Viewing entries tagged
Sound Recording

A Rare Day

The Canyon - Terpentwys

A sunny day and I aimed to have a ‘dragonfly’ day at a place called The Canyon, which has a number of cool species like Keeled Skimmer and Black Darter that I like to find each year. Having got there however, the wind was so high, I wasn’t even seeing any butterflies on the wing, so on the way back down the mountain, I picked up good friend Craig Constance and we headed to Llandegfedd to salvage the day. We didn’t have much to report on the bird front but Craig spotted his regular Yellow Legged Gull which was good for me as I could finally get a decent view of a full adult bird right next to both Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gull for reference. I must admit, I’ve always shied away from identifying Gulls like Yellow-legged in the field as I’ve not been confident with the features but I certainly feel more confident now. Our last stop before heading home and we popped into Green Pool hide, which in all fairness, we never do these days as it’s usually overgrown but Welsh Water has cleared a nice channel through the reeds and just as well! as the Dragonfly we had been watching for a while in-front of the hide, ended up being a mega!

We had a male Emperor Dragonfly and quite a few Common Darters on the water but we had two Hawkers coming in close but there was so much blue on the one, it honestly looked like a small emperor at first glance. I said to craig at this point, “you know, there is a really rare dragonfly called the ‘blue eyed’ or ‘Southern Migrant Hawker’… from which seconds later the hawker landed right in-front of the hide and I went completely red in the face in shock. As soon as I saw the thin black lines in the thorax and those bright blue eyes, I went into complete panic mode, trying to get a photograph and my battery died!!! Spares of which were in my car! #schoolboyerror. Craig instantly called Lee Gregory who is an all-round naturalist with great species knowledge and he arrived shortly after I got back to the hide with some spare batteries. At this point I still hadn’t got a picture to confirm the ID! Thankfully it returned right in-front of the hide as Lee got there and the first picture had me dancing like a little kid. Lee Gregory instantly knew that this could be a first record for Wales and today it was confirmed that this is the first confirmed sighting for Gwent and Wales, so this would be my second ‘1st’ for Wales this year. This doesn’t happen very often, not for me anyway.

The Southern Migrant Hawker is a vagrant that’s apparently trying to colonise the Uk from southern Europe and more Mediterranean habitats. It’s been spotted mostly in southern and eastern parts of England but sightings in Wales have been very minimal. To have the first confirmed sighting is nice but honestly I was just glad that I knew what it was as we both could have quite easily walked away without giving it a second glance. The first four pics below are of the Southern Migrant Hawker, showing vibrant blue eyes, blue on the thorax with those thin black lines through the yellow which you wouldn’t see on an Emperor which is of similar colours. It is quite a bit smaller than an emperor but in flight, sizer can be difficult to judge.

I’ve started a project to record as many species of Grasshopper as I can, and in a high sample rate so that I can lower the pitch and slow the recording down so that everyone can appreciate the quality. I thought it was probably wise that I make the most of my ability to actually hear them as one day I’m sure I’ll lose that end of the frequency spectrum and I won’t even know where to point the mic! In lowering the pitch, I hope that everyone can enjoy the variety of sounds we have in our countryside. I used to be able to hear some species of Bats when I was a kid. If I knew how much i’d miss that when I was older, I would have done it more often.

Before the Rain

Spring might have been a wet one, but it’s been great so far this summer for bugs. I usually turn my attention to bugs this time of year as some species have a small window of opportunity before they all disappear again till next year. If you like Grasshoppers and Crickets, it’s worth visiting the north side of Llandegfedd as the meadows are alive with Roesel’s, Dark, Oak & Speckled Bush-crickets, Green, Meadow, Field and Mottled Grasshoppers, Long & Short-winged Coneheads and even Ground Hoppers with more to discover I’m sure.
As you know I like to record the sounds of nature, but as many people cannot hear some species of Grasshopper as they’re too high pitched, I’ve started a project that aims to record as many different species of Grasshopper / Cricket as possible and to slow those recordings down so that you can listen to the finer detail of each and every stroke of the wing cases. It’s not for everyone, but i find stuff like this fascinating as it reveals frequencies that you wouldn’t otherwise hear. Listen back to these insects in slow-motion helps you enter their world for a moment and also highlights how important it is for us to start consider the environmental impact our noise pollution has on species that are dependant on sound in order to reproduce.

