The day the music died

(Lesser) Redpoll, Aberdeenshire

Every year there is a day when birdsong fades away. This year it was 10th July. I had made some recordings in Cambridgeshire in the morning, but the afternoon in Rutland was almost silent and this morning (11th July) the ‘dawn chorus’ was minimal. As I have had time to tackle sound recording regularly over the spring and early summer, it presents an opportunity to review some of what I have learned.

1. Gear
For diurnal recording I mainly use an H4nPro, which is portable without being an encumbrance and delivers good results in suitable conditions. It is prudent to carry spare batteries if recording over long periods. Failing that I sometimes use an iPhone with Rode Rec app, which can deliver satisfactory (if less good) results. For nocturnal recording I use an AudioMoth which is easy to set up and delivers reliable results albeit of variable quality.

2. Conditions
Conditions are critical: wind and rain both ruin recordings, which significantly constrains opportunities in Shetland. For some species, recording is only likely to be successful at certain times of day or night and certain stages of the year, so planning is important. Nocturnal recording is very much a work in progress with much still to learn. This spring I detected more nocturnal migration over Rutland than Shetland; we shall see how autumn compares.

3. Identification
For recordings which are placed in the public domain, it is essential that identifications are correct if they are to be a reliable resource. During diurnal recording it is normally possible to confirm identifications visually (even so I have doubts about some published recordings involving tricky taxa), but this is not possible during nocturnal recording which requires caution: I personally don’t attempt identifications unless there is a clearly audible recording combined with sonogram.

4. Application
It is relatively easy to share results by using xeno-canto or other platforms. For Europe we still lack a reasonably comprehensive published sound guide like the ones for North America by Pieplow – although their format might seem old-fashioned for this type of guide they are immensely useful so I hope that an equivalent for Europe will be published before long.

Making sound recordings of birds is almost like beginning again; we all quickly realise how little we really know. You can listen to a selection of my results here:

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