Wildlife sound recordists love calm, dry weather – perfect recording conditions. That’s just what we had over three days and nights at the Wildlife Sound Recording Society’s winter meeting back at Caerlaverock WWT reserve last weekend. Unfortunately, this glorious weekend coincided with The Big Freeze. When we arrived on Friday 8th December most of the ponds were, as usual, full of lively and very vocal wildfowl, but during the first night, my microphones picked up the gentle tinkling of ice forming and ducks moving further away. By Saturday morning, Folly Pond was almost 100% frozen, and by Monday morning, the ice was at least an inch thick everywhere, thanks to a spectacular fall in temperature eventually reaching minus 11 degrees C. Not surprisingly, everything hunkered down and couldn’t be bothered to vocalise.
However that didn’t stop hardy WSRS members, who still got up at 6am every morning and ventured out, if only to collect their gear which had been recording ‘unattended’ overnight in very low temperatures. I was lucky – my room overlooked the reserve so I kept mics clamped to the window. The downside: I had to ‘sleep’ with the window open all weekend. The upside: I could record from my bed, and the WWT seem to have the highest tog duvets I’ve ever known. Cosy!
The two target species here are of course Whooper swans and Barnacle geese – there’s probably nowhere else where one get so close to these Arctic species, mostly I believe down from Iceland and Svalbard. Approximately 8,000 Barnacles were around, and typically they gave us a recording challenge by showing different behaviour every dawn and dusk. Here one day, over there the next…
Luckily I was in just the right place on the Saturday evening as they flew to roost:
And overnight, from the comfort of my bed, I could record the Whoopers squabbling and moving between the ponds, that is until the ice took over and everything went quiet.
The reserve has much to offer apart from the wildfowl. The accommodation in the Farmhouse is first class, and warm! Every night the rather portly badger (well fed on peanuts and honey) put in a performance at the feeding station just by the observatory window, and by day the hedgerows were full of finches, tits, sparrows and thrushes. It also has a Dark Sky, so many excellent views of the universe were to be had, including a spectacular Milky Way.
On the final evening I was sitting in one of the old small fibreglass hides, recording geese and watching the International Space Station fly over in a clear starry sky, when seven wrens flew inside with me to roost. Magical. And of course the many robins, kept rather tame with regular donations of mealworms, provided the perfect seasonal backdrop.