I tend not to go anywhere simply for the walk these days, partly because I can’t walk far at the moment as I have gall-stones that are playing havoc, but also because I only walk 2 minutes before spotting something interesting to photograph, record or just appreciate. It doesn’t do anything for my fitness levels this way but I’ve made so much luck this way, slowly walking through the landscape, trying to appreciate everything that I see. If you do this, you’ll be rewarded more and more, and this was evident when I was accompanied by a Stoat that was quite shy, but I would have easily missed it if I was walking with the intent to walk. If you want to see things, you need to slow right down.

Forgotten Silence

I’ll start this blog with a picture from yesterday female ‘Lichen’ who has just a week left before her eggs hatch. She’s been a great mother so far, sitting in this horrific wet weather. I’ve kept an eye on her as I honestly thought that the ditch she was in would fill with water but luckily it hasn’t. I should have more faith in her nest location choice, they clearly know what they’re doing. 

Female Nightjar - Lichen

Female Nightjar - Lichen

I’ve spent more time sound recording this year than I have taking photo’s, but it’s mainly been for research rather than creating presentable audio. Listening to the world through an amplified microphone, does have two different affects on me. It mainly helps me focus on isolated sounds, focusing my brain on one thing which helps drown out noise-pollution. It can also however make you more aware of noise, as when the bird stops singing, all you’re left with is the sounds of over-head planes, distant traffic, or the roaring sound of off-road motorbikes. Finding locations that are noise-free in Gwent, is becoming near impossible. Is there any wonder that the world is suffering from the highest number of depression cases ever recorded?

A lack of understanding from the governments of the world regarding sound-pollution is mostly because ‘sound’ for them is some unquantifiable measure of consequences that cannot be contained.

This is so far from the truth! We need to approached the subject in a different manner and a start would be to recognise sound for what it really is, and that is Pressure.
No matter what the sound is, big or small, we receive that sound via pressure to our ears drums, and that pressure signal is interpreted by the brain. Our brains work so hard to filter out bad sound pressure, but it’s a battle we’re going to lose. This is why thousands like me escape to the countryside, to try and experience natures gift of silence. In many places we’ve lost it already, but it’s not too late.

There have been some huge milestones recently in the fight against noise-pollution -
Marine scientists have been studying Whale sounds for decades and with thousands of Whales washing up on our beaches every year, finally it was proven that military-sonar was the cause. Sound travels much further under water, and as a result, much of our marine life has evolutionary adaptations to exploit this

While it’s a good thing that the world is being forced to think about air and water pollution, we also need to fight the corner for noise and light pollution too. We need protected zones all around the globe where traffic is diverted so we can minimise our impact on natural silence. Hopefully one day we’ll have silent zones close to home that are protected also but for now, it’s my goal to seek these locations out for my own mental health.

This video is a couple years old now, but please watch it. It highlights many of the things I’ve mentioned.

Nightjar and Firecrest Progress

Despite having a tough year so far, both financially and with my health, I still feel privileged to spend my free time with nature, and even more privileged to spend most of that time with Firecrests and Nightjar this season. I started the season collecting Firecrest recordings as I wanted to learn more about their mimicking behaviour. There are still many unanswered questions but I’ll update on this soon.

I’ve since got a little distracted, as Nightjar season has well and truly started. It’s almost a full time Job to keep track of the birds roosting patterns. You’ve got to be extremely cautious and committed to find roosting nightjar. Cautious because you don’t want to cause any disturbance, especially now in breeding season but also because they will inevitably see you long before you see them and flushing them is simply not an option if you wish to ever see them again. It’s a huge trust exercise and they need to learn that you are not a threat, so trampling thru breeding habitat hoping to find one is asking for problems. It’s knowing where they won’t be rather than knowing exactly where they are. I’m so glad I read up on these birds and took some great advice off experts as the last thing I would want is for my presence to have a negative impact on their breeding success. As a result I’ve witnessed some fabulous behaviour and characteristics of individual birds.

