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Birdsong

Research

Steve Williams took this photo.. I’ve clearly been eating too much chocolate this easter haha.

It was great to meet up with Liam Olds, Steve Williams and Mike Kilner over easter. I aimed to show them my Violet Oil Beetle location and we weren’t disappointed with over 40+ individuals found. I’ve since found them a few miles away also on a road side verge. Proof that this valley has to be one of the largest strongholds for this species. We recorded 10 Species of Bee thanks to Liam Olds’ vast knowledge, including a Chocolate Mining Bee which was a first for me. It really is great to be surrounded by such knowledgeable naturalists, there’s so much knowledge to obtain about the natural world, I wish I could soak it all up faster! Everything I know, I’ve learned from other people, or by myself through personal discovery and research. It goes to show that if you’re passionate about something, you learn much faster. This is why most people struggle with their current Jobs as you really need passion to drive you forward. I know I’m currently struggle with Jobs, being out of work since October, but I do believe I’m heading in the right direction, to obtain a Job that will give me a sense of purpose, which is after-all what we all want in life.


Here are a few pics from easter. I’ve spent more time out with the recording gear really so haven’t got too many images but I did have some good moments - My first Wood Warbler of the year, a showy Sedge Warbler and my favourites were actually the bugs, Black-spotted Longhorn Beetle and those cute glaring eyes of the Jumping Spider (evarcha falcata). I did go down to see Blair Jones’ Red-necked Phalarope at Goldcliff which has been proving to be a great birding spot this spring, with Black Kite, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover and all the usual supporting cast. While it does tick a few boxes for me, I’m not sure ticking boxes is really my thing. I’ve never made a year list, local list or life list of any kind, I just want to experience nature and take whatever opportunity nature decides to throw at me.


Firecrest Update

If you haven’t been following, I’m studying mimicking behaviour in Firecrest this year and so far, 3 out of 3 males on territory have been able to produce a goldcrest mimic to varying degrees.
The original bird discovered is still by far the best at mimicking goldcrest which is probably why it stood out to me so well to begin with, but the others have used mimicry in a more subtle way.

Not only was the original Firecrest better at the mimic, but it also used it way more often. This could be because there aren’t any other Firecrests in its territory, so why waste time singing Firecrest? Note in the spectagram that it’s producing 3 notes per peak and with the iconic ‘trill’ at the end. Over-all producing 29 notes including trill.

Firecrest No.1 Mimic


Firecrest No.2 only used the odd mimic within a single song and while it still produced 3 notes per beat, the end ‘trill’ is reduced to only 2 notes, notes of which are more typically expected at the end of the Firecrest song. On average the bird produced 16 notes including the trill at the end. It’s worth saying that the amount of beats doesn’t matter too much as even a real goldcrest song this can vary, however so far the birds who sing less notes and also singing a less perfect rendition of the goldcrest song which is why I’m documenting them.

Firecrest No.2

Firecrest No.3 is by far the most interesting bird, largely because of the circumstances in which it used the mimic, doing so directly after hearing a distant goldcrest singing inside its territory, this can be picked up on during the recording. It only lets out one burst of mimic, which is so simplified it hardly meets the requirements of mimicking but it does have the overall structure. Rather than 3 beats, it has just 2 and this bird neglected the trill at the end entirely. Again, this isn’t going to be a completely controlled study as even goldcrest vary, but it’s interesting to hear these mimics used naturally at a time of year where territories are being established and a birds song is never more imperative than in early spring.

Firecrest No.3

It’s worth noting also that the tempo for each bird also varies;

  1. 154bpm (Sang 12 or more times)

  2. 182bpm (Sang 2 times)

  3. 184bpm (Sang 1 time)

This could be nothing but the bird with the most accurate mimic does sing the phrase the slowest and the bird with the less accurate depiction sings the phrases the fastest. More recordings over the breeding season should reveal whether any of these observations are a coincidence or not but it’s all being documented included frequency of notes.

The reason I’m doing this is because I’d like to know just how accurate these mimics are and I’ll compare all my recordings this year side by side with real Goldcrest songs so that by the end of the study, we’ll hopefully be able to trust our ears again when listening out for Firecrest in the field.

So far I’m noticing that the Goldcrests sound is a little ‘thinner’ with less overall weight to it but that might not be enough to go by, on its own.

Llandegfedd, good and bad news

Looks like a Bee but is in-fact a fly, hence the name 'Beefly'. They are fairly common in early spring and frequent visitors to Gardens so well worth looking out for these as they perch themselves on warm plantation late in the evening to warm up. They like to hover and may even hover long enough for you to get a photograph in flight which I have managed in the past. This species is called a 'Dark-edged Beefly' which is easily identifiable by the dark edges on the outer wings. As you can see, they are great pollinators with this subject below covered in pollen. 

With temperatures rising this Spring we're starting to see lots of emerging insects, including several species of lepidoptera. Llandegfedd is a good spot for Butterflies in spring and summer due to its ancient mature meadows that provide a good variety of plant life to support them right up as far as October/November and as early as February/March. If you know anything about Butterflies though, some require very specific plants to survive and only emerge during the periods of which those plants exist. 1 species comes to mind which can be found in small numbers already at Llandegfedd and that is the Orange-tip Butterfly. Below is a picture of a Comma Butterfly which was posing rather well for me but below that is the food plant of the Orange-tip Butterfly, the plant is called 'Ladies Smock' but also known as the Cuckoo Flower. 

