Tuesday 14 April 2020

Pandora's Bucket

After I wrote that post the other day about finding both Moorhen and Oystercatcher on an overnight recording, I reviewed the final file from that session. This is the one that normally runs from about 4am to 6am when I get up and stop the machine, and as it is usually the dawn chorus I don't go through it - there is simply too much to pick out and listen to, and in any event I can hear all those birds with my own ears during my early morning visible migration session. However as April 12th had been so good, I decided to nonetheless run through it in the spirit of discovery - I have a lot to learn and it is interesting to see the sonogram shapes of common songbirds. At around 5am I came across the clear calls of a Little Owl below the tinkling of a Robin.


So the series of recordings I made that night contain not two but three full-fat garden ticks. There was also a Tawny Owl for the lockdown list, but whatever. Three garden ticks in an evening! I could weep, this nocmig thing is a real pain in the ass. I wonder how many newly minted noc-miggers are right now wishing that they had never started down this infernal path? I mean on the one hand it is amazing, but on the other..... What have I let myself in for?

Smarting from the "what might have been" and the solitary Mallard in two hours the following evening, I stayed up last night until 1am listening. Hoping. Not a sausage. Literally nothing at all. Shattered, I left the machine to it and collapsed into bed. This is the point where you would expect that I tell you about the amazing wader passage at 2am, but gratifyingly there was nothing at all until the local Robin started up in the morning. Clearly I have a lot to learn about what constitutes good conditions for nocturnal migration. This thing is frustrating as hell.

The soundstage

Ready for some Greek mythology? Pandora's Box. A jar from the gods thought to contain bountiful gifts, but in reality containing all manner of evil things. For Pandora curiosity unfortunately wins the day, and all these things are released into the world before the jar can be closed again. In modern times the closest equivalent expression is to "open a can of worms", but in 2020 it would be better translated as "to buy a portable sound recorder". I quite like the description in Wikipedia - a present which seems valuable but which is in reality a curse.

Here's the issue. I now know that all manner of hitherto unexpected birds fly around my house whilst I am inside sleeping. I know this because I have an indefatigable box of electronic tricks sat in a bucket on my balcony taking comprehensive notes. My very own Pandora's Box in my very own Pandora's Bucket. This is fascinating and very exciting, but listening to them after the fact on my computer is somehow deeply unsatisfying. The only way to achieve complete satisfaction is to join the bucket on the balcony and hear these birds for myself, but this comes at an almost unbearable cost of complete exhaustion, not to mention absurd frustration. An exchange rate of five hours of sleep to one Mallard is pretty unfavourable. A week in and I would almost prefer not to know. What you don't know can't hurt you right? I've missed years and years of flyovers (although Schrodinger has some thoughts here, as does his one true heir Prof W) and it hasn't bothered me a bit. Leave the machine indoors, go to sleep, worry ye not.

But what if I miss something? Would I rather not know? Of course I would! This is a whole new facet of birding to explore, I could heroically increase the Wanstead Patch list! But If I'm asleep then I......Oh my God, what have I opened up??!! Gah!!

By the way, do you know what was left in Pandora's box once everything else had escaped? 



  1. I am with you on all this. 100%.

  2. Little Owl? really? does ANYONE have Little Owl on their patch list? Think its time you popped this hellish device in a drawer somewhere and forgot all about its existence!