3. How?

So, you’re toying with the idea of NocMig and maybe you have a fair idea what route you want to take device-wise. Maybe you already have a device but are looking for advice on how to proceed. Well, keep reading and we will do our best to help you proceed, with this no-frills, step-by-step, practical guide. We will take you through everything from software, analysis, database management, as well as post-processing techniques and more. It isn’t at all overly complicated and once you have a practiced routine it becomes second nature.

STEP 1. Preparation

Depending on what setup you’ve decided to go with, there are a number of steps you can take, before placing it outside to ensure your recording will go as smoothly as possible:

  • Ensure your batteries are fully charged (you’d be surprised how many times we’ve put out half-charged devices, only for them to fail halfway through the night).
  • Ensure that your memory card is formatted before use, each night. Deleting files does not necessarily mean the card has truly been emptied, and can result in recording malfunctions.
  • Keep an eye on the weather – try to avoid excessively windy or rainy nights. Birds don’t tend to move much and you’re putting your equipment at risk. Some rain is ok, and can in fact be very productive.
  • Make sure your equipment is protected from the rain, in the event that a sudden shower does occur during the night. Remember – you’ll probably be snoring when this occurs, so you’ve got to get this right beforehand! Cling film works well in keeping your equipment dry, although it does create a slight echo. If you have an overhanging ledge or parasol, then these are excellent alternatives.
  • Think carefully about where you place your device. A very simple but effective piece of advice was gifted to us by Magnus Robb, of the Sound Approach Team: before you place a device somewhere, simply place your ear there to see how it sounds. Sometimes a foot to the left or right can mean the world of difference.
  • Beware of animals. We have had several devices chewed (badgers), stood on (wild boar) and dropped from a height (jackdaws). Sometimes they survive, sometimes they don’t. Try to avoid the risk.
  • Likewise, beware of humans or your equipment may walk!
  • The best pointing-angle of the mic/parabola is debated by many, and really we don’t think it matters hugely, within reason. We usually point our parabola at a 45-degree angle. In spring, we point south and in autumn we point north, but again, this doesn’t make a huge difference.
  • To record within true NocMig hours, as defined by the Protocol for Standardised Nocturnal Flight Call Monitoring, set-up your device to record between civil dawn & civil dusk.
  • With these points in mind, place your setup outside and the process begins!

Step 2: Software

Audacity – free sound-editing software, available to download online. Photo: Seán Ronayne

It’s morning time – you’ve had your cup of coffee and you’ve collected your setup from outside. It’s still running, it’s dry, and no animals have chewed on it. What to do now?

You’re going to need some software to upload, view, and edit your audio files. Luckily for you there are several free, excellent options available to download online. Viewing your audio in spectrogram form (see an example of a spectrogram below), means that you can, with practice, scroll through your 9 hours or so of data with ease, visually looking for NFCs as you go. This means that you can easily go through your files, depending on how busy or quiet it was, in about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

To do all of this, we personally recommend Audacity. It’s free, very easy to use and works very smoothly. RavenLite is another popular option but we find it a little bit more finicky, although it produces very nice spectrograms, which we often use for publications. For the sake of this demonstration we are going to work with Audacity.

To proceed, click here to download your free version of Audacity.

Step 3: Uploading and Preparing Files

You’ve installed your shiny new Audacity software – what now? From here on in, we’ll switch to videos, so we can demonstrate in a more engaging manner.

Step 4: Extracting & Entering Data

Now that you know to to open and adjust your files with Audacity, let’s take a look at how to find, and document your NFCs.

Step 5: Cleaning & Saving Files

You’ve come across a very clear NFC, and you’d like to cut it, clean it and save it for your collection. Let’s see how we can do that!

Continue to ——> Part 4: NocMig Practical Excercise


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