Mark Shorten

Mark is a Cork-based sound recordist and regular on the Irish birding scene. Mark regularly records NOCMIG from his suburban garden, in Cork City, using a Dodotronic Hi-Sound parabola.

Bird calls have always interested me and I felt they gave me the superpower of awareness of the natural world as I was growing up: hearing a single “tick” of a Robin while with friends who were unaware of the bird and probably my interest in it. While out with my birding peers I found that I was often the one to pick out the odd call, though I was usually the last to see it. Occasionally I would record an odd call with my iPhone but nothing more than that.

An account of a Red-throated Pipit, detected by an autonomous recording unit, spurred Mark into buying his first reorder. Photo: Laurie Boyle

In 2019 I read the British Birds Annual Rarities Report account of a Red-throated Pipit record -“The Lancashire bird was captured on an autonomous recorder deployed to monitor migrating birds. This technique is increasingly used to document nocturnal migration, as explained by Robb et al. (2018), but is not typically used for diurnal surveys largely due to the time-consuming nature of interrogating the recordings.” The article also mentioned the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: a free-to-use online bird sound identification app for the analysis of audio recordings: BirdNET (https://birdnet.cornell.edu/).

Crookhaven on the Mizen Head Peninsula in West Cork. An excellent location for rare and scarce migrant birds and one of Mark’s first recording locations. Photo: Chris Marquardt

This got me very very curious and I bought my first recorder – an Olympus LS-100 (do not buy – poor battery life). It arrived just in time for October, which was “Crookhaven time” (for those of you who are not from Ireland, Crookhaven is a famous Irish birding location, on Mizen Head, Co. Cork – an excellent location for rare and scarce migrant birds) and I succeeded in getting a nice selection of migrant thrushes, waders, as well as a poor recording of Brambling, identified with BirdNET.

If the Lockdown of 2020 had not occurred I’m not sure if I would have continued with what is now being called NocMig. Trapped in their homes, birders were left looking for an outlet: 2km lists, garden lists, NocMig lists… hmmmm. The lockdown thankfully coincided with spring migration and a long spell of settled weather. March saw Coots, Moorhen, Water Rail and Greylag added to the garden list, OK this was worthwhile! I live in Cork City on a hillside about 200m from the River Lee and have found being on a clear migration route is a big advantage. Another recorder who lives a further 750m back from the river generally has fewer birds passing, though we have both recorded the same flocks of Sandwich Terns and Pink-footed Geese.

Little Grebe – the NFC of which is easily confused with that of Whimbrel, surprisingly. Photo: Seán Ronayne

The first Little Grebe was misidentified, as is the rite of passage, as a Whimbrel. At this stage I set up a small WhatsApp group, consisting of “Nocmiggers” from Cork, as well as a then Cork ex-pat, living it Catalonia. This acted as an identification and equipment resource as well as an important support group in a difficult time.

April and May saw a flood of migrants – almost too much to handle on some nights, with many unsolved mysteries. It seemed ridiculous to be getting flocks of Common (see audio below) and Sandwich Terns, Dunlin, Greenshank, Golden Plover and Turnstone over my house! I upgraded my equipment to an Olympus LS-P19 ( great battery life) and a Dodotronic parabolic dish, ordered from Italy in the midst of their worst COVID period – I felt they needed some support!

The first night of county-wide travel, I went to Bottle Hill, in North Cork, to record Woodcock and Crossbill and was very pleased with the results.

Autumn was not as intense as spring passage but Brent and Pink-footed Geese were a great way to cap off the year. 

Since then, I have tried to record as many species of bird as I can in Ireland and have about 115 species uploaded to my XenoCanto profile. I also upload all of my NocMig records to my Trektellen profile