For 30 days wild this year we decided to take part in as many random acts of wildness as we could. From bug hunting to rock pooling, lichen identification and more, read on to discover ideas for summer activities you can take part in too!
NHBS Book specialist, Nigel took some time out to go bug hunting with his children, their favourite find being a Red Admiral. They enjoyed using our Educational Bug Hunting Kit.
NHBS EQ Specialist, Johnny took out some sound recording gear including the Tascam DR05 to record Common Cuckoos on Dartmoor. Read more about this on our sound recording blog.
Rock pooling in Plymouth was the next activity with our Marketing Coordinator Soma and British Wildlife Editorial Assistant Kat. Using our NHBS Rock Pooling Kits we found a sea spider (pycnogonid) and a Netted Dog Whelk among lots of seaweed. We also collected some seaweed to press – see part 2 for the big reveal!
NHBS Equipment Specialist Johnny Mitchell, explains the ins and outs of acoustic recording in the field and highlights key equipment items to get you started.
In recent years advances in portable recording equipment have led to an increase in the exploration of listening as a method of engaging with as well as studying the natural world. This blog looks at a number of different equipment options across a range of budgets and objectives while briefly outlining some of the main technical considerations.
Equipment and Technical considerations
For those interested in having a go at sound recording a handheld recorder is a great starting point and Tascam have some great entry level options such as the DR-05 and DR-40 both of which allow you to record uncompressed audio. The advantage of this method is that the recorders are highly portable and require very little set up – invaluable if you’re out and need something that can be used at a moments notice.
The built-in microphones will not compete with a professional external microphone and if recording becomes more than a passing interest dedicated microphones can be a great way to optimise your setup for specific recordings. We cover a few of the microphones in our range below with a quick guide to their application. The right recorder should have a logical menu system and inputs that allow for a suitable upgrade path via the connection of external microphones.
I personally enjoy the use of stereo microphones for capturing the ambience of entire soundscapes. The Rode NT4 Stereo Microphone or Audio Technica AT8022 X/Y Stereo Microphoneare both great options for this, which contain two microphone capsules in a portable housing. Both models are examples of condenser microphones which will require external power to function. To provide this, look for a recorder that has XLR inputs and an option to turn on phantom power; the Tascam Dr-40 would be a suitable choice in this instance.
There are also several options designed exclusively for use in the field. A common type makes use of a parabolic dish, effectively acting as a kind of audio zoom lens making them useful for focusing in on a particular sound-source. Some of these systems require a different type of power known as plug-in power so you’ll need a recorder able to supply this via a 3.5mm mic/line input as found on the Tascam DR-05.
The Hi-sound and Telinga PRO-X systems are good examples of plug-in powered parabolic systems. If your recorder does not have plug-in power, you can use an XLR to PiP adaptor. This connects to the XLR outputs on your recorder and converts the phantom power produced by the recorder to plug-in power which can run the microphone.
Finally, we feature static recording devices such as the SM4 Acoustic from Wildlife Acoustics and the Bar-LT from Frontier Labs. These waterproof units feature built in omni-directional microphones and can be secured to any suitable surface. The long deployment times and scheduling functions make these ideal for long-term bioacoustic studies.
In the field
To test a small cross section of equipment, I headed to a small forest within the Dartmoor National Park to capture the distinctive call of the Common Cuckoo, armed with a Tascam DR-40, XLR to PiP adaptor, Hi-Sound Stereo Parabolic system and a Wildlife Acoustics SM4 Acoustic recorder.
I initially walked a narrow path that cut through a steep section of woodland, at this point the cuckoos could be heard faintly calling from lower down in the valley. Locating a suitable tree easily accessible from the path, I decided to deploy the SM4. The SM4 has been designed to be exceptionally quick to set up straight out of the box and for this field test, I set it to ‘always record’ and secured it in place with a Python Mini Cable Lock.
Static recorder in place, I then used the Tascam DR-40 whilst walking through the woodlands to capture the changing soundscapes as I moved away from the sound of the river and closer to the open moor.
The DR-40 has a clear front facing screen that is easy to read in all light levels, pressing the record button once arms the unit allowing you to see and hear the recording levels. A good pair of headphones is recommended for use with this unit as they are susceptible to a certain amount of handling noise.
I then connected the parabolic to the Hi-Sound parabolic to the Tascam using the XLR to PiP adapter.
Dropping off the path I headed towards the middle of the wood where the Cuckoos could be heard calling in the distance. The high directionality of the parabolic microphone was excellent allowing me to pick out individuals among the woodland birds present.
Late in the evening whilst preparing to pack up I was rewarded with a fantastic display as several cuckoos alighted on the trees around me, a recording of which is included below.
