Michael John O’Mahony

Michael John is an Irish birder, living in inland Cork, however this hasn’t stopped him from finding some incredible vagrants, having recently found a Brown Shrike in his garden, as well as a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in a local ploughed field. Michael John is now turning his magic to NocMig, and has already turned up the goods on that front too, with a garden Hawfinch – a rare bird indeed, in an Irish context.

In the Night Garden – expect the unexpected

I am a big fan of patch birding, even if on the face of it, my patch does not seem great on paper. It is an area of improved grassland and conifer plantations with tiny slivers of vernacular habitats of wet meadow, historic hedgerow and dry heath around 20km north of Cork City. In recent times even these slivers have been removed. However, over the years the local area has given some really unprecedented finds like Brown Shrike and Buff-breasted Sandpiper. 

Brown Shrike – photographed by Michael John in his own garden, 20km inland, January 2020
Buff-breasted Sandpiper (left): another head-scratching inland mega found by Michael John near his house in Co. Cork. It just goes to show, that birds can turn up anywhere, and with NocMig, this rule applies all the more.

I have also been interested in how technology can help us find and record biological data in new and intriguing ways, and how it can improve general fieldcraft. Things like camera traps, thermal imaging, bat detectors and trail cameras have given a much better insight into things like mammal numbers and behaviour. This technology has allowed us to see, hear and record what is normally not seen or heard. Ironically, it appears we have better equipment and technology to record less and less biodiversity. When it comes to sound recording I have only come to it very recently. I have often sat out in the garden on summer nights for a few hours to just clear the head and look at the heavens. I would have been accompanied by the local barn owls calling and the rustling of the foxes and badgers in the hedgerows. In 2020, pandemic lockdowns led to an increase of “NocMig” posts in my social media feeds. A little bit of research highlighted that this could be a great way to further explore what is out there. And so it started.   

To delve into the world of NocMig, I use a Dodotronic Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic Microphone recorded on a Tascam DR-07X with an external External Battery Pack, which gives 12 hours plus of recording, if necessary, for NocMig.

The recorded wav files are loaded to Audacity on the Mac. Processing is generally, if required, a high pass filter of around 6-12db at 1.5k and a bit of noise reduction if necessary.

I have been only really getting the hang of NocMig recording over the last 8-10 months i.e. since late April 2020. 

The highlights to date were:

The number of waders and waterbirds that occurred on NocMig recordings between April and May 2020 for a patch with little or no water bodies. Surprises included Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Greenshank, Water Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Sandwich Tern, Common Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper.

The domestic comings and going of the local Barn Owls which I get almost every night on recordings.

A NocMig Hawfinch in May 2020.

Whooper Swans on several occasions in October 2020

The other thing that I noticed was the amount of anthropogenic noise that is out there and it seems ubiquitous; even in my more “sleepy hallow” location.

Due to the year that 2020 was, I wasn’t really able to get a large amount of field recording done. However, I was able to do some locally, documenting things like Sedge Warbler, Woodcock and Crossbill, the Woodcock being the highlight.  A short trip to West Cork in July yielded a good recording of Grasshopper Warbler. Autumn 2020 gave plenty of Redwing and Fieldfare and the most common species I have had pretty much every night for the last few months is Snipe.

I don’t feel I’m in a position to give any specific advice yet, however I would encourage anyone who can give sound recording a go to try it. You just don’t know what will turn up.

To hear more of Michael John’s sound-recordings take a look at his Xeno-Canto account. If you’d like to see some of his impressive patch photography, then click here.