Describing What You Hear

Birding at Wu Ling Shan at the weekend focused my mind on bird sounds.  In forests with many birds skulky, relying on sight alone would result in a small list!

I am certainly guilty of focusing most of my birding life on the visual identification of birds and have in the past found it disconcerting to identify all but the most obvious birds on sound alone.  I am beginning to realise that this is very limiting!  Having moved to China where many of the birds are new, learning to listen, describe and then identify what I hear has become more important.  Before visiting Wu Ling Shan I downloaded many calls and songs of birds I was expecting to encounter and tried hard to memorise them (with mixed success!).  I also took along my compact video camera to record some of the songs and calls, partly with a view to being able to identify any unknown calls on my return home.

I have discovered that my compact video camera is pretty good at recording bird sounds and, with a bit of wizardry on my MacBook, I can strip off the sound file and turn it into a very compact .mp3 file.  Having just gone through my recordings from the weekend, I can now add another species to my list for the trip – Blue and White Flycatcher!  And I still have one to identify…

Whilst browsing Xeno Canto Asia trying to identify my mystery songs, I came across a message linking to a particular post on the excellent Earbirding blog by Nathan Pieplow.  It’s simply entitled “Describing What You Hear” and contains excellent advice on how to become better at identifying birds by call or song.  I guess it’s a product of the way humans have developed over the last few million years but, in general, our sense of sight seems to carry much more weight in terms of bird identification and, as a consequence, birding literature is much more advanced on this aspect.  Like many, I am sure, I am often bamboozled by the descriptions of bird calls and songs in even the best field guides, some of which are almost indecipherable and some downright misleading, even for some of the common species.  Nathan’s excellent blog aims to at least begin redressing the balance and I urge any birder, whatever their competency level or experience, to have a thorough read.  They won’t be disappointed!

I am hoping to post a few .mp3 files from the weekend on here shortly, including Chinese Leaf Warbler, Yellow-streaked Warbler, Hume’s Leaf Warbler and White-bellied Redstart, so watch this space!

First up, here’s a Yellow-streaked Warbler singing in the rain…