NSS participants

Learning from the pros

This last summer, I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the Nature Sounds Society, which met near Yuba Pass, California.  I was able to tie the meeting in with my annual summer visit to family in northern Nevada.

Yuba Pass is north of Truckee, California, and is a beautiful area of towering pines and firs.   The actual meeting was held at the San Francisco State University’s Sierra Nevada Field Station, a rustic enclave on the banks of the North Yuba River.  The drive from Carson City to the field station was gorgeous, except for the road construction in Kings Beach at Lake Tahoe.  The meeting convened on late Friday, and after some time getting to know one another, dinner, and a very interesting presentation by Steve Baumgardner about some documentary work he’s doing in Yosemite, we headed off to our respective tents.

It seemed like I had just dozed off when the 3 am alarm came the next morning.  We groggily headed out to record the dawn chorus in the lovely Sierra Valley.  Donning hats and gloves against the near-freezing temperatures (quite a change from the 110 degrees I left in Arizona!), we set up our mics and quietly listened as the first birds began to greet the day.  These were grassland and marsh birds – something I’ve not had many opportunities to record before.

Misty morning in Sierra Valley

Misty morning in Sierra Valley

After recording in Sierra Valley for awhile, we headed over to Carman Valley for breakfast and more recording.  I was able to borrow a Telinga stereo mic setup from Dan Dugan, and did side-by-side comparisons with my trusty standby Audio Technica mic.  My fears were realized: the mic I’ve been using for field recording is pretty noisy, which is why I have to spend a ridiculous amount of time editing the sound files (on the plus side, I’ve become a half-way decent editor).  Then it was back to camp for some down time until lunch.   After lunch, the crew of instructors (Dan Dugan, Steve Sargeant, Greg Weddig, and Sharon Perry) covered a variety of field recording techniques and equipment.  After dinner, Steve Sargeant gave a presentation on an interesting podcasting program he’s doing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act (http://www.wilderness50th.org/untrammeled).

On Sunday morning we got to sleep in until 3:30 am, before heading up to Yuba Pass for recording amidst the tall trees.  An entirely different suite of birds (nuthatches, chickadees, grosbeaks, juncos) and tree squirrels greeted the dawn, one by one adding their voices to the chorus until it was hard to imagine that a temperate woodland could be so full of song.  It was easy to hear why this area has become somewhat of a mecca for nature recordists, thanks in large part to the Nature Sounds Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology workshops.  Some of these birds I had not heard much from since I left Montana many years ago – it was like being among old friends.

We finished up the workshop at Madora Lake, a lovely mix of pond habitats and deep woodland.  I borrowed a stereo parabolic dish, and had great fun focusing the dish on the bullfrogs and red-winged blackbirds at the lake.

Madora Lake California

Madora Lake

The meeting was great fun, and it was good to learn so much about equipment and recording techniques from professional sound guys.  It was nice to be able to compare different mics, and get expert advice that will help me improve my future recordings.  And it was nice to be able to record in some new habitats.  I left with the determination to learn how to build my own microphones for using in the field (stay tuned!).  I look forward to attending more meetings in the future.

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Photo at top by Dan Dugan: me listening to the sounds from Steve Sargeant’s (on right) mini-Jecklin disc, as Sharon Perry looks on.

Recording in Sierra Valley made with Sony PCM-M10 with Audio Technica AT2022 mic with Felmicamps pre-amp. Recording at Yuba Pass made with Sony PCM-M10 and Telinga clip-on mics.

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