Juvenile Goldfinch, by Simon Gillings

Nocturnal Goldfinches: never say never

The ‘ink’ had barely dried on my last post about the rarity of nocturnally migrating Goldfinches when I heard that Tim Jones had recorded nocturnal Goldfinches at Spurn twice in October 2017. Then Magnus Robb mentioned he’d recorded them in southern Portugal 13 times over nine nights in October and November 2017, plus once in April 2018. Aat Schaftenaar also provided details of his two nocturnal birds mentioned in the previous post. Tim, Magnus and Aat kindly shared their recordings, providing an opportunity to confirm what nocturnal Goldfinches sound like and how similar their spectrograms are to Ortolan calls.

First, here’s a recording of 5 seconds of Goldfinch nocturnal flight calls, probably a single bird, recorded in Portugal in November 2017 by Magnus Robb. The overall sequence is reassuringly similar to diurnal calls in consisting of single or paired upward-inflected notes, with consecutive notes often varying in frequency, giving a ‘bouncy’ impression.

 

Here’s one of Tim’s from Spurn, recorded at 00:51 on 17th October 2017:

 

And one of Aat’s from the Netherlands, recorded in March 2016:

 

Of the 18 files I examined, all consisted of sequences of these upward-inflected call notes. In 12 cases the passing bird(s) gave both paired and single notes (as in the example above); two passes consisted of only paired notes, and the remaining four consisted of only single notes. All recordings were of single birds except a small flock recorded by Tim Jones at Spurn (00:20, 17/10/2017).

I described the call notes as upward-inflected, and this becomes more apparent when the spectrogram is zoomed in. Each call note starts low and rises in frequency. Chris Batty described these as looking like the forward slash ( / ) character on a computer keyboard. They vary somewhat in length and slope, but they all rise in frequency. None of the notes begin with a descending part, and while some have a terminal drop in frequency, this is very small in comparison to the range of the rising part (e.g. penultimate note below). Overall they lack the characteristic reversed ‘N’ shape of Ortolan Bunting plik calls.

Goldfinch nocturnal flight calls
Goldfinch nocturnal flight calls (Portugal, 16/11/2017, Magnus Robb)

 

Conclusion

These recordings confirm that Goldfinches do, on occasion, migrate at night and call whilst doing so. The calls they give are identical to diurnal calls and both the pattern of calling and the structural of individual call notes are distinct from Ortolan Bunting plik calls. These results suggest it should be straightforward to eliminate Goldfinch as a potential confusion when identifying a nocturnal Ortolan Bunting.

Thanks to Tim Jones, Magnus Robb and Aat Schaftenaar for sharing their Goldfinch NFC recordings.

 

 

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