Learning to listen, Part 1.

Sandhill Cranes

Sound recording is new to me, and learning to refocus my ears has been a real learning experience.  As Bernie Krause, author of The Great Animal Orchestra, puts it, we tend to hear what we are looking at.  We are also good at filtering out irrelevant sounds.  But microphones don’t have those filters.

My first recording experiment was out on the Willcox Playa in southeastern Arizona.  Every winter thousands of Sandhill Cranes spend the winter near the playa.  I love the sounds the cranes make, raucous and primeval.  Most intrepid birders get up in the dark to get out to the staging areas to watch the birds take off as they head to their morning feeding grounds.  I’m not that intrepid and I hate to get up in the dark.  I also know that the cranes return to the viewing area near the Apache Power Plant to loaf in the middle of the day.  So by getting to the viewing area at 10 am, I also missed the morning birding crowd, which I had no interest in recording.  I managed to forget my headphones to monitor what the recorder was picking up, so I just used the level meter to make sure I was getting something.  I set up the recorder, and backed off a hundred feet or so to minimize my own noise, and let the recorder run for about 20 minutes or so.  The cranes cooperated nicely, coming in right overhead, first in small groups, then larger and larger groups until the sky was filled the giant birds.  I couldn’t wait to get home and listen to my recording.

Did I mention I was near the Apache Power Plant?  Mostly what I heard when I listened to my recording was the deep rumble of the power plant; sounds that my brain had filtered out.   Using sound editing software, I was able to remove the sounds of the power plant, but also removed much of the life of the recording.  Here is a sample:

I have since learned to be much more aware of all the sounds around me, relevant and irrelevant.  As I learn to listen to the sounds, I realize how much man-made noise is out there.  Planes, trains, automobiles, loud music, etc., etc..  Trying to make a “natural” recording without any anthropogenic sound in it takes a lot of patience and moving around to find quiet places.

I hope to record the cranes again this winter, with better equipment and better techniques.  Stay tuned!

A better recordings of Sandhill Cranes appears in the album Crossroads.

Recording notes: Recorded with a Zoom H4n.

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