Pilgrimage of the Peregrines

Pilgrimage of the Peregrings front pic

This week we experienced something beautiful, as a field recordist, as a family and as lovers of nature. If I was a kid it would have remained hetched in my memory forever - and sharing the experience with two of my kids (ages 6 and 2), their uncle and their grandad, is what made it special.

The plan was just to do a morning walk up to some local cliffs were my in-law had eyed a pair of Peregrine Falcons Falco Peregrinus and their chick doing acrobatics. To the seasoned bird watcher or wildlife sound recordist this might not sound as special as I’m making it but having such a spectacle a 3 mile drive plus a 2 mile walk away from home has to be pretty unique.

On our way up we found the remains of two kills, one we guessed from a Pigeon, the other with smaller brownish feathers we are not sure - please leaves us a comment below if you have any suggestions.

When we reached the bottom of the cliff we could only see (and hear) the one falcon chick perched up on a dead conifer in the distance. As we got hypnotised by the constant calling and the birds got used to us being there, one of the parents flew to the perched chick and gave it a firm nudge, as if to push her to get flying.

Soon after and quite dramatically as one of the parents soared past the scrape (their nesting place), two more chicks and the remaining parent suddenly took off racuously. That’s when we realised that the Peregrine had hatched, not one, not two, but three presumably healthy chicks. What ensued was pure reverance for these agile flyers. All of us, big and small, had a grounding moment as we observed what looked like the best flying lessons any bird coud hope for.

For us adults, it was a real privilege to witness such animals in their natural environment and to be able to share a precious memory with the children. My in-law has always had a passion for birds and nature in general. When he was a child he kept an Owl in his room without his parents knowing (I know, different times). So i know this day had a particular resonance with him.

Peregrine Falcon from the Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds (1980)

For the kids it must have been exciting too. Ever since their grandad gifted them a beautiful 1980’s hand-drawn bird book, our children have shown an insatiable interest for birds. We have enjoyed learning about our local visitors such as Blue Tits, Robins, Swallows and Starlings (more colonisers than visitors these last ones!). But their personal favourites are the Long-eared Owl, the Golden Eagle and... the Peregrine Falcon, because it’s the fastest member of the Animal Kingdom. So for them, especially for the eldest who was more aware of it all, it was one mindful event.

From a Field Recording point of view, the conditions were near excellent; light breeze, a good distance from human hustle, and the rugged cliffs acting as a natural amphitheatre, enveloping the birds’ screeching calls.

I believe the experience it marked us all positively in many, sometimes crossing, ways. And I know that because there was silence, even from our sonourous two-year old. What started as a possible plan to occupy the morning ended up being a vintage day out. As my in-law put it, this is wild nature at its very best. To which I will add: right on our doorstep.

Ireland is noticeably quieter on Sunday mornings - hallelujah! - so I was back at the location early on Sunday to get a cleaner recording, which I did, but the Peregrine family fell silent an hour or so after my arrival. I saw one of them fly off into the valley to the farmlands, so I presume it was hunting time. Mind you the rest (or all for that matter) might have still be lurking quietly on the rocks as their plumage mimetises so perfectly with the colour of the cliffs. In any case, the intensity of the display was nothing like we experienced on the first visit, which strengthens my view that it really was a special day. I had nonetheless a very special encounter with what I believe was an Irish Hare Lepus Timidus Hibernicus, who kept skipping towards me unaware of my presence. You can see this in the video below (at 4m17).

The plan from now until the juveniles leave and ultimately the pair leave for winter, is to keep going back whenever possible to monitor any developments. I recently joined the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group as a volunteer so I will be relaying any relevant information to them. From a Field Recording point of view my aim is to get more call variations, and closer recordings. For the latter I will pursue a license and seek expertise from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society on how to approach what seems unapproachable. From a visual entertainment point of view, I dream of seeing a live kill in mid air.

Ultimately, if it was not clear enough, I am delighted that the experience has triggered such a powerful response in the children, for to value nature is one of the positive gains in life.

The pilgrimage will go on.

The Outer Hebrides and other Hydrophone News

Recording a close perspective on one of Julie Brook's Firestacks. (© 2017  Julie Brook )

Recording a close perspective on one of Julie Brook's Firestacks. (© 2017 Julie Brook)

Its been a year since our first trip to the Outer Hebrides in the Winter of 2017, where we recorded the sounds of Julie Brook's fascinating Firestacks. Six months later in the Summer of 2017, we were lucky enough to revisit this stunning corner of the world, on a follow-up assignment; this is a brief account of the experience.

