Sunday, 25 November 2018

Pulborough, mid-late November.

There’s a lot to love about this time of year. The arrival en masse of wintering wildfowl, thrushes, finches, owls, crisp frosty mornings, the excitement of cold weather movements bringing with it an increased chance of something scarce or rare. What’s not so great is the heavy reduction of available time in the field due to the dwindling amount of daylight, which inevitably increases the chance of missing stuff, especially when one's patch is such a well-watched reserve as Pulborough.

As such I’ve no new year ticks to report since my last update on here although I’m still smarting from missing the Red-breasted Merganser on the 16th. Unlike Cattle Egret and a few other dips this year which I’m reasonably confident I’ll grip back at some stage, there’s only been one previous documented record of RBM at Pulborough, back in 2009. Hopefully I won't have to wait another decade for the next one!
The Brooks are filling up nicely now thanks to a fairly wet second half of November and the flocks of Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing etc are now getting sizeable - best appreciated when a passing raptor sends the whole lot piling up into the sky with an almighty whoosh! As has become the norm here the wintering Black-tailed Godwit numbers are now well into three figures too, former warden Pete Hughes reckoned there were around 300 first thing this morning.
With actual patch birding now restricted to (often wet) weekend-only sessions my attentions have turned rather more towards nocmigging, the dark and stormy evenings of late providing the ideal opportunity to catch up on a backlog of recordings from earlier in the autumn. With more and more birders venturing into this new extension of ornithological study this autumn in particular has proved revealing in terms of the nationwide scale of some species' movements. A busy night for Redwings on the 14th-15th November was accurately reflected in Pulborough when I recorded 322 calls in ten hours.

Redwing/Wigeon duet

Assuming each call represents at least one or two birds, but likely many more, it's fair to assume at least a thousand birds passed over the house that night. Likewise, when Simon Gillings and Jon Heath - both Cambridge-based 'nocmiggers' - reported an unusually high count of Dunlin the following night (15th-16th), I was keen to discover if my own recording reflected this, which it did indeed as a total of 148 flight calls were logged from a bare minimum of 38 birds. The true count was likely far higher. Take this clip below, for example. It's quite evidently more than one bird (I put it down as two) but as others have pointed out it could be four or five or more.

It's really quite incredible to think about such swathes of birds moving above our heads while we're sleeping. As I've said before, migration is for my money the most fascinating aspect of bird study - and so intrinsic to our understanding of birds in general - and nocmigging is, I'm discovering, an opportunity to glimpse just that little bit further into their world and start to fill in the gaps in terms of what birds are moving, when and why.

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