Birder's Guide

NOV 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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34 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2018 ■ Birds momentarily trapped in New York City's "Tribute in Light". The annual art installation takes place on Septem- ber 11 and is in part managed by the New York City Audubon Society. Periodic dark periods allow migrating birds, the white specks in this photo, to continue on their way. You can learn and record their sounds as they migrate over your home at night. Photo © Douglas Gochfeld Listening to the Birds of the Night How to Record and Analyze Nocturnal Bird Calls tening to natural music as well as the added benefit of newfound knowledge about the birds, their calls, and the world around you. It can be very exciting to listen to the orchestra of different bird calls while staring at a starry night sky. By listening to NFCs, you gain a better understanding of weather-related migratory patterns, as well as bird behavior and identification. You also get to hear animals you wouldn't normally hear, such as the squeaks of flying squirrels or the scream of a raccoon. Before I introduce you to the world of NFCs, let me first give you some history of the subject. On September 14, 1896, on a small hill outside of Madison, Wisconsin, Orin Libby counted 3,600 calls from night-migrating birds during five hours of lis- tening. This count is the first published record of an attempt to quantify the night flight call phenomenon of North America's avifauna. Native people of what is now known as Wisconsin likely heard nocturnal bird migrations during the previous 10,000 years. In the 50 years after Libby's report, only two other counts of noc- turnal flight calls were reported, those by Paul Howes (1914) counting Swainson's Thrushes in Connecticut and the extraordinary 15-year study by Stanley Ball (1952) counting migrating thrushes in eastern Quebec. The work of Ball was the first in the realm of noctur- nal flight call monitoring for the purpose of producing data on the migration timing of species in a region. Beginning in the 1950s, counts of NFCs were re- ported from areas throughout eastern North America, and were published in the Audubon Field Notes. In late 1957, the team of Richard Graber and Bill Cochran be- gan their nocturnal flight call study in central Illinois. The work of Cochran and Graber put down the founda- tion for machine-based audio recording of NFCs. The concept of night flight call monitoring clearly existed in the 1960s, but the method needed some technological developments before it was ready to advance further. Under the direction of Chris Clark, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) was pioneering the development of digital acous- tic analysis software. BRP programmer Harold Mills wrote the first functional NFC detector in 1994. This development allowed the automatic clipping of birds' flight calls in real time or from audiotapes directly ou step out on your porch and look up to see the moon peeking out behind a low ceiling of clouds. It's a crisp, late August night. "Tzeep!" "Northern Waterthrush," you mumble to yourself. A cool breeze whistles through the trees, quieting down the chorus of Spring Peepers in the Sycamores to your left. The cicadas on the oaks quiet down as well. Then, the floodgates open. The sharp rising call of Ovenbirds, the buzzed zeep of Yellow Warblers, and the bisyllabic call of American Redstarts. Musical fingerprints of nature, beautifully accenting the night. "Wok." Your eyes light up. Black-crowned Night-Heron. New yard bird! By now you may be wondering, "what the heck is this guy talking about?" Welcome to the the world of the noc- turnal flight call (NFC) enthusiast. We are a small but growing group of dedicated birders interested in the largely invisible but audible world of nocturnally migrat- ing birds. NFCs opened up a whole new world for me, and contributed to my birding and general knowledge of the environment significantly. I have learned much about weather patterns, bird behavior, and other aspects of ornithology. Listening to and recording NFCs have far-reaching implications, from everyday bird identifica- tion to studies of bird morphology to researching climate change. Beyond birds, NFCs have shown me the noctur- nal world, whether it's taking pictures of shooting stars or listening to flying squirrels as they glide overhead. Besides being a focus of study, recording flight calls has become a fairly popular niche. It can be a wonderful ex- tension to a birding hobby. It offers the pleasure of lis- Y

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