Randy Little, Alex Chadwick
Habitat, dawn chorus, field recording discussions. Includes unidentified voices.
mechanical sound - Drumming on a metal trail marker.
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
- Bear Trap Meadow
- 39.6500042 -120.4881763
- 2060 meters
Decoded MS stereo
Log of DAT #:4
Date: June 4, 2001
very quiet, some sounds of movement, the microphones gets bumped every once in a while;
some whispering and chat, often indiscernible
A car engine starts up and a car drives away.
This morning we're in Bear Trap meadow which is a high coniferous surrounded valley with alders down the center that are attractive to certain species such as the Wilson Warbler, the McGillery's Warbler, the Lincoln Sparrow. In the conifers on the edges are great numbers of the dark eyed juncos, which out here are the what use dot be called Oregon junco. I just heard a fox sparrow sing. There are casin finches that have been in the treetops of the conifers. A chipping sparrow is singing off to the left. It's a great mix of species in here ad that owes primarily to the fact that there is a small brook that runs down the center of the valley that not only nourishes the plants but all the insects that feed on those plants that the birds feed on. A couple of species that I haven't heard yet this morning are specifically the insects feeders, the flycatchers. There's dusky flycatcher and Hammond's flycatcher, both in this habitat. The Hammond's liking the tall conifers more; the duskies liking the edge, second-growth. If there were any Aspen groves in here that's where they would be.
Bear Trap meadow, geographically, is north of Huba Pass by about three miles and at about the same elevation which is 6700 feet.
What is the dawn chorus and why are the birds singing in the morning?
There's considerable latitude of explanation of why, but what is, I think, more explainable. At the first light of day the birds that have been sleeping most of the night are sort of flexing their muscles getting ready for the day. It's not light enough to be foraging profitably. A lot of the insects that they might feed on are not particularly active. So it seems to the time to proclaim a new day , proclaim their presence, their territory if they're on their breeding range. In territorial proclamation the birds tends to be doing two things at once with its advertisement, its song. One is, it's primarily males that sing, one is saying to males "Stay away. This is my piece of turf."Simultaneously proclaiming to females, potential mates, "Come on join me. This is ideal real estate."In so doing they're liable to move around the perimeter of their territory, moving from one favorite song perch to another, which we can use to our advantage by setting up at one of these favorite song perches, nice and close, concealing ourselves, making ourselves part of the habitat, and just waiting for the bird to come to us. That generally yields much better results than chasing the bird and trying to catch up with it, which usually fails and frequently also causes the bird to alter it's behavior and maybe go to giving annoyance calls instead of song.
As to the fact that we call it a dawn chorus, it is a of ____ duration that this burst of song activity occurs just as twilight, beginning at twilight and ending at official sunrise, when the sun is actually up the dawn chorus is over. Birds are probably feeding, but then will have a second burst of vocal activity when the sun has had a chance to actually warm the surface a little bit. And that's the way it goes throughout the day; there will be periods of virtual quietude and then another period of vocal activity. I don't know whether it's sleeping in between time or feeding, but nevertheless, it's a pattern that one get used to.
There are some very erudite explanation and I'm not able to properly relate what the real academicians recommend as the most likely hypothesis, but this time of year advertisement of property is m definitely a reason. At other times of year dawn chorus is much less prevalent. It's basically non-existent during the winter.
ambi -interview site, some birds
Here we are down in the valley on the forest floor. How do you find a bird. I can hear them all around me but if you want to get closer to get a good recording of them, how do you actually find them?
The first thing we do when we enter an area and we think we want to record something is just do an acoustic inventory of the entire area. By that I mean concentrate for a moment on critically listening and panning you ears 360 degrees around you, ignoring sources of noise and in the process also learning what birds you're hearing. For example, above us there is a warbling barrio singing in the canopy above us; there's a wood pecker drumming off to our left; there's a junco chipping in the underbrush on the right; a mountain quail calling behind me. These are all things that we sort of factor into this acoustic inventory. Usually we have some hit list if you will of things that we'd really like to get recordings of and if we hear any of those things that will occupy our attention usually. Otherwise, if we're just doing survey recording where we're trying to get an inventory of what is in this habitat, then first come first serve. In this case that's a warbling barrio that I hear close ahead. I would use the directional microphone next, try to locate that bird, assuming I can't find it with my eyes. We use a technique of sweeping the microphone in one plane through the sound and mentally taking note of when it sounds loudest, where we aimed when it sounds loudest. Return the microphone to that point and then sweep in the other plane for the next song, again finding the loudest point and you'll get and intersection that tells us we're right on. At that point we'd start recording and get a 2 or 3 minute segment, assuming that it's loud enough to record at that distance.
