Gregory Ovenden - Wildlife Sound Recordist

Location Sound Recordist, Outside Broadcast Sound Engineer,

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.