August is the quietest month for the wildlife sound recordist – take a stroll through the lush green English woodlands and you’ll wonder where all the birds are, apart from the odd tit flock moving through; the moors are pretty in purple, but pretty quiet apart from the occasional 12-bore fusillade; and the fields are busy with combines, grain trucks or ploughing. One August a few years ago I was fortunate to be able to record Honey Buzzards at the nest in Scotland – feeding on wasp grubs, they’re late nesters, so unusually they are rearing their young through early August. But one can’t record Honey Buzzards every year, so where to go?
August on the coast of Northumberland offers several recording opportunities. Migrant waders are passing through, albeit in small and generally quiet numbers, but resident waders have moved down from the moors and are gathering in flocks; resident geese are also in post-breeding flocks, before their numbers are swollen by migrants from the North next month; terns are bringing their young over from Coquet and the Farnes; and ducks, though drab in their eclipse plumage, are just starting to get vocal again before displaying begins in the winter months. Off then to Druridge Bay for a couple of overnight recording sessions, to coincide with good high tides and some favourable winds in the forecast. It’s a beautiful area, but a difficult place for recording – flat, and sandwiched into a narrow strip between the North Sea and a busy road – and you have to be finished before the traffic builds and the (often) noisy birders arrive!
Night One: Cresswell Pond. A light mist, a minimal onshore breeze and a calm sea. Microphones set down on the North pool at 2.30am, in time to get the arrival of waders forced off the seashore by a 5.4m high tide, and then record the birds leaving just before sunrise – Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Turnstone and Dunlin all vocal within a few metres, even a silent Spoonbill scything away in the shallows. A bonus Kingfisher flew away calling as I collected the mics at 6am.
Night Two: Druridge Pools. Started at the Budge Hide at 2.30am – I hate metal hides, they are so noisy and acoustically unforgiving! Initially it was so quiet that I was recording the wing sounds of passing bats, but an unexpected change in the wind direction meant that I had to abandon my first microphone position (who’s driving along that road at 3am? Maybe another wildlife sound recordist?) Transferring to the North hide I happened upon the perfect spot for the conditions. Hundreds of Greylag and Canada Geese, Mallard and Teal, plus the odd Shoveler and Water Rail, and a nice flock of Black-tailed Godwit. The westerly wind meant that the geese all took off at sunrise across my sound stage – left to right – perfect! All enhanced by the pre-dawn presence of a cruising otter causing lots of alarm calls among the flocks.
One other reason for recording here, and for recording now: in Autumn 2017 we expect to hear the Secretary of State’s decision about the proposed Highthorn open cast mine development, in the fields next to these very pools. If it goes ahead, these wonderful sounds will probably not be recordable again in my lifetime.