More of these plants are starting to flower so we should start to see clouds of Orang-tips for the next couple weeks before they start dying off. 

There is another plant that grows on the banks of Llandegfedd that is a very specialist plant and only grows in ancient diverse meadows and particularly likes sandy soil and that is the Adders-tongue Fern. Till today, I'd never actually managed to find these plants but now I've found one, I'm starting to see them everywhere at Llandegfedd. They are beautifully delicate looking and so easy to mistake for a random leaf in a field. Having these present shows that we have good healthy numbers of Spotted-Orchids in the northern meadows of Llandegfedd and in a few weeks, you'll see that for your own eyes. It's a shame however that Welsh Water and the people sat behind their desk jotting down numbers don't see the importance of these Wild Flower Meadows because they've recently signed up for a running and biking event which includes churning up these priceless meadows that won't recover once overly-disturbed. Signs of 'buffering' are already prevalent since the opening of the site in April 2015 which has seen many of the paths expanding into the meadows getting wider and wider as time goes on and thousands more people walk thru an un-marked, un-protected  Wild Flower Meadow. 

Some good news after that depressing last chapter.. This Reed Warbler has been coming back for as many years as I've been visiting Llandegfedd. How do I know this? well, despite it having a leg ring, I can actually tell by its song. Reed Warblers are known for their ability to Mimic and the way in which they use this mimicry is very individualistic, to the point where you can learn an individuals phrasing. Even with a song as complicated as a Reed Warbler (fast and trilly) you can pick out key features with a musically trained ear (which I'm lucky to have). The same can be said about my local Blackbird which I know has been present for many years because he has learned to mimic the sound of my next-door neighbours whistling and using this tune regularly in his song phrasing. 

This Reed Warbler however does have a Ring so it will be interesting to find out whether my theory is true. Confirmation of this will be to find out if this Bird was ringed at Llandegfedd. I'll keep you up to date if I find out any news on this. 

I'll leave you with something a little cuter but slightly sad in story. A mother Mallard abandoned her 7 chicks after being flushed in the car park while leading her chicks to the water. In doing so she then got pestered by 3 male Mallards that chased her far away from her chicks and rather than staying together they all split up into the woods. Theres no guaranty that any of them will survive but I did manage to catch 3 and bring them back to the waters edge where Mum will have a better chance of finding them. I know Mallards are common but I hope they did survive. They were very tempting to take home... but this is nature and sometimes it's better to just let things unfold, despite the bad outcome for the chicks. 

Local Spring Arrivals

Signs of spring are growing every day and today was no exception with Yellowhammer in full song back on territory and Curlew returning to some of their upland breeding grounds. Today marks the first day of the year for Upland Curlews (for me) and I've not heard of any other recordings in Gwent of such activity yet so think this may be the first record. I visited several favourite spots locally today and all of which were upland / moorland. Each day I grow to love our uplands more and more as I realise just how important the habitat is for the majority of our wildlife. I went out with an open mind today prepared to take whatever was presented to me and I was pleasantly surprised to find Yellowhammer back on territory singing their hearts out. Spring has already started for some birds. My local Long-tailed Tits are already starting to build their nest from spiders webs, lichens and feathers. 

I've spoken about the Yellowhammer Dialects project before so I won't go into too much detail but if you're interested in sound recording and have any records, even phone recordings, of a Yellowhammer, please contribute to this incredible project - http://www.yellowhammers.net/

I'm the only one that has submitted recordings in South Wales so records here a looking thin despite our abundance of Yellowhammers. It is important to record birdsong for this very reason so please have a look at their website as Pavel is doing a great Job. 

It was my brother that spotted this Curlew flying in from Llandegfedd direction and immediately after he saw it the bird gave off that iconic call giving its identity away. It later on landed in a cultivated field and later flew further north. 

Field Recording Workshops 2016

This year I've going to be holding a few Sound Recording workshops throughout Spring / Summer. If you have sound recording gear and would like to know how best to use it or if you are just curious and would like to know where to start, this workshop is for you. With a focus on handling techniques, how to tackle bad weather conditions and most importantly, how to setup your recording devices to capture the sound as best as you can. Throughout spring I'll be touching on Bird Recording but during the summer I'll also hold classes on how to record insects. There are several types of microphones and I'll also help explain the differences between them and show you audibly why certain microphones work best for field recording. 

If this is something you'd be interested in, please get in touch and I'll get you on the list. If I feel like I have enough people interested, I'll make sure we set a date soon as Spring is fast approaching and we already have plenty of Birds to record. 

Gavin Vella Sound Recording
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Winter Robin Song

Winter Robin Song

Finally got around to recording the Winter Robin Song! Not ideal recording conditions with all this wind and rain but I just about managed to get some clear isolated recordings while hiding out of the wind beneath some thick bushes. You'll hear plenty of other Robins singing in the background back and forth this guy so I was spoiled with choice a bit. In the last section when the wind picks up, you'll also hear that this Robin has mimicked a couple phrases from either a Blue Tit or Great Tit.