|NSS Home Page Nature Sounds Newsletter Winter 1997 13th Annual Field Recording Workshop|
Lucky 13! 13th Annual Field Recording Workshop Review
by Amy Hunter
We indeed felt lucky this year at the 13th annual field recording workshop up at the Yuba Pass in the Sierras. We were blessed with some of the best weather i've seen in five years, with clear skies and more importantly mild early mornings that took the chill out of the dawn chorus!
We had a terrific group of participants this year with a wealth of different backgrounds. We were also joined by a large contingent from various media including a crew from ABC's Nightline, a writer from Mix Magazine and another from The East Bay Express. * We welcomed them as participants and voyeurs! We had two main themes this year: interpreting the local wildlife of the area and preserving acoustic quietude. As always we were fortunate to have excellent speakers who not only demonstrated their unique expertise but also their passion for nature. Most people arrived Friday afternoon. After settling into their tents, we all gathered in the main cabin for dinner. This year we had a new kitchen crew and the meals and service improved immensely!
We started our evening program after dinner. Dr. William Gilbert presented "A Natural History of Yuba Pass". Dr. Gilbert is an ornithologist who is an expert in the breeding biology of the orange crowned and Wilson's warblers. He presented a spectacular slide show depicting the most common (and not so common) birds of the area along with wonderful recordings of each species. With an innovative approach, Dr. Gilbert "walked" us through the diverse habitats of this area from the marshy wetlands of the Sierra Valley to the forested crest at the Yuba Pass. Through sight and sound, we learned to identify the birds we would encounter in the next few days.
It is important to learn about the habitat and the species that one is going to record, but its equally important to know your gear! With this in mind, Dan Dugan and I presented a short program about the more practical and pragmatic aspects of field recording. Dan Dugan is a Sound Designer/Inventor/Nagra Specialist and all around Technical Wizard. This being a workshop to help people learn how to record, we started with the basics...the mic and the tape recorder! We then made sure that anyone who needed gear got what they needed and tested it BEFORE we headed out in the morning!!!!! We wrapped up the evening with a gentle reminder that we would be hitting the road by 4 AM!!!
After a brief night's sleep, we convened for a quick cup of joe before our journey. I was amazed and delighted to see that almost everyone had made it up!
After about an hour's drive up and over Yuba Pass, we arrived in Sierra Valley, a vast expanse in the middle of the mountains. The area consists mostly of marshlands, some of which is protected and some of which is used for cattle grazing. Luckily this year, the cows seemed rather sedate and didn't interrupt our recordings much. We heard red wing blackbirds, Coots, marsh wrens and willets among many others.
After a few hours of recording, we took a breakfast break and then moved on to a nearby location under a bridge that is home to thousands of cliff swallows. This location provides a unique opportunity to not only record the sometimes deafening calls of the swallows but also to capture their wing flaps as they fly around the bridge. At this point a little later in the day, the ABC crew joined us to get some action shots and sounds!
We came back to camp at around noon for a little R&R and lunch. In the afternoon, we went on a scouting adventure led by Lyman Miller. We went to Lincoln Meadow which is a meadow surrounded by a forest type of environment. We barely made it to the location because the road was severely washed out and steep. But arrive we did only to be greeted by hordes of hungry mosquitos. So we learned to scout for all kinds of wildlife and terrain....good and bad!
On Saturday evening after dinner, we presented our feature program on Natural Quiet with Richard Hingson, the Conservation Coordinator of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club and Jim McCarthey,PhD Candidate at Arizona State University. Both speakers have been very active in the struggle to preserve the natural quiet of the Grand Canyon from the untamed roar of tour helicopters. With the eloquence and compassion of a southern preacher, Mr. Hingson presented a very inspiring program about what "peace and quiet" mean to us as human beings and as a culture. Mr. McCarthey presented a more scientific and political approach to the problem of noise pollution.
We hit the sack early that night, knowing we only had a few hours to catch up on our sleep. Sunday morning, our ranks shrunk slightly as a few people decided to sleep in. We had a shorter drive this time up to the Yuba Pass. We arrived just at first light. Then everyone fanned out and found their own special place to record. The benefits of the Yuba Pass as a recording site is that its easier to get away from other humans who invariably make noise!
Some of the birds that we saw and heard were Cassin's Finches,Fox Sparrows, and Red Breasted Sapsuckers. There was another group of birders up there that day that some of us shared our gear with in return for valuable information...one woman was particularly nice and showed me a rare siting of a Pygmy Owl nesting in a tree.
We came back to camp and packed our bags. After lunch, we sat around an outdoor campfire for Nature Sounds Society "church". This is where we reflect on our weekend and our time together. This year in particular was very moving as people really expressed some of their most heartfelt feelings about our world and our future. I, for one, was very moved and impressed by the depth of our participants. We were indeed lucky on our 13th annual recording workshop!
*Note: See the July issue of The East Bay Express. As of this writing, ABC has not aired our story.
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