Champions of the Flyway!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Nocmig Update - May 2020

Well, that's month #2 done and dusted of this addictive new aspect of the local birding experience, and what a fascinating month it's been. I managed to record nocturnal migration (nocmig) over our house here in the middle of Filey every night, using a hand-held sound recorder jammed into the gap of my study window, pointing out into the alley (see here for an overview of my, er, 'technique' and circumstances). Invariably, the virtual tape rolls from roughly 45 minutes beyond dusk until whenever I get up to turn it off, amounting to about six hours of usable material every night (before the gulls and dawn chorus bring the curtain down).

To my amazement, not one night drew a blank - and that's discounting all local breeders, 'stationary' species and anything likely to still be active in the area beyond dusk, and including only those species definitively on the move overhead in the night-time proper. Even nights with strong winds, rain, particularly deafening and near-continuous gull noise and other limiting factors registered returns.

Overall, the weather was actually pretty kind, and there were no technical issues (beyond the general limitations of my set-up) to stifle the hand-rubbing expectation of spectrogram reviewing the following day....

As with diurnal birding and migration, the steady changes of the spring season were evident as the month wore on, and recent nights stand in stark contrast to those first days in April and beyond regarding species composition (those ubiquitous Redwing shreeps sure seem like a long time ago now).

A full April summary can be found here, but in brief, ducks were relatively regular (six species, including regular Gadwall, a Common Pochard, and a lot of Common Scoters), rails likewise (especially Coot and Moorhen), nine shorebird species featured (ranging from numerous Oystercatchers to Grey Plover and Greenshank, and plenty of Common Sands, Whimbrel and the like), a few gulls and corvids were on the move, and intriguingly, there was plenty of passerine action beyond the welcome-but-expected Redwings and odd Fieldfares. These included Meadow Pipit, Robin, alba Wagtail, a couple still to be ID'ed and not one but two Blackcaps - at the time, something of a revelation, and a total surprise...

Picking up any nocturnal migrants is a thrill, but picking up a warbler 'migration-singing' as it skirts the chimney pots of urban Filey in the dead of night is something else - as previously described, it's an entirely habitat-free, bricks-and-mortar-only location with no gardens, surrounded by three- and four-storey terraced housing on all sides. In that respect, those humble Blackcaps were indeed revelatory, and concrete (pun-intended) proof that these were no stop-and-sing or stationary birds - they were 100% flyover migrants.

Which was one of the ways May upped the ante and raised the bar even higher. In the first week of month in particular, other insectivorous passerines began to register, including Spotted Flycatcher, Yellow Wagtail, Robin and (fantastically) two Lesser Whitethroats - amazing and fascinating in equal measure, and absolutely beyond any expectations I had when I first dipped my toe into nocmig eight weeks ago.

But it wasn't just the passerines that came to the fore. April's tally of nine shorebird (wader) species steadily became no fewer than thirteen over the course of the month, with new additions including Arctic breeders such as Sanderling, Knot and Turnstone (often with trickier calls to sift out from the gull cacophony).

Fantastically, two tern species have registered, including a flock of noisy Sandwich Terns the night before last, and at least one Arctic Tern screeching through the rain in the early hours of the 10th - the same night as, even more excitingly, a Quail quip-quip-quiped over the rooftops... Two iconic and very different migrants famed for their long-distance travels, innocuously migrating over our urban house on the same stormy spring night. Magical.

Wildfowl expectedly tailed off, but odd small Scoter flocks continued until mid-month, and after a dip around the same time, Grey Herons and rails (particularly Moorhens) have had a renaissance over the last week (perhaps as ephemeral water bodies dry out). Arguably the most extraordinary record, however, (presumably) wasn't a migrant at all, but a Barn Owl defying expectations and navigating over the least hospitable part of town on 17th...

Looking through the spectrograms becomes easier with practice, although as any Nocmigger will tell you, it's two steps forward, one step back, and there's so much to learn, and also plenty that goes unresolved; satisfying and disconcerting in equal measures, however, is how many calls and species I've found by listening back to random chunks of a night's recording, while working at the computer, the following day.

Of the many visually-concealed jewels buried in the myriad gull signatures and other unwanted pollutants, a second Quail (on 23rd) was perhaps the pick, but various waders were also uncovered by chance in this way. Not practical on a regular basis, but very productive when possible .....

As expected, activity is steadily reducing as the spring migration window closes, and recent nights have been quiet (although still including surprises, like the flock of Sandwich Terns for example); it may be that this week signals a break in proceedings, to be resumed in a few weeks when shorebirds begin moving again (autumn, finally!).... if so, well, it's fair to say my opening season of nocmig here in downtown Filey has, to put it mildly, been an absolute blast.