Saturday 11 July 2020

Sound Stuff

For a while now I've been threatening to rig up my sound recorder for in-the-field use. Finally it is done. With the assistance of a couple of cheap little gadgets purchased on eBay, and some decent Duracell rechargeables to avoid premature death, I can now clip it to the strap of my camera bag and have it permanently switched on. So this morning was the test run...

Arriving at Burton Bradstock I carefully noted the time, and switched it on: 05:28. On a few occasions during the course of my walk I also noted the time when a particular bird flew over calling, so that I could check it out on the recording later and see how well (or not) it had come out. So, listed on my phone is Linnet at 06:12, Goldfinches 06:54, Meadow Pipit 07:01, and so on. I was secretly hoping for Crossbill, but that didn't happen. Anyway, below is the Meadow Pipit. Picture the scene. I'm walking along the clifftop and a Meadow Pipit flies past, calling. It's not that close, not mega-loud, but it makes me stop, raise my bins, have a look. And it continues calling for a few seconds. This is what all that sounds like...

I think you'll agree, that's not bad at all. Now imagine it was actually a Richard's Pipit. My only self-found Richard's Pipit since living down here was indeed a fly-over, at Beer Head in November 2005. My description was basic in the extreme. Silhouette views only, so I've got the structure, shape, size, flight attitude and whatnot, but no plumage detail. Plus a transcription of the call. Happily it was accepted. However, when it comes to any future single-observer records, a decent recording is going to provide the same convincing stamp of authentication as a decent photo. I look forward to that happening one day!

As far as practicalities are concerned it was noticeable how loud I am when just walking around. Footsteps, stuff rubbing and bumping about... However, although it translates to an awful lot of background noise on the recording, it didn't drown out the birds. At one point I thought I heard a brief bit of Whimbrel amongst a clamour of Herring Gulls. I stopped immediately, but heard nothing more. Going through the recording later I discovered that I'd been mistaken; it was a poorly heard, staccato bit of gull, and I was able to say that with confidence, despite all the background noise going on.

I have a couple of minor niggles with exactly how to position it for optimum effectiveness, but basically it was a roaring success.

There was a terrific passage of Swifts first thing, with 630+ going W or WNW, also a good number of gulls moving W offshore, including at least 46 Med Gulls. I probably missed a lot through spending some time checking the bushes, but with 16 Sand Martins and 3 Common Terns it all added up to a decent bit of pre-breakfast passage. Great stuff!

After breakfast I went through last night's nocmig recording. It has to be said, July's been slow. One Water Rail, five Moorhens, a Coot and a Common Sandpiper have been the highlights. So, with just a brief Moorhen at 23:34, by the time I got to 03:00 without anything else of much interest I had basically written off last night too. And then at 03:05 there was a massive, out-of-the-blue 'Oh wow!!' moment...

Back in May, both Jonathan Lethbridge and Chris Townend recorded nocmig Quail. Being, like me, nocmig beginners, I was pleased for them both, but also envious. And with 2020 turning out to be a bit of a Quail year, I have really, really been hoping to get in on the act. But the rest of May came and went, then the whole of June. Time was running out. As well as that, in the back of my mind was a concern that I might have had my chance and missed it. If you visit Chris and Jonathan's relevant blog posts linked above, you cannot help but notice are their Quail events! Blink, and you've missed it. Had I in fact overlooked the faint squiggle of a 'wet-my-lips'? Or the blurry smudge of a 'mau-wau'?

I need not have worried...

This is the full recording. There is a very faint, introductory 'mau-wau' and single 'whip' at 2 or 3 seconds (which I initially missed) before some real letting rip later. I don't know why, but all the really good nocmig birds I've had thus far have performed brilliantly. Long may that continue.

Incidentally, the fact that I have only 'heard' this Quail electronically has not diminished my pleasure one iota. Strange as it may seem, the buzz was as good as if it I had heard it live. A few months ago, one of my criticisms of nocmig would have hinged on exactly that issue. It is in fact a non-issue.


  1. Weird question, but can you get any idea of direction from your set up? Or would you need two separate mics for that? Interesting to know new ones are still turning up.

    1. Unfortunately not, Steve. The recorder itself does actually have a stereo mic set-up, and if I were to use just the recorder alone, I think I could rig it in a way that would detect flight direction - certainly north and south anyway. However, I use an external mic which plugs in to the recorder, and as far as I can tell there is consequently no difference between the L and R channel. 😒

  2. Gav, the exclamation on a recording that states, "Wow! I've just had a Richards", could lead to some confusion in the 'too much information' department.

    1. So far all I've had is stuff like 'Poppy! Poppy! Come HERE Poppy! Bad dog! The bad-tempered man doesn't want to play.'

      Okay, slight exaggeration maybe. But it'll happen. And worse. Have no fear though, it's easy to trim out any inappropriate exclamations!

  3. "subliminal are their Quail events!" How could you say such a thing!😂 In all seriousness though Gavin, a great recording and you've set the bar high again across the border! Keep up the goog work and great blog 👍

    1. Ha ha! Thanks Chris. I thought you did brilliantly to pick yours out and ID it. I would have struggled! The first time I listened to it I was 'Really? That's a Quail?' Sorry! 😄

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Jono. I was well chuffed. It'll be a hard one to top. 😊