Nocturnal Migration or ‘Nocmigging’

Night flight or Nocturnal Migration

Wren, David Hastilow

Why not add another dimension to Garden Lockdown recording with Night Flight or Nocturnal Migration monitoring (NocMig for short). Although some have carried out this for a long time, there has been quite an upsurge of interest given that many of us are spending more time at home recently.

Over the past few years, I have recorded a wide range of species over our garden in W Cornwall, these have included many Ortolan Buntings, Little Grebe, Nightjar, Bittern, Short-eared Owl, Water Rail, Coot and Moorhen, three species of Tern, and a wide range of waders and thrushes. Even a singing Manx Shearwater right over the roof of the house, and we are a bit inland from the sea.

Moorhen can be expected from just about any garden whilst Noc Migging. You don’t need to be near a lake either! 


Noc mig has shown notable movements of Ortolan Bunting occuring overnight in the UK. They have been recorded from several gardens in the most unlikely of places.


You will also pick up other interesting behaviour, such as on moonlit night Skylarks will sing in the middle of the night, other species also often burst into brief song. I am not sure quite what Carrion Crows are doing, but they are very regularly recorded flying around calling all night, as well as being seen when seawatching going south and north at very odd times of year …
It is very good at increasing bird call familiarity. It can be quite hard works identifying new calls, but also very rewarding and the research and learning is part of the fascination.
There are loads of resources and introductions to Night Flight or Nocturnal Migration, so not much detail Is given here and please see the links below.

A Few tips

Equipment – There are many different ways of doing Noc mig, from ‘naked’ Noc mig which is just sitting out at night listening, to using a wide range of recording devices. Do just give it a go with or without any equipment or with whatever equipment you already may have. If you enjoy it then consider investing in more equipment. There are also many very good value DIY options to consider. Click on link below for more information.

Night Flight Call primer

The next model of Audio moth which they are think of adding an exterior mic jack to will be good and very good value. Its the best value timed recorder I think at the moment.

Sounds – You will very quickly hear/record some pretty strange sounds, keep them filed away and don’t forget about them, don’t worry about getting an id on every call straight away. Over time and after many nights of experience many of these can be solved. One of the main issues is getting to know your local night noises; many of them won’t even be birds or animals. Having spent a few hours trying to ID a call which I was sure was a bird, I suddenly twigged it was a squeaky gate in the wind! It’s well worth collecting calls and information for a while first and then cleaning up your records as you go on. Even after five years of recording you will regularly go back to previous unknown recordings and identify what they are. Following the links below you will often find articles and new sounds which will match as your knowledge expands. Type in ‘nocturnal flight call’ when searching to find specific night flight calls.

Analysis – Keep it simple to start off with and do it by ear, Use resources such as general bird calls and Xenocanto. Then it’s worth experimenting with sound analysis software such as the two free versions below (audacity and ravenlite). Its often useful to try not to over analyse very brief, distant and quiet recordings. The sound can be distorted. Skipping these to good quality recordings saves considerable time in analysis of a nights recording. When you use sound analysis software you do not have to listen to all the recording eg the 8 hrs of a night, you view the sonogram by eye which allows you to scan over very quickly the bits without sound and concentrate on the calls.

Free sound editing software:

Raven Lite


The basics of analysis and more technical details:

Nocturnal Flight Calls

Processing recordings

Click on link below for a useful reference for the commoner calls:

Call Guide

Weather- Wind noise is a very big problem with Noc mig, so only deploy on calm nights. I also move the recorder to attempt to shelter from different wind directions. The other issue to consider is water (rain) which can damage equipment which is not weather / water proof. The down side of this is some of the best nights can be when foggy / drizzle and between light showers.

Useful links

Search: #nocmig on Twitter. See what people are saying and join the conversation.

T Blunden April 2020