Bowen tapping you on the shoulder in the morning saying "Look at what you could've won!

    which I think is spot on and the best I've heard it described. I did it again last night and got more Scoter, this time whilst awake, so a celebratory post will follow!