Night Fishing (for Birds)

While I enjoy eating fish (especially sashimi & sushi!) I am not much of a fisherman – ten minutes on the water and I am about ready to head home again, although I do like the saying by Henry David Thoreau: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” (And of course, the other funny but presumably untrue fishing quote: ‘the best two days of a boat owners life are the day he buys a boat, and the day he sells it!’) and while the idea of night fishing is intriguing, in my case it wasn’t fish I was after. And I also wasn’t on the water.

The first night when I arrived in Little Huia I was struck by a beautiful sound I hadn’t heard in years; the melancholic call of the Ruru/Morepork. The Morepork is an owl, native to New Zealand and as a night bird it is rarely seen, and generally only heard when you are in a quiet rural location.

The Ruru/Morepork has two highly evolved features that are amazing to witness. The first can be seen in a beautiful film by the other Artist in Residence in the Waitakere Ranges, Denise Batchelor. I very highly recommend you visit her website and watch an excerpt of her 2011 film Ruru here – the way the huge pupils of the Ruru expand & contract is astoundingly beautiful (and makes me wish for such a lens for my camera!)

The other aspect of the Ruru that amazes me is a sound you will never hear: its silent wings. Other native birds such as the Tui and the Wood Pigeon have beautifully audible wings, flitting through the trees they remind me of the sound of a Japanese fan being (very) rapidly waved – I have recorded some of these while in Huia and will post them in a future post. But the Ruru is a highly evolved night hunter, its incredible eye sight and silent wings means its prey don’t know to hide until its too late!

Here is a very short little doco with some great close up footage of a morepork in daylight:

That video doesn’t feature the morepork at night nor its call, but as I had heard them in the trees behind my house in Little Huia, I decided my first mission would be to try & record a Morepork close up. So here started my night fishing missions!

My first attempt was a dismal failure, and in hindsight laughable. I put together a portable record kit and prepared to head out into the night.

Little Huia

My night fishing rig included a Sound Devices 744 recorder & 302 preamp, a Telinga parabolic dish with MKH8020 and a pair of MKH8040s. I jumped in my 4WD and headed up the hill a bit, following the road to Whatipu and stopping every so often to listen. When I thought I was close to some Moreporks I would jump out, grab my backpack & start walking towards where I thought they were. But here was the problem: just as I started to get close to one, it would stop calling. And even if I waited, it would not start again. In hindsight, with its silent wings it had more than likely flown away without me realising. So after a couple of hours of this sort of behaviour I headed home with what I thought was only three single calls – a start but hardly what I was hoping for!

Apart from the beautiful plaintive call, the other aspect of the moreporks call that I am interested in is its timing. Unlike some birds which either sing rapid-fire bursts, or longer melodies, the Ruru calls sparsely & rhythmically – in a slow rhythm, more reminiscent of a temple bell than a drum beat. My ideal was to set my mic up under a tree with a morepork in it & record it for half an hour…

So I went to bed that night feeling a little disappointed, Ruru 1 Field recordist 0

By the next morning my sub conscious had come up with a better approach:

Little Huia

Being a clumsy city dweller driving around in a noisy 4WD, slamming car doors & lugging a backpack full of gear in hindsight is not really conducive to sneaking up on an owl who makes it living by stealth. Those moreporks probably heard me leaving the house & had a good laugh at my ridiculous antics. ‘Here he comes! Hee hee… let’s pretend we haven’t noticed him… ‘

So plan 2 was to set up my mics, and go home. As any bird photographer or recordist will likely tell you, even if you are being stealthy arriving at a location & then becoming silent, it usually takes 20 minutes before the birds will start to continue their behaviour like you aren’t there. The only part I was a little apprehensive about was leaving my gear in the bush late at night and it getting rained on. I have been out on a sunny day here shooting & a sudden rain cloud appeared from nowhere. So I solved that problem by asking the local ranger if I could set up my gear under a balcony by a currently unused camping building, Project K, late on a Sunday night. So about 8.30pm I headed up there, and rigged my mcid pointing in all directions – this time as I wasn’t having to be portable I again used Telinga dish, plus the pair of ORTF MKH8040s but also added a pair of very directional MKH70s, recording to five discrete channels on ym recorders. I angled & pointed each of the mics at trees where I thought Ruru might be hanging out, loaded a fresh set of batteries & went back home for a few hours…