Meet Blackbeard, The male from pair no1. He prefers to roost in dense cover and as a result I’ve decided to leave him alone this season as there’s no way of approaching him silently. I’ve called him Blackbeard as he’s considerably darker than all my other Nightjars. Not just his throat, but the stripe down his breast, around his lower eye and also down his back is quite dark. He’s generally more rufous with a wider range of colours.

Blackbeard (Male no1)

Blackbeard (Male no1)

This is his current Female that I’ve named ‘bark’ as she prefers tree stumps and has consistent colouration from head to tail like tree bark without any lichen. Not a very feminine name I know but it’s descriptive enough for me to ID in the field. She was my first ever self found Nightjar. She’s now sitting on eggs but is also in deep cover so this pair I tend to enjoy watching at night only, from a vantage point, rather than pursue them in the day time and possibly cause disturbance.

Female no1

The second pair is a complete different ball-game, and are much easier to approach without making too much noise. They’re both roosting close to the ground but he likes logs or even plastic tree guards. She’s about 10 meters away in a small ditch and is now also sitting on two eggs. I’ve named male no2 silverback due to his overall light shade of grey. He was proving to be quite an attentive partner but since we’ve been having heavy rain, he’s taken to a more sheltered part of the forestry 60+ meters away which is very dry. Do you blame him? I don’t. The female however has no choice but to endure the elements till nightfall where the male then brings her food or they’ll swap over so she can feed. I do wonder if Silverback has gone off with another female while she’s been sat on the eggs as there is a female even closer to his current dry roost that’s been landing on the path and wagging her tail in front of him. He has shown interest in her so it wouldn’t surprise me if he did copulate with her too, this is common with Nightjars. Once his original female has hatched her eggs however, he should take over parental duties when the chicks are large enough, at which point he will copulate with her again, and she’ll lay a second brood elsewhere. The saying, ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ is a literal strategy for these birds and in doing this, they increase their chances of survival, even if only one chick manages to fledge.

This pair is a reminder that they’re so vulnerable to predators on the ground, whether it’s snakes, other birds, deer, badgers, foxes, mice, PEOPLE.. there’s so much out there that seek to kill them, which is why they invest so much (or so little) energy into keeping up their ‘log’ act. It’s vital they aren’t seen moving in the day time. Not so easy when you’re soaking wet and cold, or boiling hot in the sun with insects crawling over you.

Below is female no2 which I’m now going to call ‘lichen’ as the contrast of her dark shoulder really makes the lighter wing strips stand out, like a patch of lichen on a branch. She also has quite short wings and a more rounded shorter head than the Male who has a long, flat head shape. Their shape does vary as they manipulate their plumage in different positions but these features are generally unmistakable in the field once you’ve spent some time with them. This is her below sitting on the eggs, it’s a cropped image and from quite far off as I’d rather not disturb her.

Lichen Nightjar Female Sitting

This next bit might make some laugh, but I certainly didn’t find it funny at the time, but a group of young irresponsible adults bumped into me one night while recording Nightjar at dusk. They didn’t bother me at first and showed very little interest in what I was doing but they did turn the music up louder in their car to annoy me. What they did next though questions their insanity.., as they must have drove all the way home, picked up a family members wind instrument (possibly trumpet), with the intent on coming back up the mountain so they could destroy any chance of me getting clean recordings. Take a listen below, you couldn’t have made this up honestly.. Skip to the end..It’s actually hilarious the more I think about it. I just can’t believe the measures some people are willing to take to disrupt other peoples lives.

Between the trumpets, I was watching quite a few bats on the wing while watching the Nightjar and all I could hear thru my headphones were the faint sound of beating wings. I did wonder if my Telinga Microphone could actually pick up such high frequencies and it turns out, IT CAN! After slowing my recording down in Logic Pro X, I was able to pick out each ‘tweet’ that the bats were producing. These tweets are not audible without slowing the recording down but i’m amazed how much detail I was able to capture. It makes me wonder how many bats are in my previous recordings and the only way of telling would be to lower the pitch or slow the recordings down. I’ve always wanted to record bat sound but always thought I would need a Bat detector to do so.

