Gregory Ovenden - Wildlife Sound Recordist

Location Sound Recordist, Outside Broadcast Sound Engineer,


WWT Caerlaverock

Here are a couple of recordings I carried out at the WWT Caerlaverock near Dumfries, Scotland.

I was here for the shooting of this years' Autumnwatch working in the studio and managed to sneak in a bit of time to do a spot of recording on this very busy site. There was certainly no shortage of recording opportunities...thousands upon thousands of migrating Canada and Barnacle geese would fly in overhead, at night we could hear the "seep seep" calls of Redwing as they passed in the night's sky and I was lucky enough to capture some Fieldfare calls with my reflector. I find them to be quite illusive when trying to record them on the farm, taking flight at the slightest disturbance.


Fieldfare Calls

I was able to commandeer a couple Sennheiser MKH70s to record the ambience of the Whooper Pond. A cacophony of wildfowl and waders were to be heard; Whooper swans, Widgeon and Mallard ducks to name a few.


Whooper Pond Activity


Most of my birdsong recordings are made with a parabolic reflector. This is an excellent way of capturing sound from sources that are too far away to record without disturbing them. I much prefer the sound of an open microphone however. Angling a reflector to find the sweet spot of a singing bird is challenging enough. But there's something far more satisfying observing a bird or animal, noting its favoured song posts and placing a microphone as close as possible. Close recordings usually feature minimal intrusion from background noise and it's a good way to isolate individual birdsong. With a reflector you can loose some of the lower end frequencies but not with an open mic right in front of the subject.

But what if the subject is high up in a tree? A parabolic reflector is definitely the easiest solution, but I've been trying to find ways to position a microphone as close to the subject as possible. Last year a blackcap had been frequenting the top of a tall plum tree. How could I place the microphone all the way up there? One solution was to launch a projectile attached to a long piece of string over a branch, tie the microphone to the string and hoist it up. This didn't really work out, partly because my throwing accuracy was often sub par but also the cable of the microphone was damaged during hoisting. Plus this would be ill advised in populated areas....I tried attaching the string to an arrow and launching it with a bow but this also proved unsuccessful, as fun as it was.

What I needed was something like a boom pole. It was suggested I tried a window cleaning pole but this unfortunately was too flexible and wouldn't support the weight of the microphone. I've seen fishermen using long extendable poles for fishing but these were too expensive. A telescopic flag pole, however would be just right!

I sourced a 10 meter telescopic flag pole from eBay for about £25. It was lightweight, could be packed down to a carry-able size and sturdy enough to support the weight of a microphone without flexing.

The other day I had the opportunity to try it out during a trip back home in Kent. My parents had spotted a blackbird with unusual song elements frequenting a particular stretch of telegraph pole every evening. I placed the pole where they said the blackbird usually sits with a single DPA4060 attached. I ran 60 feet of cable back to the house and set my recorder rolling. An hour or so later I had captured a robin singing at exactly the right spot.

I would have loved to position the microphone even closer, it was about 5 feet away from the bird. However, I couldn't risk the pole touching the wire for fear of electric shock. Fortunately robins are rather loud so I captured a fairly decent recording. Blackbirds on the other hand have softer voices. When the bird did finally show up, he sat far too far away from my microphone! After some time singing away, he moved closer for about 20 minutes and was joined by the robin at times.

If the microphone had been closer I wouldn't have picked up half as much rush hour traffic (even in a village its quite noticeable) as I wouldn't have needed as much gain going into the microphone to pick up the blackbird's song. It's all about the signal to noise ratio in this game. Nevertheless I'm pleased with the robin recording. I have a feeling the flag pole is going to be a vital piece of kit!

Here's the full 20 minute recording of the blackbird. Not the best recording but some of the unusual elements of his song are a delight to hear!

Fieldcast Episode Four - Mar Lodge, Crossbills, Winterwatch and The River Dee

Edited transcription:

Last week I was up at Mar Lodge in Scotland working on BBC Winterwatch.

I would head in each day a several hours before the call time to take advantage of the chance to wander the area and record. I was even lucky enough to be advised by BBC's Wildlife Sound Recordist Gary Moore and join him on a recording expedition looking for Crossbills.

Mar Lodge found a couple of miles from the town of Braemar in the Cairngorms.
The building and land is owned by the National Trust, and covers 7% of the Cairngorm National Park.

Braemar is often cited as the coldest place in the UK. One day during the week we were there, temperatures dropped to -12 degrees. Despite the cold, the area is inhabited by a wide variety of species, from Coal tits to Golden eagles, Mountain hares to Pine martins and Otters.

Mountain hare tracks could be found all over the snow and Coal tits were plentiful.

Another bird present in significant numbers is the Crossbill. A small bird aptly named due to it's crossed bills. These have evolved to strip pine cones of their seeds, leaving the shells to flutter lightly down to the ground.

Crossbill males are red/orange in colour, and females are a yellow/green, both with brown wings. They often fly in groups and will constantly move around to find their specific food source. They feed on cones produced by pine, spruce and larch trees. Crossbills can breed at any time of the year no matter what the weather.

They can be seen high up in the canopy and are therefor rather tricky to spot. Look for husks of pine seeds at the bottom of conifer trees for evidence of their presence.

I was unable to capture a decent recording of the crossbill's song or call. Recording was hampered by the gloves I was wearing to combat the sub freezing conditions transmitting handling noise through the handle of my reflector and the fairly distant beeping of the local snow plough reversing. Fortunately I was able to remove some of the handling noise with a bit of EQ in ProTools.

I had been attempting to record a greater spotted woodpecker at the time, when I heard the crossbill calling in the tree directly above my head. Had I been more prepared I'd have removed my gloves!

I wasn't sure if I would be able to have the time to record anything at all due to the hectic schedule of the program so I packed lightly. All recordings were captured with Sound Devices MixPre to Olympus LS5. The LS5 is an excellent hand held recorder with Mic and Line inputs and plug in power for non phantom-powered microphones.

I connect the Tape Out from the MixPre to the Line-In of the Olympus with a 3.5mm jack. An excellent light-weight set up for travelling! I used a Telinga Universal with Sennheiser MKH20 for the bird recordings and a pair of DPA4060s for stereo ambiences.

Speaking of ambiences here's a soundscape featuring the River Dee intersecting Mar Lodge estate. You'd be forgiven for thinking the distant roar on the recordings is caused by road traffic. In this case it's the sound of the Dee reverberating throughout the valley. Much more natural.

Thanks for listening/reading.

Fieldcast: Episode Three

Podcast featuring parabolic reflector recordings from Oare Marshes in Kent, and a trip to Headley Common, Surrey.

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