I spent the entire month of April this year field recording around Romania. At the moment I'm planning another trip there so I have to go through all my recordings to clear my backlog before leaving again. I urgently need to finish editing all the wetland ambience recordings that will go into the Wetland Atmosphere library. Easier said than done, that's for sure.
Although I lived in Romania for more than 20 years, looking back it seems like I didn't choose the best time of the year for my trip. My plan was to do a couple of weeks of recording in the Carpathian Mountains and then a week or two in the Danube Delta. I wanted to take advantage of the lush dawn choruses that happen this time of the year, but I also wanted to record frogs. Frogs are loudest in the mating season, which typically happens around March and April, but that's still quite cold for dawn choruses in the mountains.
Luckily I managed to record dawn choruses, frogs and some extras on the side, but overall it was much more frustrating than I'd have preferred. The weather was the main culprit, this bane of field recordists everywhere. Sure, you can say that it wasn't something I could control, but next time I'll know that April is tricky and May will be a much safer option for this region.
I had previously been to these places in the Eastern Carpathian mountains (in the winter of 2015/2016) and scouted a few good spots for field recording. This time there was a decent dawn chorus happening so I spent several nights and early mornings out in the woods. I traveled a few hundreds of miles up and down to find other interesting spots, which was quite enjoyable. Since there was high speed WiFi at all the places where I stayed, I was also able to take care of some urgent work.
The recordings from these trips are a mixed bag however. The biggest issue was noise caused by wind going through coniferous trees. Since the wind was relatively constant, it almost sounds like white noise at times. Another issue was creeks made up of thawing ice and snow, which also sounded very much like noise. I think less than 1% of the recordings are usable, but since I recorded a lot this is by now means a bad result.
Some of these recordings were offered as an update to the Woodland Atmosphere library (listen above), while others will be included in brand new libraries, available soon.
It was also quite cold, as temperatures would drop below freezing during the night. The unpaved roads were tricky to navigate because of the mixture of ice, mud and potholes, which added to the feeling of adventure but made it difficult to move fast between recording spots. This was nothing however, as I would find after my return from the Danube Delta.
At this point I was joined by fellow sound recordist Daan Hendriks, who joined me on the week-long trip to the Danube Delta. We drove down to the Delta on a grey, rainy day which seemed to be warning us of the weather to come. After around 250 miles, 2 ferries and more than 10 hours of driving we finally got there, extremely tired but excited at the prospect of being in such a remote place.
Unfortunately the weather only got worse from there on, the rain turning into sleet and then snow. Apparently it was the coldest and windiest month of April in more than 20 years. Further up North there were proper blizzards that broke poles and caused all sorts of problems.
There was nothing to do but stay at the guest house and wait it out. Luckily there was WiFi as usual, which made it bearable. I did some more game audio work, read books, watched TV series and even learned how to pilot a small motorboat with the help of the guy we stayed with. 4 days later when the clouds finally cleared we were more than ready to take the boat out and do some proper recording.
We only got to record on less than three full days on this week-long trip. The annoyance and frustration caused by this aside, the experience was extremely enjoyable. We were free to roam around immense lakes and wetlands, narrow canals, wider canals, tiny islands, larger islands, marshes, bogs, swamps etc. The owner of the place we stayed at was very helpful as he taught me how to pilot he boat and even sourced the keys to a fisherman's hut on one of the islands for us to use.
We saw and recorded loads of wetland birds, from waterfowl such as geese and ducks to huge pelican colonies (sadly only photographed these as we couldn't get close enough to record them), from herons and bitterns to harriers and white tailed eagles, and loads of small passerines. We left our rigs out on one of the islands for an overnight recording session, and we both recorded wild boars getting quite close to our mics. Here's a bit where they squeal and make quite the racket:
I can't say I regret going on this trip. Au contraire, I want to go back there in better weather and spend some nights camping on these islands. I want to explore the area some more and possibly get close enough to the Pelican colonies to record them. If things go according to plan I might be able to take up to 6 people with me on a 10-day long recording retreat around May next year. Do get in touch if you're interested.
Back to the Carpathian Mountains
After having spent a week in the Delta, Daan drove to Bucharest and flew back to the UK, while I drove back up North and went recording in the mountains again. This time the land- and soundscape were completely changed. There was more than half a metre of snow in the forest (this was the end of April!), which meant driving was much more treacherous and I had to hike for a few miles to get to my usual recording spots. The snow had a hard crust but was soft underneath, which made hiking that much more difficult.
There was little to no birdsong when I got there so I decided to only take my backpack and camera and do some scouting first. As expected, when I got to a nice clearing in the forest an hour later I wish I'd brought my Double MS rig. I heard 3 or 4 Eurasian Eagle Owls calling, so I immediately went back to my car. 2 hours later when I got there there was no trace of the owls. Lesson #1 learned: always bring all the gear.
Since it was almost evening I decided to leave my rig out overnight along with my handheld and went back to the guest house. The fresh snow had silenced the noisy creeks nearby, and also dampened some of the distant sounds so it had created a very surreal sounding space. I was a bit worried that brown bears, boars or deer would find my rigs interesting, but this was not the case.
When I got there next morning however I noticed that my Sound Devices 633 screen was flashing an error. Apparently there it had run out of storage space, even if I clearly remembered formatting the SD card just before I left it out. That's when I realized I hadn't formatted the CF card! Apparently if the 633 is recording to two media and one of them fills up, it stops recording altogether instead of continuing to record on the other.
Unfortunately this meant I had missed the entire dawn chorus. At least I got a few hours of quiet nightscape with soft wind and dry vegetation rustling, all in surround. Still working on a library that will include this.
As mentioned at the start of this blog post, I'm currently planning on going back to the Carpathians next month to try and record Eurasian Eagle Owls, Ural Owls and a few more species that I heard there in Spring. This time I'll try to camp out so I hope I'll be able to get much closer.
Overall the trip was quite fruitful. I have enough wetland recordings to work with, loads of woodland and forest material, and I even got to record a vintage Romanian car. Not a bad month all things considered. I look forward to going back there in Autumn and hearing how the soundscape changes. Expect a blog post on this soon-ish.