Latest news from North Northumberland Bird Club
There was a packed audience in the Bamburgh Pavilion on the evening of Friday, September 21 to hear the acclaimed BAFTA award-winning wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson present a '˜sound evening' to the North Northumberland Bird Club.
With a speaker in each corner of the room to envelop us in sound, and treading silently round the room in his socks, Chris took his enraptured audience on a night time tour of bird songs and calls.
The area stretched from Shetland in the North to Suffolk in the South, and across a diverse range of habitats throughout Great Britain.
It all began with a tape recorder and a microphone on the bird table in his garden so that he could watch the birds from the house, yet also hear them.
The wren’s trill is 64 notes in eight seconds, and some wrens have a much higher temporal resolution.
Chris was inspired by Eric Simms, an ornithologist and the first sound recordist at the BBC, who created Heralds of the Dawn in 1951. Chris would like to get that programme recommissioned.
Everything he does has two aspects – the wide mix of sounds together and the fixed focus close-up of sounds in mono.
He began with recordings from Sumburgh Head, Shetland, of the clear cries of guillemots, razorbills and puffins against a background of waves breaking on the rocks.
He uses a tiny personal microphone placed very close to the birds, then uses up to 100 metres of cable so that he doesn’t disturb them.
We heard grey seals singing. Were these the songs that sailors in the past thought were mermaids?
By Loch Maree in Wester Ross, Chris recorded ravens coming in to roost and the conversations they carry on through the night. It is thought they may be exchanging information about potential food resources for the following morning.
Ravens are “super smart birds”, he said, perhaps the most intelligent, with a remarkable vocabulary.
They reminded him of a woodcut he saw in Reykjavik, Iceland, of Odin, whose two ravens Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory) would converse with him at night about what they had seen in the world during the day.
He next played the sounds from the Caledonian Pine Forest of Speyside, a great place to record away from noise pollution, where you can really hear the sounds of the forest.
Superimposed on to these sounds were the very intimate “champagne cork popping sounds” and powerful wing beats of the capercaillie as they engaged with other males.
Travelling South, we listened to the warbling of the curlew, golden plover and lapwing on the heather moorland of Dryburn Moor in Northumberland.
Then it was on to the reed beds of Faxfleet Pools by the Humber for the booming of the bittern, with the accompaniment of sedge warblers, reed warblers and a Cetti’s warbler.
In Norfolk Chris had recorded a nightjar by placing a microphone on the tree next to the perch to which it kept returning.
His final recording was from the RSPB reserve at North Warren, Suffolk. He had been commissioned to make a sound piece for the centenary of Benjamin Britten, called In Britten’s Footsteps.
Chris retraced the steps of Britten when he used to go on his afternoon walks alone, thinking about, considering and editing in his mind the music he had composed in the morning.
On April 12, at 2.30am, Chris recorded a nightingale (Britten’s favourite bird) singing in the dense scrub around the mere.
Chris said that he enjoys playing sounds to an audience and there was real pleasure on his face at the end of the evening.
There was also great delight on the faces of the audience, which had been treated to a unique and amazing experience.
The chairman said it was a privilege to have Chris there at the meeting.
The next meeting of the North Northumberland Bird Club is on Friday, October 12, at 7.30pm, in the Bamburgh Pavilion.
The talk is entitled Just My Cup of Tea: Birds And Other Wildlife of Sri Lanka by Tom Cadwallender.