Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

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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.


Birds’ nests in unusual places

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20 March 2014

A family of Mistle Thrush in a traffic light in Leicester
A family of Mistle Thrush in a traffic light in Leicester

Last November I noticed an empty nest balanced inside a traffic light in Leicester, and then another appeared on the other side of the road… then 2 weeks ago a new nest appeared on the same roundabout (in another set of traffic lights), but this time it contained Mistle Thrush chicks.

The RSPB have reported that birds often nest in garden ornaments, buckets, hanging baskets and, if you leave your washing out for long enough, in drying clothes! Blackbirds have also be found nesting on car wheels and blue tits have constructed nests in communal ashtrays.

I spoke to Adrain Lane, Senior Riverside Ranger for Leicester City Council about the unusual nesting site, and asked why this nesting pattern within traffic lights was being repeated around the same roundabout. He told me that ‘The Thrushes have been targeting these lights for a few years now. It appears to have become inbred instinct and they are also nesting earlier, probably due to the slight increase in warmth (from the light) and sheltered nature of the site.’

When asking about the possibility of the nest being disturbed or in danger from traffic, Adrain told me ‘Maintenance of the lights is on a contract and basically if work is done before the nest are established then thats fine, once established they are left in place unless there is a significant safety issue.’

Ive also found out via New Scientist, that birds living in urban environments also use cigarette butts to line their nests to reduce the number of parasites.

Wild birds have long protected their nests from mite invasion by importing chemical-emitting plants. Birds living in cities seem to have adapted similar behaviour, filling their nests with up to 48 cigarette butts to make use of the repellent properties of tobacco. The nicotine and other chemicals in discarded filters act as a natural pesticide that repels parasitic mites. At the same time, the cellulose butts provide useful nest insulation. Scientists in Mexico City studied nests of house sparrows and house finches that each contained, on average, about 10 used cigarette butts. Birds who stored larger numbers of butts saw their nests significantly less infested by mites.

Bradgate Park and mono printing

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19 April 2013

Goldfinch monoprint
Goldfinch monoprint

Bradgate Park is one of my favourite parks and one that I have visited since I was a kid tearing around in my bauer skates and playing hide and seek, or as we called it ‘free pod’ in the tall bracken.

The park is very popular and with previous recordings, Ive found it difficult to record just the sounds of wildlife without capturing people talking and dogs barking. This time I managed to find a spot where I was undisturbed; leant against a small wooden fence containing a young tree (probably to keep the deer away) and sat on my coat in the sun, in-between pathways and surrounded by dry bracken. I used my Marantz PMD660 with my Rode NT55 mic with interchangeable omni/cardioid capsules (I used omni), with a Telinga parabolic dish. From all the sound recordings I took, Ive selected very short sections which feature different areas of the park and different birds, although the sun was shining, it was difficult to avoid the wind completely.

Deer hair and bracken monoprint
Deer hair and bracken monoprint

This sound recording was taken at the nest of a group of Jackdaws, who had made a nest in the gap of a tree trunk at Bradgate Park. Jackdaws often pull out deer hair and add it to their nest, so I collected some hair (I didnt pull it out there was a clump on the ground!), bracken, leaves, grass and feathers to take to a monoprint workshop at Lakeside Arts centre with Leicester Print Workshop, led by artist and tutor Kate Da’Casto. I hadn’t done any monoprinting for years and wanted to use this method as its one of the most versatile, with one of results and a technique that can be used in the field.

Listen to Jackdaws, 38 secs

Listen to Carrion Crows, Blue Tits and a Goldfinch, 22 secs

This sound recording features Carrion Crows, Blue Tits and a Goldfinch at Bradgate Park. The mono print (below) has been layered with 3 colours- Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. This print was created by layering objects and stencils including bracken, leaves, feathers and a silhouette of a blue tit.

Listen to a Mistle Thrush contact/alarm call, 32 secs

This sound recording features a Mistle Thrush contact/alarm call- this was captured from a distance using the parabolic dish, the ratchet-like call gets louder as it flies above my head.

I plan to use natural objects to create monoprints as well as drawings and sound recordings to document the sound of bird vocalisation, both during and after my residency at Ricklundgården studios in Southern Lapland.

CYM colour blue tit monoprint
CYM colour blue tit monoprint

Residency to draw the sound of birds in Sweden

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One of the works in progress for a sound recording taken outside my flat, featuring a blue tit.
One of the works in progress for a sound recording taken outside my flat, featuring a blue tit.


