Digitally recorded Natural Sounds

The Sounds of Nature!

The Toys

The recorders I use are Sony MZ-R30 and MZ-R50 MiniDisc Recorders. To learn more about these fantastic digital recorders, visit the Mini Disc Community Page. Mini Discs record in digital format on a disc slightly larger than 2" across, and the entire recorder will easily fit in a shirt pocket. The recording quality is essentially the same as full-size CD quality.

The Mics are maybe the most important link in the chain. Without good mics you can't record good sound! I use several. For general stereo recordings I use a Sony ECM-959A electret condenser mic. It's quite sensitive and creates a great stereo image when that is important.

For "long shots" (which virtually all bird recordings are) and when ambient noise is a consideration, I use a Sennheiser shotgun mic system consisting primarily of the K-6 module and ME-67 capsule, and I love it!. Shotgun mics are more directional than most mics, so they "ignore" a lot of the "off-axis" sound, concentrating on the source at which they're pointed.

The ultimate in directionality and sound-gathering power is provided by my Telinga parabolic microphone. It's a clear polycarbonate (unbreakable) 22" parabolic reflector with a "Twin Science" mic mounted at the focus. Using this mic is like using a telephoto lens on a camera - the dish picks up and amplifies sounds which are directly in front of it and the mic rejects most other sounds. The Telinga's extremely high signal to noise ratio and almost total lack of "handling noise" make this my microphone of choice 80% of the time. Learn more about this mic on our microphone sales page.

I also use a paitr of inexpensive ($199) Binaural mics for fun ambient recordings of cities, marketplaces, the rainforest at night, and such - these binaurals are worn at the sides of your head (such as on your glasses temples or clipped to a hat) and the stereo image they provide is very similar to the actual experience, when they are played back through headphones.

Editing and analyzing the sound clips and getting them ready for computer uses is all done in Cool Edit 2000, now called Adobe Audition. It's an incredibly well written sound editor. If you like sounds, you need Audition!

Tips for Better Nature Recordings

1. Move very slowly and very quietly. Birds, insects and many other animals are particularly sensitive to movement and sounds. The slower you move the less chance you will "spook" the local inhabitants. Speak very softly if you must speak - human speach is something that gives you away as the enemy. Try to walk without making a sound - you may look silly, but you'll be rewarded by seeing many more birds close-up.

2. It's best to sit still in one place as long as you can. The longer you sit still, the more things will come to you. You will become part of the landscape soon and the birds will forget about you. It's while sitting for long periods that I have gotten many of my best recordings, and many of my closest encounters with wildlife. My Dad taught me this trick - thanks, Dad! I have a 6 foot folding ladder upon which I sit for hours sometimes. It puts me up high enough to see over brushy areas or reeds and provides a comfortable seat. I've had Otters and Racoons and Javelina walk right up to me while I was sitting still without being alarmed.

3. Record from as close to the subject a possible. Shotgun mics and parabolic dishes, while wonderful tools, are no substitute for proximity. Many birds make very soft, quiet sounds which are lost in background hiss and ambient noise if you're far away. Take your time, stalk the target of your mic, and record right in his face. This is a photographer's trick, and there is no better way to get a clear, high-resolution recording.

4. Dress in drab, dark clothing. Camoflage is not all that necessary, but bright colors and whites are too easily seen by birds - remember that birds have excellent color vision.

5. Make long, continuous recordings - especially when in a "sound rich" environment, like a marsh. You never know when something is going to call unexpectedly, and it's usually the only way to get the leading notes of an infrequent call. With MiniDisc it's easy to edit out the long, unproductive parts and recover the unused disc space later.

6. Mount your mic in a "shock mount" (click here for plans) or hold the mic very firmly and steadily. Even the creaking of the bones in my wrist interferes with recordings if I'm not careful!

How to get your recordings into your computer and onto the Internet

Now that you have some recordings of your favorite birds, the next thing you'll need to do in order to use them on the Internet or in your computer, is transfer them onto your hard drive. This is most easily done by connecting the "line out" jack on your recorder or player to the "line in" jack on the back of your sound card using a cord with a 1/8" "mini-jack" on both ends. If you can't find the "line in" jack on your sound card, refer to your card's documentation or call the manufacturer for help. Next you will need to have a sound editing program open - this is a program like "CoolEdit 2000" or even the "Sound Recorder" (Start-Programs-Accessories-Entertainment-Sound Recorder) program that comes on Windows machines.

Make sure that the recording options are set correctly in your computer. On Windows machines this is done by double-clicking the little speaker icon at the bottom right of your screen, selecting Options-Properties-Recording-OK and checking the box at the bottom of the "line in" column, then closing that window.

You are now ready to start transferring sounds from your recorder to the hard drive. With your editing program open and ready to record, start your playback machine (recorder or player), then start your editing program, and it will do the rest. When you are done transferring the sound, stop your sound editor's record function, play the sound back to yourself, edit it as you like, then save the file, giving it a name that is meaningful to you.

Be sure to read the next section, as this will help you keep the files down to a workable size for Internet use.

You can now use these sounds (files) to send over e-Mail, post on your web page, or transmit through any Internet protocol that allows files to move about. The simplest way to post a sound on your web page is to transfer the sound to your web server by FTP, then place a link to the sound on your page just like any other link.

To send the sound to someone via e-mail, just send the file as an attachment - be sure first that you've reduced the file to a suitable size (generally under 300K or so) before sending it, unless you have notified the recipient that a large file is coming and they are prepared to receive it.

To use the sound as a part of your computer's sound scheme (and this is for Windows users only - I know nothing about Macs - if you do, let me know what the procedure is and I'll post it), open your Control Panel (Start-Settings-Control Panel) and select "Sounds", then select the sound you want to change from the list, press "Browse" in the Sound wondow, find your file and press "OK". Now your sound will be the one you hear when that particular function is used. Remember that the sounds should be very short - a second or two - or you will be listening to a long sound sample every time your computer makes that particular sound.

Tips for Reducing Sound File Size

One of the biggest problems in transmitting sound files over the Internet is their large file size. The size of the file is directly proportional to the speed of transmission (download time), so keeping the file size as low as possible is essential. Here are a few tips:

Each of the reductions in size degrades the signal a bit and introduces a little noise, but for purely listening purposes the essence of the sound is left intact and clear enough. The first thing to do is use monaural transcriptions. There is usually very little stereo information that is useful in what I do, and this halves the file size. Next, lower the sampling resolution from 16-bit to 8-bit. This halves the file size again, and introduces a small amount of noise. Then you can decrease the sampling rate (called down sampling) to twice the frequency of the highest sound you want to hear. That is, if the highest note in the bird's call is 3800 Hz, you can safely (for listening purposes) decrease sampling rate to 7600 or above. Each time you reduce the sampling rate from it's native 44,000+ you reduce file size proportionately and introduce a small amount of noise. Thus a 15-second mono recording in it's native 44,100 sampling rate and 16-bit resolution takes up 1290K , whereas the same sound at 8-bit resolution and a sampling rate of 8000 uses only 117K, or 9% the original size. This reduction in file size translates directly into time saved downloading a file from a web site, e-mail attachment, or FTP. A sound editing program, such as Cool Edit can be used to make all of these reductions.

Copyright Statement

Remember, all sound clips are copyrighted to Doug Von Gausig anmd Non-commercial use is usually granted freely, but must be inb writing from the author. Commercial use is expressly forbidden without prior written consent. See our Licensing Page for more information about using sounds from these pages.

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