I do have 3 other pairs of Nightjar that I know roughly where they’re roosting but you need to spend weeks observing them before considering yomping thru their habitat. Please be responsible, all breeding birds are protected and I would not be pursuing them if I wasn’t 100% sure I could do so without disturbance.

Born from Destruction

I find it hard to explain just how much I love Nightjars but hopefully by the end of this blog you’ll understand why.

The title sounds a bit dramatic, and that’s because the Nightjar for me is much more than just a cool looking bird that makes an unworldly sound. This bird for me is a reminder that even in a world full of environmental destruction, there are animals out there that have adapted to an ever changing landscape.

The Nightjar has done just this, by using clear-felled woodland to their advantage, as the bare ground, twigs, logs and cut stumps make for a perfect place to blend in and a perfect place to breed. The regrowth of these (often upland) clear-fells bring all kinds of plants, from heather, foxgloves, bracken, broom, gorse and native broadleaf trees, all of which are great for moths and insects which the Nightjar specialising in eating on the wing during the night. In the night they eat and drink on the wing, opening their mouth wide like a Swift and skimming lakes, tree tops and low vegetation for food and drink.

Below is a picture of my first self found Nightjar but hopefully not the last of the season. I have 6 pairs between two locations that I’m keeping an eye on. I hope to record enough male songs to confirm a theory that you can identify males by their BPM. This is a female, so she won’t be using this roost every day, especially once she lays her eggs as she will then incubate on the ground never to be seen again as the ground is mostly dead bracken which she blends into even more! The male was close by. He’s never too far away during this period as he will watch guard over them both. I hope to locate the male later on in the year once they’ve officially began breeding as it’s still early days yet and he’s still copulating with her.

I’ve shared this recording before but it’s still the best one I’ve captured so far, with perfect weather conditions and capturing the song from beginning to end.

If it wasn’t for the new green growth of the green bracken, I don’t think I would have spotted her at all.

I hope to get more opportunities but the most important thing for me at this stage is to ensure I don’t disturb them breeding so I’m going to let them settle in and see how the season goes. I might also continue to look for the other 5 local pairs and may even explore some new clear-fells in the valley to see if they’re attracting Nightjar yet. Either way, it’s quite exciting to finally get time in the day with these birds as I’ve spent so much time watching them in the night, it’s nice to see them in full light.

Goldcrest Poll Results

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you may have spotted a little quiz where you got to decide which of the spectrograms below is a real Goldcrest.

Twitter Results

Twitter Results

Facebook Result

Facebook Result

Test ID Sepctogram.jpg

Well, the results were pretty unanimous on both Twitter and Facebook. The majority of people thought that B was the real Goldcrest. Well I’m quite happy with that result, as the answer was in fact A !!!

So far I’m yet to find a Firecrest that’s been able to produce the Goldcrest song with 4 notes per phrase. It’s the last note of each phrase that appears to be the most challenging for the Firecrest.

Firecrest Mimic

I’ll leave you with a picture of a lovely Froglet, one of many covering the woodland flower at the moment that’s plastered with Bluebells. It’s going to be a good season by the looks.

Common Frog Bluebells 28th April.jpg

Mimicking Continues

Last week I introduced a Firecrest mimicking a Goldcrest song and this week I wanted to show you another example of a classic mimicking species, the Sedge Warbler! Now the recording isn’t very good with high winds and noisy planes that have been filtered out, that and the fact that the bird was only singing at quarter volume which is often called ‘sub-song’ but you can still make out the pitch perfect attempt at a Blue Tit song, eventually weaving back into it’s typical chattery mixture of notes. It also attempted to fit in a few phrases of Blackcap and Wren but the Blue Tit was by far the best I’ve heard for a while.

This Sedge Warbler was spotted at a new location along the Gwent Levels.

