Inspiration Sound recordings Wildlife

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust


Great tit and wren_edited-1I’ve just returned from ‘The Beauty of Birds’ course at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, a charity that works to save threatened species across the world from extinction.

As part of the course I’ve been bird watching/listening, taken on guided tours of the zoo and bird hides in the surrounding areas of Jersey, saw a bird ringing demonstration and learnt practical field skills in studying and monitoring birds. The staff at Durrell also kindly agreed to let me record the sound of the birds in the zoo before it opened and closed to the public. After getting up at 5.30am each day I’m tired, a little sunburnt and still counting Blackbirds…

I stayed at Durrell hostel, so I was based within the grounds where birds (and Lemurs) would wake me in the morning- that’s a dawn chorus with a difference! As part of Durrell’s training academy, I met some great people from all over the world, who had come to learn more about conservation, to apply techniques when they go back home in order to help threatened species.

Listen to ‘Dawn chorus at Durrell, 2014’ via headphones

The bird ringing demonstration showed the group how mist nets were used to capture birds, (the nets are hung like hammocks in layers, which mean the birds fall into the nets rather than get tangled in them). The trainer was able to handle birds with ease (even when using both hands to look at a Marsh Harrier through binoculars!) He showed us how to hold the birds and the process of ringing, including measuring the wing, weighing the bird and ringing the leg. If the leg already had a ring then the identification number was noted. Bird ringing takes years to perfect and this trainer had it down to a fine art, which meant he could lay a Great Tit on its back (in his hand) and get it to stay still- amazing!

As part of this course I wanted to capture sound recordings of birds, in order to visualise their song using printmaking techniques for an art exhibition. With a lot of sound recording you cannot predict what will happen, you just have to be patient and still… even if you spot a red squirrel nearby.

I went to record the Chilean Flamingos10153705_10152406787807402_9053673777237607392_n as they were making a racket. It took a while to set up my Rycote windshield with DPA 4060 microphones placed inside BUBBLEBEE windbubbles. I sat for half an hour but the Flamingos decided that they would rather put their heads under their wings. What I ended up recording was visitors discussing the Flamingos pink knees- which is a common misconception- as the ‘knees’ are actually the birds ankles!

Next I head for the caged birds and meet Homer the Wrinkled Hornbill (originally from the forests of South East Asia), who seems to enjoy the attention- but only when I’m standing, when I sit to watch him he goes quiet. He was honking and jumping across his tree branch with a pair of Barli Starlings joining in with their own song.

Listen to ‘Homer the Wrinkled Hornbill, 2014’ via headphones

10330278_10152406773492402_2773880007552144861_nThe 5.30am starts were to record sound in the hostel’s garden to capture the dawn chorus. This recording is special because it features a variety of garden birds as well as Lemurs arguing throughout. This was recorded on Sunday 4 May, which was also International Dawn Chorus day. For those interested in the technical set up (as well as the Rycote windshield), I used a stereo bar with a pair of DPA 4060 microphones which were attached to each end of the bar using the DPA 4060 rubber grips (that come with the set), super glued to a pair of bull dog clips- a genius idea from this blog.

The White-faced Whistling Duck does exactly what its name suggests. I sat in the bird hide to record the ducks and heard a flurry of excitement as the keeper came around to feed them. As part of this recording you can also hear a pair of White-naped Crane AKA Mr and Mrs Chester, who were calling in unison to fend off intruders.

The Northern Bald Ibis are great birds that might get overlooked as they aren’t typically as ‘pretty’ as other birds (they look like big carrion crows with bald heads and long curved beaks). The Ibis shared a cage with a group of Ferruginous ducks and sounded like a coughing duck with a frequent yapping call.

Listen to ‘Northern Bald Ibis, 2014’ via headphones

10296908_10152406784657402_5351932207009988691_nThe sound recordings from the Jewel of the forest and Kirindy forest aviaries at Durrell feature many different threatened species. With a whole range of birds to see and hear, I captured a variety of songs, calls, chirps, coos and even rattles, but one bird in particular wasn’t shy about defending their territory and demonstrating his vocal skills (even though it was 5pm). The Asian Fairy-bluebird (sounds pretty and delicate), nearly burst my ear drums! I had to remove my headphones as he decided to perch right in front of me with his call increasing in pitch and reaching deafening levels! Listen with caution folks!

Listen to ‘Jewel of the forest bird aviary, 2014’ via headphones (Please note this gets louder after approx 1.30 mins and might hurt your ears!)

Listen (with headphones) to all the soundtracks from my trip to Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust as part of the Beauty of Birds course in Jersey on Sound Cloud.

Lucy Stevens is an artist whose environmental soundscapes and visual art investigates the relationship between humanity and nature.

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