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Bird-call recording conference a real tweet

19 August 2013

Bird-call recording conference a real tweet

With three tracks out on CD, Bruce Patty can now claim to be a recording artist…of sorts.

Wilson’s Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow and Fox Sparrow are Bruce’s contributions to a CD put together at a bird-song recording workshop he attended in the United States recently.

Bruce has been a technician in the University of Waikato’s Faculty of Science and Engineering Animal Behaviour Group for nine years. Supported by the Dean’s training fund for technical staff, Bruce travelled to the Sierra Nevada Field Campus of San Francisco State University in North Eastern California where he honed his bird-call recording techniques at an eight-day workshop in June.

The workshop was presented by the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The Macaulay Library is the world’s leading scientific collection of biodiversity media, with more than 175,000 audio and 60,000 video recordings documenting the behavioural diversity of birds and other animals.

“There is definitely an art to obtaining a good recording,” Bruce says. “A bit of patience with a touch of luck can get you a useful recording. One ultimately gets better with practice.”

The workshop group of 29 were mainly from the US and Canada as well as three Kiwis. Bruce says the group was made up of a variety of people ranging from the “super-geek ultra-birders, the type who ran around with identification books and check-lists, to those who struggled with their identification”. “I fell into the latter category.”

While the workshop focussed on bird recordings, Bruce says the skills taught would be useful for recording a range of sounds, including insect noises, bullfrog calls or anything in the biological field that involves singing or calling.

One of the most important things Bruce learned at the workshop was to be aware of background noises that could ruin a recording.

“Because you are so focussed on your target organism, there are things you don’t hear at the time of recording. Streams, cicadas, wind, cows, road noise, aircraft and even mosquitos can add sounds to the track that could mask parts of the bird call.”

During the workshop, the group was up before dawn each day visiting different habitats, from open wetland to thick woodland and near subalpine areas, to record a range of birds. The workshop featured lectures covering sound theory, equipment choices and disturbance reduction.

“Approach” was also covered, with some of the more dedicated “birders” wearing camouflage gear in order to sneak up closer to illusive birds to record them.

“It was important to get close enough without scaring the birds away,” says Bruce. “The closer you are, the stronger the signal is. This gives a better recording with less background hiss.”

At the University, Bruce has worked with Marsden-funded PhD students making sound recordings of kokako, and another student working on their honours thesis recording the blue penguin.

“One of the benefits of going on this course is that now I’m more confident at showing students how to get the best recordings with the equipment that we have.”


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