Sedge Warbler

Sedge Warbler

I also spotted a Water Vole in a rhyne. Testament to the hard work of the Wildlife Trust at Magor Marsh and NRW. It’s great that they’ve spread this far across the levels. Unfortunately this spot is directly threatened by the proposed M4 ‘Black Route’ so all this hard work could be lost. If you haven’t already, check out ‘CALM’ to learn more about what you can do to help protect the Gwent Levels from development.

Water Vole

Water Vole

Tawny Owl Health

I’m sharing this one with you in the hope that it might reach somebody who knows a bit more about Owls than I do. I can’t say I’ve ever heard a bird with what appears to be a saw throat. Maybe this bird is getting old, or possible even have some sort of damage or illness. I’ve enabled the download feature on the audio file, feel free to send it to anybody you may think could shine some light on it. This Tawny Owl has been sounding like this for about two weeks now. I’ve seen it flying but too dark to get a decent look of the bird.

This is a different bird but I can’t post a blog without some sort of picture can i? :P

Redwing & Fieldfare

There's no better time to put food out for the Birds and thanks to the kindness of many people, a lot of people have been getting extra additions to their bird table since the snowfall, with Fieldfare, Redwing, Brambling and some even graced with Hawfinch! (Jealousy kicks in). Frankly, I would be happy with a Fieldfare! and I was feeling rather missed out, till today that is, when my small Garden was visited by two Fieldfare. Before I geek over these fantastic birds, heres a story about the poor Redwing that flew into my neighbours window yesterday. 

Just out of luck that I open my front door just seconds after this beautiful Redwing flew into nextdoors window. While it's a good thing that they're visiting peoples gardens for food, windows, cats and predators await them and they're not always cut out for the Urban life. It's a risk they have to take however, as their preferred food is berries, most of which are currently on the ground under a foot of snow. 

I caught the bird fairly easy, which wasn't a good sign at first but 30 minutes in the warm with both food and water, is soon recovered and was ready to fight another day. The bird flew out of the box so quickly, I couldn't even get a photo in time, so this phone pic will have to do. 

Redwing Gavin Vella

My first sign that Fieldfare were in the area, came really early in the morning where I managed to just about catch one singing in the dawn chorus. We don't often hear this song due to them being winter visitors to the Uk, so to catch a recording of it singing was really special. Doesn't last long here, and it's right at the start of the recording, but it's a Fieldfare either way. 

It took a full day of watching intently and finally just as the light was dropping, in they came to eat the berries of my neighbours bush and feast on the apples I've put out on my make shift snow bird table. 

Fieldfare Bush Gavin Vella
Fieldfare Snow

2017's Highlights

While photographs are a great way of showing you guys the things I see, they only show part of what it is that I experience when I'm outdoors. It's the 'being outdoors' bit that means more to me than any photograph can tell. Yes, I love taking the best images I can, but without wildlife and nature, it would mean nothing other than just clicking some buttons. I've spent little time with my sound recording gear this year but I'm hoping I find the time to change that this year. It's not just the visual elements that revitalise's us when we're exposed to nature, it's what we smell, touch and hear. I can't share smells with you, at-least not yet, maybe one day?, but I can share the sound's of our environment and bring the outdoors, in.


This is the objective of my new business, and while I'm still un-decided on a name, I'm settling so far on 'NatureHUB', a place to purchase wildlife media and a place for wildlife walks, talks and training. I strongly believe that Nature is the best therapy for people experiencing stress in their busy, overcrowded, noisy lives. When was the last time you truly experienced silence? If it's been a long time, maybe that's something for the to-do list for 2018?. If I can help you experience nature and learn more about wildlife in the process, then I'd feel much more complete as a person. 

Sound Recording this year as been a poor effort but I did have this beautiful mimicking Song Thrush earlier in the year to save the day. During this song I could pick out at-least four difference species. There's probably even more than that but this was particularly special as it was mimicking a Green Woodpecker! Of all the beautiful sounding birds to mimick, why it choose the sound of a Green Woodpecker?.. I do not know.. lol. Either way, it seems to work well the way he does it. 

To wrap up this lengthy blog post, I hope you've all had a fabulous Christmas and have an even better New Year ahead of you.