Returning after 10.30 I had my fingers crossed – happily the recorders were still rolling, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered what I had recorded… For the first hour or so, only distant mroeporks are heard, but then only about 20 minutes before I went & retrieved my gear, this is what I captured:

From the excellent NZ Birds website:It is hardly surprising that, in Maori mythology, Ruru which hunts by night on silent wings and has a melancholy hooting call, is associated with the spirit world. In fact the special ancestral spirit of a family group is thought to take the form of Ruru. Known as Hine–ruru, the “owl woman”, Maori traditionally believed that these owl guardians had the power to, protect, warn and advise. According to such beliefs, the presence of a morepork sitting in a conspicuous place nearby, knocking on a window or even entering the house signifies a death the family while the high piercing call of the morepork is thought to herald bad news and the ordinary call to indicate good news on the way.

The DOC website has some interesting info about the Ruru, including what you can do to help the Ruru live long & prosper

I suspect I will do more of the set up the mics and leave it recording approach, and one idea I had help protect the gear incase of a sudden shower was to somehow rig up a small umbrella. After doing a quick search I found & ordered this handy device, the UC-6 umbrella and clamp made by Velbon.

Little Huia

While checking out other Velbon products I also came across their ultra compact tripod: the Velbon UT series looks like a more compact AND more sturdy tripod than what I am currently using as a mic stand for my MKH8040s!

Posted in SOUND DESIGN: | 2 Comments

Detritus 276

DJ shredding = too funny! the drop is pretty funny, but i laughed more at the 8bit beeps


> Buddy the talking starling!?!


> h265? wow! ProRes 4444 quality for 1% of the file size!!



> Space: the ultimate dawn chorus? “interspersed with deep bass pulses from the Sun”




> Interesting interview with five cinematographers



> i’m currently wearing out the mp3s of lovely dub techno EP by Fussganger – Akku (stream it/buy it here) #food_for_your_subwoofer!



> a new Sound Devices 633 – presumably aimed at production sound with 3 mic preamps built in (boom + 2 radios?) while physically slightly bigger than a 744 it has six inputs (3 mic and 3 line) and can record up to 10 tracks at 48kHz and 6 tracks at 192kHz. Price is us$3,100 so it is considerably cheaper than a 788T at US$6,395 or a 744T at US$4,195 (but of course lacks the inputs, hard drive etc of the 788). Wide range of powering options, but as someone pointed out shame it doesn’t have a power output, for powering a mixer/preamp for the line inputs…


> a 3d printed Obama speech about 3d printing




Posted in SOUND DESIGN: | 1 Comment

Friday Night in Little Huia

Little Huia

Little Huia

shot Friday 15th November with Canon 5DmkIII and EF16-35 lens

Posted in SOUND DESIGN: | Leave a comment

First Day of Summer

Little Huia

Pohutukawa flowering = the first day of summer in Little Huia!
shot on Sunday 17th November with Canon 5DmkIII + EF100 macro lens

Posted in SOUND DESIGN: | Leave a comment

Detritus 275

> beautiful! Six months of tonal vibrations of Tchaikovskys Swan Lake expressed in crystal


Stanford scientists turn seizures into sound


> The art of music in Jim Jarmuschs films


> Aesthetics and the art of audio field recording by Steven Miller


> Womentronic: Selective Herstory of Electronic Music


> A gun sound effects library for $1? Admirable ambition, but are there really 7000 people to support it? Knowing that it is all or nothing with Kickstarter I would have made it $7, which would still be a bargain and 1,000 supporters would be much more likely to be reached than 7,000… And no other tiers of rewards? Time will tell if their altruistic approach works – 25 days to go! Join in for $1 here


> “Could billions of stars be read like notes?”: Emil Schult talks to Diamond Version



> Autechre did a reddit style ‘ask me anything’ session recently, and someone took all the questions and answers and put them in a google docs spreadsheet, have a squizz here – when asked about film: “big fan of shane carruth and neill blomkamp… and loads of retired or dead people” and such interesting ideas e.g. “we were also doing stuff like making 2 melodies with slightly different notes or in a different order and then sending the muted one to the reverb and mixing the reverb quite low so you almost can’t tell”


> interesting: Sonic Shuffle an app, including “music created from a graphic score by Domenico Sciajno performed by a 48-member electronic orchestra” – preorder your USB memory stick now!


> the David Lynch suite? I’d stay there! Except. Its $1,200 a night. Guess its all booked up by the bourgeois/(burn the) rich crowd…



Posted in SOUND DESIGN: | 1 Comment