28 February 2013

I’ve developed a proposal to work in residence at Saxnäs in Northern Sweden, after exhibiting and receiving awards for new work, ‘Pigeon Clock Graph’ and ‘Pigeon Feather Pie Chart’.

The 3-week residency will allow me to develop the visual side of my practice, to create drawings in response to bird song; inspired by Czech visual artist Olga Karlíková and her work ‘Audible landscapes’.

My studio will be based in the vast wilderness, directly above a bird migration path, where I will work with a local bird expert to identify species and develop an individual drawing/symbol, which I feel best represents a bird’s voice, based on tone, pitch, direction, speed and pattern. This will be collated into an identification register and used to create a visual composition (similar to a music score), using a variety of drawing mediums and techniques, including on-site responsive drawing and drawing whilst listening to sound recordings in the studio. I have agreed to give a talk and exhibit my new work as part of an open studio to artists and local residents at my studio in Saxnäs.

Im currently brushing up on my bird watching/listening skills using a Geoff Sample bird identification CD, but hope to purchase a birdvoice lite pen which comes with a field guide, when the pen touches the field guide it plays back the songs and calls of the various birds or information.

I’ve applied to Arts Council England for funding to support the residency, if I am successful I will be able to purchase new equipment, meet with curator Stella Couloutbanis for mentoring sessions and receive support from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society for a feature on their website and journal.

Venice Biennale- ILLUMInations

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25 Oct 2011

Wander around the maze of walk ways rather than catching a water bus

Floods in St Marks Square and the queue for St Mark's Campanile

Ive never been to Venice or the Biennale, so this seemed like the perfect trip for a break and inspiration! Arriving into Venice on Sunday just after midnight I was surprised by how quiet and calm the narrow walk ways and water ways were. The hotel we had booked was closed and the lady running it refused to come and let us in (cow), so we had to find and pay for another hotel for the night. Admittedly not the best start but the next day the sun was shining and even though the Biennale was closed today, there was still plenty for us (me and my friend Nic), to explore. We jumped on a water bus and found a cafe close to the Giardini, had coffee and fed biscuits by hand to pigeons and sparrows. Wandered through the walk ways and the market, found the Piazza San Marco and was completely stunned as we turned a corner to see the St Mark’s Basilic.  We went up the 323 ft St Mark’s Campanile and grabbed a pizza roll and some beer from the local supermarket.

On Tuesday we went to the Arsenal district and the Giardini and went around the WHOLE exhibition! We were exhausted but it was worth it!  Talk about art fatigue!

The three highlights for me were Mike Nelson‘s large scale installation, Impostor at the British Pavilion. He spent three months transforming the British pavilion in Venice for the biennale. The resulting installation is a delicate and melancholic meditation on identity and historical memory. More info.

Christian Boltanski‘s installation Chance at the French pavilion. This exhibition playfully explores the luck and fate of newborns, whose beginnings are subject entirely to chance. While the title translated in french has a positive connotation of luck and good fortune, the english interpretation conversely suggests hazard or risk, rendering the exhibition appropriately ambiguous. More info.  Watch a video of the installation here on designboom.

Fernando Prats‘ Sismografias project at the Chilean Pavilion. Fernando effectively stones his paintings, he lets the branches whip them or that the doves leave the marks of the flapping of their wings on them; the photographs of his work process reveal that he even licks the smoke cured surface of the paintings in order to leave enigmatic traces, or that even worms “draw” fascinating labyrinthical lines on the fertile territory of this other incarnation of painting. More info.





Tumble at the Pigeon Wing

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15 Oct 2011

Tumble, Multi-channel audio installation for racing pigeons by Matt Lewis

A great exhibition based on pigeon flight patterns by artist Matt Lewis at The Pigeon Wing, in the Guild House on Rollins Street, London. I met Matt who was kind enough to show me and fellow sound artist Esther around the exhibition and even took us onto the roof of the exhibition space to meet the pigeons responsible for creating his latest body of work.

Following his state side residency at Diapason, New York, Matt Lewis is producing a generative multi-channel audio installation for carrier pigeons. This project explores pigeon racing culture, multi-channel audio performance and notions of musical score.

Text from The Pigeon Wing Gallery: We currently have racing pigeons on The Pigeon Wing roof, Matt Lewis is training them ready for flights later this month. During the two weeks that the installation runs in the gallery space, the pigeons will be fitted with GPS tracking devices and released from various locations around city and will fly back to their loft above the gallery space. The flight routes – tracked by GPS – will form the musical structure of the piece, with the coordinates of their flight, airspeed and distance defining which audio material is triggered, all audio will be drawn from environmental recordings made from the gallery roof. The audio will be in multi-channel with 4.1 separate audio channels. Also displayed will be a visual score generated from the flight information, forming a composition of the birds’ performance in retrospect. This score will be performed by musicians on 15th Oct. In addition to the installation there will be screenings of documentaries on pigeon culture. This project was made possible with the support of Diapason Gallery, New York.

