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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.

Calm Before The Storm

Summer is coming to a close with wet and windy breaking up whats left of those long drawn out days. It’s probably a little early to talk about autumn, but for me, it feels so far away from spring already. I was reminded of this while watching one of my Nightjar chicks fledging this week, both of which are nowhere to be found now, so I suspect they’ve travelled to more suitable feeding grounds while preparing for the big fly back to Africa!. Here’s a pic of the Chick before fledging. I think their first clutch failed, or they were just very late breeding this year. The parents are the two birds photographed in my last blog here. Look how short his/her bill is! Pretty adorable.


While we’re on Migration. I was sent this by my friend Craig last week. For those that wonder how these birds migrate over vast oceans, well, sometimes they do need a rest! And what better way todo that than on a big quiet ship deck? Check these birds out! Some really rare stuff too but the best by far is at the end.


Tomorrow we’re due for another storm, and today you could feel the calm before the storm as it was beautiful and really low wind! It’s not very often that I can take the windshield off around the coastline but conditions were perfect today so I tried to capture a Long-winged Conehead with the rising ride in the background.
As our Coneheads reach to almost the limitations of our hearing range, I’ve slowed the recording down slightly so you can appreciate the quality more but it’s not too slow that you can’t hear the sea background.

Long-wined Conehead

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.

Shape Conforming

I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing about Nightjar but honestly I don’t care haha. Spending time with one species, learning more about their characteristics and behaviour is what I love and it’s the only way you’ll ever get a chance of photographing this species in the day. I’m now on my 4th pair and my 7th individual (yet to locate the female of the 4th pair). I find it interesting that each pair has chosen a different type of habitat, or at-least the same habitat at different stages.

  1. 3-4 Year Old clear-fell, mostly small-medium sized trees

  2. 1 year old clear-fell, only bracken, grass.

  3. 3 year old clear-fell, mostly grassland, bracken and heath

  4. 3 year old clear-fell, totally rocky habitat with bracken between.

It goes to show how versatile they are, so long as there is suitable habitat around them for moths, they’ll roost almost anywhere there’s suitable cover.
The pair that’s chosen the rocky habitat is the one that I’m most interested in, as he’s also choosing to roost on rocks, rather than logs/sticks. If you look closely, even the shape of his back appears to match the shape of the rock. I wonder if this is strategic? Shape conforming is common amongst species that rely on camouflage to survive and they do appear to match their chosen roost spot. If on the end of a log, they’ll sit tall, short, tail town as if they’re part of the end of that log. If they sit across a stick, they’ll sit in the same direction and flatten themselves out.

As a contrast, here’s the female of pair number 3 showing that typical flattened out pose that matches the long shape of a stick. I loved this chosen roost spot, but it’s doubtful she’ll use it again though as she looks ready to burst. I’m surprised she hasn’t laid yet. Maybe she has and her first clutch failed? I hope that isn’t the case.


I’ve also been studying their vocalisations but I’ve needed a few years worth of field recordings on Nightjar, in order to confirm a theory that you can identify individual males by their song. The way you would do this is to work out the average BPM, length of phrases and also the frequency of both exhale and inhale.
I’ve collected so far at-least 6 different males, though I’ve focused on returning to the same territory for the last 2 years in the hope to confirm it with one individual male. So far it looks like I can confirm this theory, as I’m finding only a 0.8 difference between the BPM recorded in 2017 to present day. A couple more years worth of recording Males and I should be able to give more weight to this theory.
The analysis is actually pretty easy and could even be done in the field so long as you had a laptop to return to. I’ll publish more details about my methods at the end of the season.

Nightjar Identification

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.

Bluebells, Froglets and more Mimics

Wifi has been down for a week so I’ve got lots go catch you up on. I’ll start with some beautiful woodland Frogs amongst the Bluebells which doesn’t seem significant but I look forward to finding them every year in this wood. Any excuse to use the macro lens and to include flora in my images. It looks like it’s going to be a good year for bluebells. I’ve even seeing them high on the moors, which seems unusual.. certainly not something I’ve ever noticed before. I just always associated them with woodland but I guess that’s because everything else is intensely farmed..

While I’m on the uplands, it was pretty special bumping into not 1 but 2 Ring Ouzel in an undisclosed location. We’re at the start of the breeding season for these birds now so it will be interesting to see whether they stick around or if they continue on their migration.

Ring Ouzel

Ring Ouzel

Other notable images from my weeks adventures were mostly bugs. Mating Green Tiger Beetles was a first but Hairy Shieldbug and a Common Crab Spider posed well. The shieldbug image is a 3 image stack, which enabled me to keep a soft background while using the 3 images to pull focus on various parts of the shield-bug in order to get it all in focus.

If you enjoy my mimicking recordings, this one might be a new one for you. It certainly was for me! Siskin have a complex song, but I've always found them pretty easy to identify, therefor didn’t really give them much attention. I don’t know whether it’s just this individual or whether they all do this, but this Siskin could mimic a Blackbird alarm call, a Magpie contact call and a Green Woodpecker call, all mixed into its own song.
It was a real windy day and recording thru numerous branches but you can still hear it if you listen carefully. I’ll revisit this bird on a clearer day to get some better quality recordings. What I love about mimicking birds is, it reminds me that all birds are total individuals, capable of making their own choices.

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.

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’ https://savethelevels.org.uk/ to learn more about what you can do to help protect the Gwent Levels from development.

Water Vole

Water Vole