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If I were a recordist...

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, May 17, 2013 

A number of years ago I sat on a mountain top on a cold spring night with Colby Neuman listening for night migrants.  Most nights it was futile.  One call note here, another there.  That was some type of warbler--and the other a sparrow.  Occasionally a duck or shorebird flew over too, but there weren't enough birds for me to ever get to into it.  Colby borrowed some recording gear from the Univeristy of Utah to see if he could catch some of the calls--I don't know if he ever did, but it was a novel thought.  A couple years ago when Canon launched its latest DSLR cameras with HD video, the untold side effect for birders would be easy recording of bird sounds without an extra piece of equipment--if you were into that sort of thing.

A cool photo of a California Gull would have been even cooler with sound or video!

I was surprised at the quality of some of the recording I managed.  I never planned on recording bird songs, but it just sort  of happened--and like getting pictures, recording a new sound is exciting--another form of collecting if you will.  I am by no means good at it.  I often forget to turn off my image stabilizer on my lens--giving the video an nice churring tone in the background.  I often bang the camera, or move it, and the tiny microphone just so happens to be very sensitive--which is why the sounds it does often pick up are really good.  Take for instance the first recording I uploaded to xeno-canto.org last summer--a  Screaming Piha from the Amazon in Peru--a pretty good recording in my opinion.

I never actually saw the bird--but being able to capture the song was thrilling.  I had recorded dozens if not more than 100 songs, calls, and videos over the past years, but hadn't done much till the Piha video--and to be honest, hadn't done much since.  So tonight I decided to sit down and go through the video I took in St. George this past weekend and pull out some of the better and more interesting recording for your enjoyment.

This was the first recording of the trip, a Northern Mockingbird at 12:30 AM in pitch black 100' from our camp site on the Beaver Dam Slope:

The next morning while driving to the ranch I was able to catch one verse of a Scott's Oriole:

While hiking in the Beaver Dam Wash this Blue Grosbeak occasionally let out a volley and I managed to pick it up once:

While hopefully waiting for a Spotted Owl to start barking, this Canyon Wren kept filling the slot canyon with its unforgettable song:

Just after the sunset a number of Hermit Thrushes began singing--as if trying to one up the wrens:

But the real prize cam about 30 minutes after sunset when a Spotted Owl rang out from the cliffs above us.  I wasn't sure my camera would pick it up, but was pleased with what I captured:

The following morning I woke up to a dawn chorus of Brewer's Sparrows very close to camp.  I walked over and stood about 20' away from 5-10 birds that were buzzing and trilling away:

A couple hours later we found ourselves at a small pond along lower Kolob Terrace Road where I was able to record a Yellow-breasted Chat from just a few feet away as it poured out all kinds of chirps and whistles:

This Summer Tanager was a stable all three mornings we birded the ranch--it sand from the top of a cottonwood in the housing area almost non-stop.  I had hoped to catch the call notes of this very cool bird, but only hear one call all weekend--so I settled for this our last morning there:

I didn't expect to make this recording on this trip, but a male Evening Grosbeak came flying into the trees near me at Lytle Ranch our last morning.  It chirped every couple seconds (the hard CHIT note) while a White-winged Dove bellowed in the background:

And finally I got a mediocre recording of a Black-chinned Sparrow from the highway as we passed over Utah Hill.  I captured an awesome recording last month near Virgin--but accidentally left my camera on silent mode so actually missed the whole episode--so this was a small consolation:

And that's it.  I was very happy to add 11 songs to my collection this past weekend--and really need to sit down and go through the rest of my stuff from the past couple years to see what I can pull out.  I bet I have close to 100 species recorded--its just a matter of actually doing the footwork. 

My shabby recording make me appreciate the skill and expertise that professional recordists have.  Xeno-canto.org is full of great recordings, from all over the world--and form world class recordists.  Check it out if you have some free time--or become addicted if you want to improve those audible skills!

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Blogger Bryce said...

Great post Tim. I love recording birds, as difficult as it is. Can't wait to hear what else you come up with.

May 18, 2013 at 1:35 PM  
Blogger Oliver Hansen said...

This comment is a little late - I've been thinking about getting into song recording it seems recording bird songs/calls would also be a helpful way to learn and memorize them.

May 31, 2013 at 7:16 PM  

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