Glasgow West End Festival and BAS7

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17 – 19 June 2011

A weekend trip to Glasgow to catch up with a friend, check out the West End Festival and take another look at the British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet (I first saw it in Nottingham). The British Art Show is widely recognised as the most ambitious and influential exhibition of contemporary British art… so well worth a second look in my opinion, as well as the other independent art galleries/exhibitions.  The Glue factory on Garscube Industrial Estate, was transformed to host the Glasgow School of Art Degree show.  Dark corners were lit up with ‘floating’ video projections, some silent, some with sound, showing vibrant, odd contemporary dance/performance on a beach and close ups of tin foil.  A few sound pieces dotted here and there- actually in a separate room- behind a wall, on a bench (triggered by the movement of the viewer) and from a box (triggered when the lid was lifted).

Douglas Gordon 'Scratch Hither', 2002 (DVD on monitor)
Douglas Gordon ‘Scratch Hither’, 2002 (DVD on monitor)

The Common Guild was the first venue I arrived at after flying into Glasgow at 8am.  I arrived at 21 Woodlands Terrace (I found out later that this is actually Douglas Gordon’s house- one of my favourite artists!) at 9am, but the sign on the door said the gallery didn’t open until 12pm. Bugger.  But it didn’t matter because I was welcomed in (from the rain) by Kitty, a member of staff who very kindly let me dry off in the office, while looking through magazines and helping me plan my tour of Glasgow galleries over the weekend.

The exhibition was booted up (lots of monitors and projections) and I was told I could wander around with my tea- now that’s customer service and a great show it was.

“You seem the same as always, -” brings together a range of works by international and Glasgow-based artists, which share a very particular focus: that of the artist’s own hand. The exhibition includes film, video, photography, prints, drawings and objects, all of which share a refreshing sense of immediacy and directness and vary from the witty to the uncanny.

Claire Barclay, Katie Davis, Olafur Eliasson, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Douglas Gordon, Gabriel Orozco, Yvonne Rainer, Richard Serra and David Shrigley.

Olafur Eliasson 'The Moving Museum, 2009 (3 DVD projections on wooden table)
Olafur Eliasson ‘The Moving Museum, 2009 (3 DVD projections on wooden table)

BAS7 was exhibited across three venues in Glasgow, including the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gallery of Modern Art and Tramway.  Here’s a few of my favourites…

Centre for Contemporary Arts

Christian Marclay’s The Clock, features thousands of found film fragments of clocks, watches, and characters reacting to a particular time of day. These are edited together to create a 24 hour-long, single-channel video that is synchronised with local time. As each new clip appears a new narrative is suggested, only to be swiftly overtaken by another. Watching, we inhabit two worlds; that of fiction and that of fact, as real-time seconds fly inexorably by.

Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA): Haroon Mirza, Regaining a degree of control (new work created for BAS7)
Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA): Haroon Mirza, Regaining a degree of control (new work created for BAS7)

Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Haroon Mirza’s complex audio-visual installations are assembled out of domestic furniture, electronic equipment and lights. Regaining a Degree of Control, a new work created for BAS7, uses previously unseen footage of Ian Curtis, frontman for the post-punk band Joy Division.

Curtis’s song ‘She’s Lost Control’ concerns a girl with epilepsy, a condition that Curtis himself suffered from and to which the strobe light in Mirza’s installation refers. Here, as in much of Mirza’s work, the central proposition is about transforming noise into sound, and making hearing and listening as important and relevant as seeing and looking. His aim is to ‘explore visual and acoustic space as one sensorial mode of perception.’

Tramway: Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Composition for Flutter Screen, 2008
Tramway: Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Composition for Flutter Screen, 2008


Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda ‘Composition for Flutter Screen’, 2008.  Installation with 16mm colour film and projector, homemade screen, timer, wire, fans, lights.

This sculptural installation features a flimsy handmade screen which is subjected to a series of interventions.  Fixed images – a moth, a meniscus, a candle flame – projected onto it are caused to move because the screen itself is in constant motion, blown about by electric fans.  From time to time, bright light and amplified sound interrupt the choreographed flow of the work, revealing the mechanisms of its illusions.