Nightingales

Over the weekend we visited family near Gloucester. Their house is about a mile from the RSPB reserve at Highnam Woods, a breeding site for Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos).

It’s over ten years since the one and only time I’d heard a Nightingale, and that was just a few brief snatches of song from a hedgerow in the Cotswold Water Park, so I was keen to hear the birds and maybe get some recordings. On Saturday morning we headed out to the wood to scope out possible recording sites. The weather was patchy, with strong gusts of wind and rain showers interspersed with periods of sun. We heard a few brief Nightingale calls at a couple of places in the wood, which of course stopped the moment I took out my recording equipment.

We decided that, weather permitting, we’d have another try in the evening when the birds would be in full song. Throughout the afternoon the weather remained changeable, but around 7pm the clouds broke up and the wind dropped, so we headed back to the wood. The site is close enough to the A40 main road for there to be significant traffic noise. For this reason, together with the need for a kit that could be packed up and taken to shelter quickly if the weather broke, I chose my Sennheiser K6/ME66 in a Rycote windshield instead of the NT1A stereo rig.

On arrival at the wood we made our way to the first site where we’d heard some brief song during the day, but although the evening chorus was in full swing there were no Nightingales to be heard. The second site we’d found during the day was a 2km walk along some fairly swampy paths, so instead we wandered along a ride we hadn’t explored earlier. We hadn’t gone far when a brief burst of song from the bushes announced the first Nightingale of the evening. I set the microphone up using the trunk of a large tree as both support (for portability I had the Rycote zeppelin mounted on a telescopic monopod) and to block out as much road noise as possible. There were at least three, possibly more, Nightingales in the immediate area and they continued to sing for about an hour – not always from the same spot, but often close enough to the mic to get a good recording. They were competing with a nearby Blackbird and I’m fairly sure there was some interaction between the two species, as their phrases almost always came simultaneously, as can be heard in this first recording:

[audio:http://www.pterodaktyl.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/20090516_nightingale_01.mp3]

As the sun went down the other birds fell silent and the Nightingales continued singing, but unfortunately they moved across the ride. This meant my microphone, which had previously been pointing away from the road with a tree as a baffle, was now pointing directly at the traffic. With some heavy parametric EQ in Cubase LE the song can be rescued from the overwhelming roar of vehicles, but loses some of its richness:

[audio:http://www.pterodaktyl.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/20090516_nightingale_02.mp3]

Both recordings were made with a Sennheiser K6/ME66 microphone (mounted in a Rycote windshield with windjammer) and a Tascam HD-P2 recorder. Post processed in Cubase LE for EQ, level boost and fade in/out.

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