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.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 13 of 43

12 Birder's Guide to Gear | November 2018 Smartphone Audio Recordings Video, press the red button, and obtain a recording of a sparrow's flight call and the echo thereof. What about enhancing the smart- phone itself? Yes, you can do that. Diana Doyle and Bill Schmoker have shown me external microphones that certainly boost amplitude somewhat. But that's another bell and whistle. Ask yourself if you want to walk around with an ex- ternal microphone. I'm not judging you! Just ask yourself whether you want it. Or what about apps for boosting am- plitude or otherwise enhancing your smartphone's performance? The free app Voice Memos has been recommended to me, but, to be honest, I haven't found much use for it. It "thinks" (or maybe it really does think!) you want to record your own voice, not the CBC Marsh Wren or Virginia Rail—better have proof!—that won't come out for a view but that's vocalizing like crazy. And, yes, I've CBC-documented both Marsh Wrens and Virginia Rails with my no- frills, unenhanced, just-point-and-click iPhone 7. Bottom line. Sure, you can invest in Voice Memos or the LS-10 or, heck, the full firepower of the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab. But you can also get great results by pressing the little red button on your smartphone. Strategy #3 • Down the rabbit hole of post-processing I said it earlier, and I'll say it again. Once you've got that recording off your phone, onto your latptop, and converted to .wav format (eBird) or .mp3 format (Xeno- Canto), you're set. But you're a birder, mildly to hugely OCD about document- ing things the right way, and you want to clean up your recording. You're talking to the right guy. Practically every record- ing I've ever uploaded I've tweaked in one way or another. I'll share a few tips with you, but not first without saying this: I always keep the original, just in case; and, for the doctored file, I try to remember to say something like "low- frequency wind filtered" or "footsteps of passerby clipped". Download Audacity. It's free, it's pow- erful, it does crash from time to time, and, if there's a better free sound-ed- iting package, I don't know about it. Neither does anybody else. Audacity is simply the best. There are scores of editing options and literally millions of know, what you're trying to record. I mean, they know where you are right now, where you went shopping yesterday, and whom you voted for, so why wouldn't they know? As Diana says, don't try to outthink the phone. Siri is smarter than you are. Just point the phone straight at the bird, don't whisper or otherwise fidg- et, and get your recording. Because you're making large .mov files, your recordings are—wait for it— large. Consider making multiple 30-sec- ond recordings, rather than a single two- minute recording. Then choose the best one and send it from your phone to your laptop as described earlier. Which raises a sort of obvious question: Is there a bet- ter way than making large videos on your phone? That takes us to Strategy #2… Strategy #2 • Consider an upgrade…but be careful I'll be honest with you. Most of the re- cordings I upload to the internet are not smartphone-generated. I prefer to use a dedicated digital recorder, an ag- ing but still functional Olympus LS-10. You can read all about this recorder in my three-part online tutorial at The ABA Blog ( But I'm assuming you don't want to make the investment. You just want to make a smartphone recording, and be done with it. And you can indeed get awesome smartphone recordings. For example, the double-knock of a Pale- billed Woodpecker immediately fol- lowed by the decrescendo of a Lineated Woodpecker: LiWo. Or how about this recording, not only of the high-frequency flight call of the American Tree Sparrow, but also the frickin' echo of said flight call off an out- building: That. Is. Amazing. True, I would have gotten a better re- cording with my Olympus LS-10. And the whiz kids at Cornell, with their Nagras and fuzzy sticks and parabolic dishes the size of a large satellite TV re- ceiver, would have gotten better record- ings yet. The most astonishing thing to me, though, is that you can whip out your phone, initiate the camera, scroll to ■ Recording pioneer Paul A. Schwartz obtains audio documentation in the Llanos of Venezuela in an undated photo ca. 1960. Not all that long ago, this was the only way to make recordings. Today you can do it with a smartphone. Photo by © Ramón Rivero. Continued on page 14

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Birder's Guide - NOV 2018