Then, typically, we try to get closer to get improved clarity. If you just cut the distance between you and the sound source to half of what it was, you get significantly greater power from the source but you don't get significantly greater power from al the background so the ratio of the signal that you want to the rest of things has increased about double. And that's significant. It makes it sound a lot cleaner. If there's a river running in the background, it may sound natural here but if you play it back in your living room the fact that there's river running there is not in proper context so it jumps out at you and interferes with the warbling barrio being the . . .
thing that you actually want to hear.
In a case like this warbling barrio that's in a canopy, where we can't really get half the distance to it, in which we're pretty well at the location, we find that the equipment can be helpful. If we use a parabolic reflector we have the ability to actually capture a much larger areas worth of the sound energy; the size of the reflector rather than just the size of the microphone. With a fairly high pitched sound like the warbling barrio a parabolic reflector is a very effective device. Shot gun microphone in contrast has good broad frequency response and is able to pick up low frequency but it does not actually give you any magnification of the sound, so if a bird is distance in a tall tree a parabolic reflector is good, like using binoculars to bring it closer.
When we record, warbling barrio for example, you notice that it gives a song phase and then a pause. Frequently, I you listen critically you'll find that they are other warbling barrios in the area. If you listen more and more you may find that during the pause the neighbor is delivering his song. Many of the forest dwelling species has this pattern of interweaving their songs with their neighbors. You could argue that all this is to allow the singer a chance to listen and hear what his neighbor is up to; make sure he's staying on his territory and not encroaching. And then, again, sing a phrase to proclaim territory hear and then listen. This interweaving of songs is something that Don Krutzman, who will join us later today, is an expert at interpreting and we hope that he will share some of his interpretation with the class. To record that is the challenge, because the directional microphone systems are going to be selectively bringing in the one that we are pointed. Here's a place where stereo recorder really pays off. Using techniques such as the mid side recording that I think you folks are familiar with. The x y, left right recording that I think is more historically typical stereo; that doesn't let you pick up the individual singer quite as strongly but it preserves the special relationships and upon playback the listener is better able to appreciate that these were neighbors that were alternating their songs.
One other advantage of stereo is that the listener is much better able to concentrate on whatever element of the sound in that recorder is of interest and ignore background sound that is of less interest because our spatial sense let's us say "That traffic is of to the left. That's obviously not what we were interested in. Let's focus our attention on the warbling barrios that are alternating in the foreground."In monaural(sp?) recording, sounds that are coming from other directions in real life loose that directional distinction up0on playback so all background seem to be coming from the same place that the featured sound was coming from. It makes the sorting out of background sound much more difficult. I'm hearing a mountain chickadee coming in. It's a clear whistle.
this would characterize the second burst of vocal activity. The sun has started to warm up things in here; the birds have had a chance to get breakfast already, their first set of feeding for the day
I think there's a clump of birds over there.
I'd suggest just trying the parabola on this warbling barrio. The location of the bird is more critical with the parabolic reflector which has a very narrow beam if you will. The warbling barrio's song is long enough that you can kind of sweep the microphone right through the right on point and if you monitor the source while you're doing that you can mentally note the maximum sound level point.
We may be faced with Murphey's Law right here; that the warbling barrio has stopped calling as we get ready. That frequently happens. But the habits of the birds are such that, patience is a virtue in the recording of natural sounds -If you have patience and wait the bird will probably start up again, if you wait in it's territory. And that' s an opportunity to perhaps get to a more advantageous spot that's say more comfortable for waiting, say a stump to sit on or a clump of foliage to sort of absorb yourself in.
chat and getting ready to record. Some more advice from the unidentified voice, but it is not that clear. Could be useful if put in the right place.
I believe it's moved to the right and a little further way, which is typical of the warbling barrio behavior. They tend to be moving through their territory, typically foraging as they go, feeding
Let's try to move in a little closer on this.
sounds of movement
There is another situation in which having the earphones on may be a detriment to locating the bird. When you are working with a directional microphone you get a misleading sense of what's in what direction because unless you're pointing right at something it doesn't register well and until you get very close to it you don't notice any change; you don't get a sense of direction.