Waiting for a boat ride to complete the last leg of travels to reach the work location.

Waiting for a boat ride to complete the last leg of travels to reach the work location.

The main focus of these field recording trips is to document the life-cycle of the Firestack; from building, to firing, to extinction, as well as its environment. An important perspective that Julie has always been keen on capturing is the underwater one - what does it sound like under the surface when the tidal waves engulf the Firestacks?

On the first trip we had the privilege to work with a pair of Ambient ASF-1 Hydrophones, which we absolutely loved. The second time round we used a H27S Stereo Hydophone from Monkey Sound - an artisan contact mics manufacturer based in Spain - as well as our old faithful JrF D-Series Hydrophones. The H27S caught our attention because it comes in one casing. Given the rough seas we faced the first time round, it seemed like a practical feature in terms of retrieving the mic planted in the Firestack after the tide has covered it (Firestacks are around 1.5 meters tall at their highest point). These clips give you an idea of the colour and stereo field of this neat, relatively new, hydro-mic on the market.

You can download longer versions of these recordings here (free to use under the Sound Ark License Agreement).

Here's a few more sights and sounds we recorded - hope you enjoy them on your device as much as we enjoyed them in the field.

These are cold long days in a remote bay on the Western-most part of Lewis, and that's what makes it so special. There is practically no shelter, the nature is bare and the exposure to the elements constant. There is virtually no noise pollution, very little chatting between the crew and so the day becomes mostly a long introspective moment. It's a positive experience - you are immersed in the surroundings, constantly active, albeit completely still a lot of the time. The hours fly and before you know it (plus a 40-minute hike) you are back at the bothy, lighting the fire and regaining your extrovert self with the help of a dram of Scotch whisky.

Without a doubt one of the most inspiring assignments we have had the pleasure to work on so far, looking forward to round 3!

What's the most inspirational recording or filming location you have worked in? We'd love to hear your stories, especially if the location was free from noise pollution or on the contrary extremely noisy - you can leave us a comment below.

Praises to the D50

The other day I heard a robin tweeting away on the studio's front patio and so I planted my Sony D50 recorder as gently as possible in an attempt to record it. Of course, i scared him (her?) straight off but I thought that if I left the recorder in place for a while he might come back. I shut the sliding door and carried on with the day...

Two days later, as we were gearing up to go on a family stroll to the local hills I remembered about poor old D50. There it was, still on the patio, unmoved, still waiting for the robin to come back. With my eyes closed I switched it on, fearing for the worst. When i re-opened them it turned out the memory was full and there was still one bar of battery (albeit blinking). Hurrah! She was still alive! I downloaded the files onto the computer but there was no time to check if the unit was working properly so I took some fresh batteries and left for our walk in the hills. 

I'm very (very!) happy to say that the Sony D50 worked perfectly. Here's a recording of a leaves rustling to a subtle breeze in the hills.

The D50 had survived two nights out there. Luckily it has been the one and only week in the year where we have had no rain, I'm not even exaggerating, but still Ireland's autumn nights are very damp. I've carried this recorder around the world for more than 5 years and it has always delivered. It has overcome tank pass by splashes in England's wet winters, a year of 100% humidity conditions in tropical Sri Lanka, sub-zero temperatures in the Swiss Alpes, scorching 45+ degrees in the Andalusian summer, sand storms in Xinjiang's Taklamakan desert and torrential downpours in smoggy Beijing. The batteries (4x AAs) always last more than you expect them to, and the quality of the recordings is far above decent. 

All my respects to this little recorder, probably the best of its class.

To finish off here's a recording of another group of patio visitors, taken that same day.

Do you have a piece of kit that has survived the odds? Let us know below. Have a great week!

Lets Get Festive

A Christmas Carol 1938

What does Christmas sound like in your house? With a new addition to the family and all, this year has been a particular opportunity for me to take time out of any intensive projects. After what feels like a massively jam-packed year, I've really enjoyed sitting back and watching the festivities go on around me. I'm not hugely into the holidays, but the older I get the more I feel comfortable with it. I think most of us reject the need for a materialistic few weeks, rammed full of gadgets and Boxing Day sales. But I wouldn't say no to a real tree, more time for old movie watching and an excuse to get stocked up with brandy.

Here's a mash-up of what Christmas sounds like in our house...

Hope everyone really enjoys the week with the people that matter. Here's what we're planning to watch...