Wednesday 22 September 2021

Sound recording saves the day

Early one morning about a week or so ago a Plover flew over Alexandra Lake heading east. It did not call, I did not manage to take a photograph, and against the light all I could get was a silhouette. I can only hope it wasn't the Dotterel that appeared later that morning a bit further down the Thames estuary. The balance of probability of course, or Occam's razor as it is otherwise known, is that it was a Golden Plover, even though strange things happen during the autumn. In the event it went down as nothing at all, and it still irritates me even a week later. Any wader here is a rare event, to miss even a Golden Plover is highly annoying.

This morning the same thing nearly happened, except this time we were saved by technology. I had been hanging around at the Vizmig point for nearly two hours and had seen and heard very little. Par for the course. I decided to walk further down the main path to see a Whinchat so that my day list would have at least something half-decent on it. I couldn't find it. Also par for the course. Meandering back up towards where Bob and David were standing, I heard and then saw a distant Plover species flying west over Esso Copse. "Plover!" I shouted, and started running to get a closer view - it was a Golden-sized Plover and that was my first thought, but equally it could have been a Grey Plover and that would be mega around here. The bird continued to fly west, calling all the while, but the less drawn-out calls of these birds can be remarkably similar and I simply don't hear enough of them to instantly and confidently ID them. The guys heard my shout, heard the bird, and started looking upwards, but finding just one bird in large blank sky is not the easiest, and dare I say that Bob and David have more than a few years between them now and that perhaps their best days of visual acuity lie behind them? One day it will happen to me I am sure, and bright young things will do their best to get me onto birds that I simply cannot see.

By now the bird was gone. I tried to get news out in case it could be seen by some of the guys who live just off patch, but to no avail. We turned to discussing what we had just seen/heard. Playing Plover calls was no help at all, in fact it probably hindered our thought process as we found Grey Plover calls that were really quite different from the longer disyllabic Grey Plover calls that you most often hear at the coast. I didn't even have a camera this morning so that wasn't an option. But throughout all this sitting quietly on the top of the VizMig post was Bob's MP3 recorder. Bob's fully-charged, switched-on, free-space-on-the-card and running MP3 recorder! (as if there could be any other type!) And that saved the day, as once he got home it produced this.

I tried valiantly to turn it into a Grey Plover of course, I am getting quite excitable as I near the patch year-list record, but a period of reflection on Xeno-Canto and consulting other people kept me on the straight and narrow. A European Golden Plover - I've circled the calls. In the longer recording you can hear me bellow "Plover!" a couple of time, and Bob, much nearer to the microphone, shout "Yes!". Without Bob's recording I would probably still be trying to string it into something even better. Sorry, I mean I would have regretfully thrown it away like the clear-eyed birder I am, just like I did with the last one. How I wish Bob and his MP3 player had been there ten days ago when a Corn mystery Bunting flew over and called five times.

I am becoming more and more convinced that along with cameras and photographs, MP3 recorders and sound files are an essential part of bird identification. Ironically I have both, yet inexplicably dislike walking about with them, seemingly more so with each passing week. They are generally to found gathering dust near the front door which is very stupid of me. I need to get my act together and start to treat these miraculous items with the same reverence as my binoculars. I did explore wandering around with a microphone running, but a few experimental outings saw me quickly frustrated with the constant sound of my rustling clothing and booming footsteps. But if you're simply standing around sky-watching, putting it on a post is a brilliant idea. As is taking out a camera if you happen to own several.....

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