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IDCD 2016

Posted by Tom Benedict on 01/05/2016

IDCD 2016


May 1st, 2016, is International Dawn Chorus Day!

The “dawn chorus” is when birds first sing at the beginning of the new day. As poetic as this sounds it’s not some random event out of a Disney movie. It’s a highly structured event in which birds establish territories, communicate amongst each other, and basically sort things out before the day gets going. Different species will begin and end at different times depending on a number of variables including how high in the canopy they roost, how large their eyes are (not kidding), the season, the weather, recent events, etc.

Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to experience the dawn chorus first-hand. Over and over and over. My daughter’s parakeets had babies, which quickly grew into parakeet-sized adolescent birds. They woke each morning before dawn and would launch into the dawn chorus before any of us got out of bed. Entire conversations, including requisite scoldings from mom, dominated the household soundscape until well into the day. It drove the cats nuts, but it was pretty darned cool.

I learned about International Dawn Chorus Day last year, but I didn’t really have my recording gear set up when it rolled around. This year I wanted to make an attempt to record the dawn chorus on International Dawn Chorus Day. Unfortunately the location I chose isn’t easily accessible. In order to walk in and have everything set up before the birds got going, I’d have had to wake up at 1:30am and hike over lava in the pitch black of night. To put this another way, I would’ve only had a couple of hours of sleep, driven to the other side of the island, and likely broken my ankle way out in the middle of nowhere, miles from help.

I decided to find some other way.

Some months ago while trying to figure out how to record sound without picking up any of my vocal tics I hit on the idea of just leaving my gear set up and running, then coming back to pick it up later. I thought it was quite novel, but a fellow recordist from the UK pointed out that the “drop and recover” technique has been in use for a long time, and is the best way to record natural ambience without the presence of the recordist influencing the environment. Perfect!

So earlier today I drove out to Pu’u O’o Trail (the one by the Pu’u O’o Ranch, not the one that leads out to the Pu’o O’o Vent on the side of Kilauea that’s currently spewing lava) and set up my gear in a mixed stand of ohia and koa trees. Aaaaand… then I walked back to my car and proceeded to drive back to the side of the island I live on.

Yep, I abandoned all of my sound gear out in the field overnight, hours from my house. I’M STRESSING OUT RIGHT NOW!

I just hope this pans out and my gear survives. It’s either going to be the coolest recording I’ve done so far, or it’s going to mean the end of my foray into field recording. I just hope it doesn’t rain!


P.S. That visually really confusing photo at the top is a picture I took of my gear right before I walked away from it. And left it. All on its own! GAAAH!
P.P.S. It’s a tripod with the center column inverted with my DIY SASS, DR-70D, and an external battery all tacked onto it, covered by a trash bag (rain protection!), draped with the ugliest piece of sewing I’ve ever committed (burlap). See? Visually confusing!


5 Responses to “IDCD 2016”

  1. cqqrt9 said

    Oh my goodness!! We expect a report back on this. My worries would be something like I forgot to hit record. *doh* Ha! I hope it all works out wonderfully! Really interesting read 🙂

    • Tom Benedict said

      I’ll write the report next. Good news is I did hit record, and it was still recording when I retrieved my gear this morning. W00t!!

      But I did have some serious misgivings about the idea. Some time around 2am I woke up with this gut-wrenching fear there would be some feral pig out there who liked the smell of wet burlap!

  2. chris339 said

    Hi Tom, I’ve recorded dawn choruses either by getting up REALLY earlier and setting up the gear, or by camping out and starting the recorder from inside my tent or camper. Neither is very conducive to a good night’s sleep, but I haven’t rigged my recorders to run all night. Yet.

    • Tom Benedict said

      It worked out pretty well. My external battery, a 10,000mAh pack from Sony, died a couple of hours after dawn. It was still running on internal batteries when I arrived the next morning. I’m still barging ahead on refining my recording setup, all under the assumption I’m going to do that again (and again). But I haven’t left my gear overnight since. As good as the sounds turned out, leaving my gear hours away on the other side of the island left me with no small amount of anxiety.

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