The past weekend I attended a very enjoyable WSRS Autumn meeting in Norfolk. Having attended last year's Autumn meeting, I was excited at the prospect of getting away from the busy soundscape of South East England (where I've been living since September). As a special treat this year we were joined by the Society's President, wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson.
As soon as I finished the week's work on Friday I drove to Hunstanton where we stayed at a very cozy youth hostel, a few miles away from Snettisham and the area known as The Wash. The Wash is one of Europe's largest estuaries and is home to hundreds of thousands of seabirds. This makes for spectacular murmurations, especially in periods of Spring Tides when the birds are pushed towards the shore by the rising waters.
The Saturday morning weather forecast looked surprisingly good for this time of the year so we decided to head out at 3 am. This way we'd have our recording gear prepared as the tide rose and pushed an enormous number of birds towards our microphones. Or at least this was the plan.
On Saturday morning we left the youth hostel at 3 am as planned and headed out for the Snettisham RSPB Reserve. As soon as we got there I joined fellow sound recordist Richard Youell and we headed towards the far end of the reserve. I set up my Sennheiser 8040 mics in ORTF close to the shore and laid cables to one of the RSPB bird hides in the area. We then pressed record and started to sip on hot tea in silence.
Less than half an hour later we heard a loud engine not too far away, probably caused by a tractor at a farm in the area. This was loud enough as to affect our recordings so I gave up trying to record and went for a long walk along the shore. Richard was more optimistic than myself and kept recording through, although without excellent results.
The tractor worked through the entire high tide and bird flock movement and only stopped polluting the soundscape around 9am. I was able to record some geese calling in the distance but apart from that only the first half hour of the day had yielded interesting recordings.
We then got back to the hostel for brunch and a workshop on surround sound recording presented by Chris Watson. I had been thinking about moving to surround for quite a while, and Chris's talk determined me to look into getting a Sennheiser MKH30 mic that I can use for recording Double MS. This recording setup allows decoding to mono, stereo and surround sound, which makes it particularly efficient and easy to carry around.
After Chris's talk we got back to Snettisham for the evening high tide. We positioned our recording rigs so that the huge flocks of Knot would be driven by the rising tides towards us, just as in the morning. It was now a bit windier but at least no engine could be heard in the distance. However, instead of the tractor engine ruining our recordings there came a dog walker who let his dog loose on the beach and then started yelling after the poor thing. Still, I was able to record bits of clean audio between dog barks, yells, planes flying and boat engines in the distance. I also recorded a video timelapse of the rising tide:
The others stayed until Monday but I had loads of work to do so I had to get back on Sunday. Regardless, it was a breath of fresh air and an excellent opportunity to get away from traffic, people, noise, pollution etc. It was also an occasion to talk to like-minded people, to find out about very interesting research and to stop thinking about work for a couple of days. I sure hope I will be able to attend the Winter meeting in the first week of December.