I highly recommend getting out and exploring natural soundscapes in your local area, especially at this time of year. As with any piece of equipment it takes a few trips to really get a feel of what they’re capable of, but any one of these items could become a reliable piece of gear for your sonic explorations.
To view our full range of sound recording equipment please visit www.nhbs.com. If you have any questions on our sound recording range or would like some advice on the best set-up for your project please contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone on 01803 865913.
Joeri Bruyninckx traces the development of field recording and its use in field ornithology. Drawing on expertise from experimental music to serious science, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the power of sound and listening.
NHBS equipment team member Johnny Mitchell, developed a keen interest in sound design and field recording whilst studying contemporary music. He continues to be fascinated by the technical challenges of field recording and its use for ecologists. With the recent publication of Joeri Bruyninckx’s Listening In The Field, interest around this subject continues to grow, so Johnny has provided some thoughts about the art of wildlife sound recording along with some excellent book recommendations.
‘In its broadest sense, field recording is the act of capturing sound outside of a traditional recording studio environment.
We live, it seems, in a culture that values vision and image above all other senses. In our increasingly noisy society, and as the cacophony of human-induced noise increases around us, it can be easy to forget the value of simply listening as a way to engage with the natural world.
One of the most evocative and earliest examples of field recording can be can found in the BBC recordings of Cellist Beatrice Harrison who, whilst playing in the garden at her home in Oxted, Surrey, noticed that the nightingales in the woods around her responded to, and even echoed, the notes of her cello. Broadcast just two years after the Birth of BBC radio in the early 1920’s, it was the first time that wildlife had been broadcast over live radio in the UK, and it proved to be so popular that the recordings were repeated every spring for the following 12 years.
Advances in high-quality, portable audio equipment have led to a fascinating cross-pollination between artists, musicians and scientists. In his new book, Listening in the Field, Joeri Bruyninckx traces the development of field recording and its use in field ornithology. Drawing on expertise from experimental music to serious science, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging investigation into the power of sound and listening.
In The Great Animal Orchestra, Krause, a former musician/composer and now leading expert in soundscape ecology, details his experiences in over 40 years of collecting wild soundscapes and explores what these can tell us about the health of various biomes.
Wild Soundscapes offers the reader both a philosophical guide and practical handbook- it is a highly readable and invaluable guide into the many techniques and different types of audio equipment available to anyone making their first forays into the field.
Krause encourages us to take a widescreen view of the soundscape as a whole rather than focusing on single species. Whilst listening to his recorded sounds and visualising them using spectograms, Krause also developed his ‘niche hypothesis’ – discovering that many creatures have developed temporal and frequency niches in which to communicate. What we would perceive as a chaotic web of sound is, he argues, highly ordered, and organisms in a soundscape structure their vocalisations over both frequency and time.
Tragically, over half of the soundscapes in Krause’s archive have either been dramatically altered by human activity or silenced altogether. However, as interest and technology advance it is fair to say that we are coming to understand and value the natural soundscape around us and our effect upon it’.
Field Recording Equipment
At NHBS you will find a great range of microphones, recorders and accessories for field recording.
The RememBird II allows you to record bird sound in the field. It fits snugly below your roof prism binoculars and is easily operated by a simple joystick button contol. The microphone works in a continuous loop recording mode so that your RememBird is ‘always listening’ – so you don’t have to scramble to catch the beginning of the calls you hear.
2. Keep your eyes on the action
The RememBird has a second micropohone which allows you to whisper notes about what you’re watching without stopping to look down at your notebook.
3. Listen to region-specific audio field guides through the built-in speaker or using headphones
Each RememBird comes pre-loaded with a regional audio field guide: European (in English or French), North American or Australian.
4. Manage your wildlife field recordings
The sophisticated software (available for PC and Mac users) allows you to manage your wildlife recordings, log and identify species heard and build your own audio field guides for use in the field.
5. The RememBird II builds on the huge popularity of the RememBird I – including new features designed with users’ feedback in mind
Praise for Remembird I
For the size of the package, the RememBird provides a remarkably good recording (definitely adequate for identification later) and a convenient way of recording those valuable field notes. – American Bird Association
A marvelous innovation to take us into the next new frontier of birdwatching. – Martin Garner
Its versatility and ease of rapid use will make a real difference both for the professional and for the serious birder… You will quickly come to see how useful this is and will want to make sure it’s always to hand. – Ricard Gutiérrez, www.rarebirdspain.net
Is it worth it? Yes. It’s great for recording on-the-spot details of sightings while at the same time helping you to get to grips with bird sounds. – Dominic Couzens, BBC Wildlife Magazine
Designed 100% for birders, it would also be fantastic on safari, especially at night, for listening to the sounds of the bush. Elephants’ rumbles, bush baby shrieks and leopard coughs would all come through beautifully. – Wildlife Extra