Birder's Guide

NOV 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 11 of 43

■ Participants in the ABA's Camp Colorado encountered—and photographically documented— this adult Lark Sparrow. Boulder County, Colorado; June 28, 2018. Photo by © Ronan Nicholson. ■ The spectogram below is from the same bird as in the photo to the left. The high-fidelity recording, made with an unenhanced smartphone, is characterized by a good signal-to-noise ratio (top panel) and a remarkably precise "score" of the bird's song (bottom panel). Boulder County, Colorado; June 28, 2018. Recording by © Ted Floyd. 10 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2018 Smartphone Audio Recordings E arlier this year, I was a guest at the ABA's Camp Colorado for teen birders. We'd wrapped up a morning of birding at a place called Rabbit Mountain, in the foothills of northern Boulder County, and were headed back to the 15-passen- ger vans. A Lark Sparrow was singing from the top of a juniper by the parking lot, so I walked toward the bird, point- ed my smartphone (an iPhone 7) at it, pressed a button, and got a recording. Then I uploaded the recording to eBird ( and to Xeno-Canto ( Before going further, I want to quickly note that this is a good recording. The waveform function of the spectrogram (figure at right, top panel) shows effec- tively zero "noise" (the flatline stretch- es in places) and a strong "signal" (the pulses, or blobs, of blue throughout). The signal-to-noise ratio is high. Again, that's good. The bottom panel shows a remarkably detailed "score" of the bird's song, starting at 1.27 seconds and run- ning till 4.99 seconds. This recording is the audio equivalent, I would say, of a digital photo showing details of indi- the big red circle. Perhaps one second's worth of prep time? And, then, when I finished recording, I pressed the red cir- cle again (to end the recording). That's it! If you've ever made a smartphone video at a birthday party or bar mitzvah, you are fully capable of making an audio recording of Chondestes grammacus. Now what? The first thing to appreciate is that you've made an annoyingly large mov- ie file (in .mov format, if you're on an iPhone 7). If the recording is more than about 10 seconds long, it's probably too large to send straight from your phone to your email account. Fortunately, your phone knows that, and it will prompt you to use a third-party client like Mail Drop. Tip: Shorten (press trim) the .mov file before you email it to yourself, so that it contains only the parts of the record- ing you actually want to upload to a file- sharing site like eBird or Xeno-Canto. Now scoot over to your email account— on your laptop, not on your phone. The file will show up in your email account either as is (if it was small, and you didn't have to use Mail Drop) or as a link to download the file from Mail Drop. Anyhow, download the soundfile and change the extension from .mov to vidual feathers. One other thing: Those five-note pulses in the five-kilohertz band are the song of a field cricket in the genus Gryllus. My guess is G. penn- sylvanicus, but I'm not sure. Anyhow, the big question remains. How did I pull this off? What I want to do for the rest of this article is walk you through the entire process—from noticing the bird in the first place to successfully uploading the recording to the internet. I'll assume that you have zero facility with making recordings. In other words, this primer is for some- body like the famous field ornithologist with 10,000+ richly annotated complete eBird checklists—but nary a sound re- cording to her or his credit. Let's see what this is all about! F irst things first. Get as close to the bird as possible. Same deal as with pho- tography. Even the best camera can only do so much with an eclipse-plumage Mexican Duck a mile away. I got decent- ly close to this Lark Sparrow—although never so close that it flushed. As I prepared to make the recording, I pressed the Camera icon on my phone (again, an iPhone 7), then scrolled over one notch to Video mode, then pressed

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