In practice, when we're moving in on a bird like this there are a couple of major factors that we consider. One is what angle would be most advantageous to be recording that bird from; what angle would give us the least interference in that line of sight. So we'll try to move ourselves to that particular direction. And then second is how can we move to that direction unobtrusively, without making a lot of noise and scaring them away. Sometimes it's a matter of finding non-wet footing as we went through the swampy area here; sometimes non-crackling footing as we went through the brushes. Also we can consider using trees and terrain as a shield to obscure us to the bird as we sneak up closer. Put a big tree trunk between you and the bird while you're moving, and then when you get up to that tree trunk slowly move to the side so that you can get your microphone a clear shot at the bird.
What is that?
I think we are where a bear has previously traveled and left its sign. There are bear in the area -black bear. This is known as Bear Trap Meadow. Presumably in the past bears were trapped here with some success. I would say this is probably not older than perhaps a week. We have seen some bear droppings down in the meadow that looked even fresher, so we know that they're currently around here. But they're generally reclusive and will retreat anytime they see people in the area. But this time of year there are also cubs that are out. The one thing we don't want to do is get between the cub and the sow. So if we do come face to face with a bear one quick thing to do is take an inventory of is that the only bear here or could you be in the middle. Then stand erect and basically go at right at angles from the bear. Move away gradually; don't turn and run. That could be provoking the bear to go hey there's meat, let me go after it. It's unlikely but. We've not had any problems with ears in previous workshops. We have had groups encounter bears and try to get recordings of any grunts or growls or whatever they might make. But they have always been totally silent and the only grunts and growls we've gotten were of the recordists.
Frequently we will encounter bear sign in the areas that we are working. I personally have tried to record the bears by actually following them when I find them, and have yet to find any vocalization. They're actually quite timid. It's not something I'd recommend that everybody try, nevertheless, we've not succeeded in getting any sound recordings yet.
Discussion about where to go and about recordings done so far.
Sounds of walking
ambi -birds, chirping and a woodpecker pecking; pretty quiet, not very much going on.
whispering and sounds of movement. some bird ambi in between whisperings and Alex rubbing his hands together because he's cold.
Mentioning some birds that may be in the area and technical talk about who is using what type of equipment. Other chat about food, etc.
1:14:17 uv (almost whispered)
If you're really good at woodpeckers, just by the rhythm of your drum you can identify your woodpecker, because what he's doing right now is trying to make as much noise as possible to declare that all of this area of woods is his. It isn't any kind of feeding. It's exactly what it sounds like; He's trying to make as much noise as he can, and all woodpeckers that I know of do that, different rhythm.
ambi - waiting for the woodpecker to come back, birds. There is a really weird bird call at 1:18:07. Has some good general ambience.
ambi -woodpecker. Very clear and loud.
Most of your probably noticed that it was very cold this morning. The bird life wasn't cooperating with most of you. I just want to reassure you that it's nothing that any of you are doing. We've got some interesting conditions. The temperatures were cool, we saw frost on the ground. A lot of these birds are just moving into the meadows and they're not on territory yet. Down in the valley where you worked yesterday you had nice open topography so you could see the bird you were recording. That was helpful. The birds were also on territory. They'd been well established and many of them, with the exception of the yellow headed black-birds, had set up nests throughout their own piece of turf. Up here we're seeing birds that are moving around a great deal. These alders behind us are home to things like Wilson's Warbler, which we hear chirping the background, but they haven't really sorted themselves out yet. So what I want to say is don't be frustrated. If you didn't get on a bird this morning, don't worry; It'll happen. Especially as the days warms up things are going to settle down here a little bit. We're going to have things like the warbling barrio behind us singing actively form a perch. You'll get it. It will come together, so chin up.
Some of you had great luck. If any of you need a pick-me-up, there's a red breasted sap sucker up at the far east end and he's found a little diamond shaped trail marker and found that it's extremely resonant. He's hammering the hell out of this thing so there's some great drumming going on if you're interested.
Could that be this sap sucker? There's a nest right here.
It's probably a different individual actually. This place is rich in sap suckers