Last month I was down in Norfolk attending a Wildlife Sound Recording Society meeting. In December 2014 I had attended a Wildeye course nearby so I knew the Norfolk coast was a particularly interesting area for wildlife recording. Therefore as soon as I found out about the meeting I signed up and started preparing.
I initially planned on driving from Edinburgh all the way to Norfolk but in the end I chose to fly as I didn't want to get there too tired. This however meant that I couldn't take my Sound Devices recorder or my Sennheiser and DPA mics with me as I didn't want them to break or get misplaced during airport baggage transfer. (This reminds me I need to look into insurance for gear and traveling abroad with it.) In the end I only took my laptop and my trusty PCM D100 which ended up being OK as we didn't do that much recording.
I landed at Norwich Airport at noon on Friday and from there I drove to Burnham Deepdale where the meeting was held. On my way I managed to visit the Pensthorpe Natural Park and several beaches and marshes from Salthouse to Hunstanton. On my way back I also visited Titchwell RSPB reserve but sadly I didn't get to record anything because of the wind or crowds of birdwatchers. It was a welcome change to the usual Scottish landscape I see every day however.
I arrived at the youth hostel Friday evening and got acquainted with everyone. It was great to see people I had met on the Wildeye courses, to put faces to names I knew from the WSRS forums and to make new acquaintances as well. The attendees were either naturalists/conservationists that had became interested in sound recording, or audio professionals with an interest in wildlife and nature such as myself. All in all it was an excellent mix of backgrounds and interests which ended up sparking countless interesting discussions.
On Saturday morning we all went out without our recording equipment and had an extensive chat about "fieldcraft". Simon Elliott generously shared a host of tips and techniques relevant to close-up bird recording, which was particularly interesting for me as I'm trying to move from simply recording habitats to recording species and individuals. Some of the notes I made:
- identifying and miking song posts (this is where the tiny DPA 4060s excel)
- species such as Blue Tit won't mind even if you move their nest around; at the other end of the spectrum a Magpie will desert its nest as soon as you get a little too close to it
- focusing on local recording spots and knowing them well
- Rycote mini fluffies for the DPA 4060s scare most birds away; this is probably why I had so little luck recording birds up close with these mics
- microphone and cable weatherproofing techniques
- tips on how not to disturb wildlife while recording it, along with a few words on the ethics of field work
Saturday afternoon we went out again, this time with recording equipment including a wide selection of parabolic reflectors. Unfortunately it was quite windy so we didn't manage to make any successful recordings of the habitats or species. Some of the attendees experimented with recording keys jingling around various stereo microphone setups. We played back these recordings at the hostel that evening, discussing issues such as stereo width or "hole in the middle" effects. Even if the weather wasn't that good the technical discussions and practical bits were quite enjoyable.
On Sunday morning we discussed a variety of subjects, from file storage and backup to audio editing software. Nick Davison of Gower photography shared many tips and suggestions on file management, backup, data redundancy etc. which work more or less the same in Photography and Field recording. Simon Elliott went through the process of creating an audio documentary which I found extremely interesting as it included other tips on extreme close-up recordings (specifically of Little Grebes if I remember correctly).
Other bits that I picked up at various times over the weekend (sadly I don't remember who brought these up or answered our questions):
- long cables: best cable to use in the field (and away from interference) is starquad terminated to 5 pin XLR coupled with double 3 pin XLR Y-leads; I have since ordered and received a 100m SQB cable from Canford, can't wait to get it out in the field
- storage media: Sandisk and Lexar are more or less what everyone uses, including myself
- never underestimate the usefulness of dynamic mics: they can be left out for weeks (or months?) if properly shielded from weather
- the tiny DPA mics (of which I have 4, 2x 4060 and 2x 4061) can be tied to song posts, tree branches and all kinds of difficult to reach places; as long as it isn't too windy and the Rycote fluffies aren't used birds usually don't mind them
- using dummy mics so that birds get used to being around them, and subsequently replacing them with the real thing
- and many more... Believe me, there was so much information flying in all directions and compressed in such a short time that I'm still mentally going through it and remembering interesting bits.
The whole trip was truly enjoyable and I look forward to attending the next one, probably in February if my schedule allows it. If you want to attend the meetings or get involved with the WSRS you can check out their website for details.