Bewitched by Bobolinks & Buttercups

The summer of 2017 was one of my best in years!  I spent a week camping in the Chihuahua Desert in New Mexico creating nature inspired art (blog coming soon) and a week at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology participating in their sound recording workshop.

Being able to attend this workshop was a dream!  I was amazed at the diverse and eclectic group of people that came together. Researchers, students, voice-over artists, writers, composers, and of course life long birders – all from different countries – all interested in developing their bird recording techniques for various reasons.  I was there to learn how to become a better recorder for a project I was working on that involved mockingbirds (which is still in slow progress).

Our days were packed with exciting activities – Starting out at 5:00 am and ending about 8:00 pm (of course we had lunch breaks etc… ) we explored a number of wild places in Ithaca, NY.


(If you haven’t been already – I strongly suggest considering a trip to Ithaca, NY — as they say… Ithaca is Gorges.)


We spent the mornings recording until about mid-day and learned how to edit (using the scientific guidelines, not creative editing) as well as how to upload files to eBird in the afternoons/evenings. The workshop staff was as expected…amazing in every way.  They were fabulous guides, unbelievably knowledgeable, outstanding birders (of course) and most importantly, patient teachers.  Although I was exhausted by the end of the week I left with a greater sense of purpose in my recording goals (yes I now have lifelong recording goals) – so much that I intend to invest in my own recording gear in the near future.  Lastly, having the opportunity to engage with such a diverse group of people has expanded my interest from only recording birds into recording soundscapes, learning how ecoacoustics can be used to measure biodiversity and how sound is used by plants(yes, plants).

Here is a snippet about my first day out recording

We were in South Velie Pasture, in Schuyler County – what a beautiful place!   After hearing the rundown of the location and what our learning goals were for the day, we geared up and walked through a short tree lined trail.  Getting beyond the tree’s and shrubs and into the opening, I couldn’t believe my eyes – there was an entire field filled with gorgeous buttercups (Ranunculus)!  Shimmery golds and yellows, with tiny splotches of greens topped off by a clear blue sky – it was absolutely breathe taking!  After the flood of amazement washed over me,  I realized why we came to this specific location. There was a very active flock of Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) – another pleasant surprise!  I haven’t seen so many Bobolinks in one location in years (unfortunately they are in decline due to habitat loss and pesticides).  Normally I would have taken lots of images but I decided to leave my camera back in the van due to the fact that I was carrying more than enough already.  With a recorder strapped over my shoulders, headphones and binoculars handing around my neck, my backpack and a parabolic mic,  I really wasn’t in any position (being a novice) to maneuver an additional gadget around me (although by the end of the week I did figure that out).  Once we settled into the location, we observed the movements of our intended subjects to help us figure out the best angle as well as gain to make our recordings. It wasn’t a straight shot (as one would hope for a first day), they occupied the entire field.  Because they were nesting the black birds flew from one location to another, males and females became invisible between patches of buttercups to later pop right out again – circling and hovering above, then diving back down into the lush field to become invisible once more.

As these beauties flew around and above me, singing their odd exotically complex songs, I was hypnotized.  With this movement, this sort of dance, I became thoroughly bewitched by the environment as a whole and almost forgot to press record – luckily I didn’t — Below is my recording of these wonderful grassland birds.



All Images, Audio & Artwork  © 2018 N.Fontaine 

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