Heralds of the dawn – Chris Watson on the dawn chorus

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To celebrate nature’s greatest symphony we would like to share two immersive binaural recordings of the dawn chorus from BBC nature sound recordist Chris Watson and a wonderful remix of both these tracks by DJ/producer Richard Norris.

Here Chris tells us a little more about two of his favourite locations to capture this unique soundscape. Put on your headphones and enjoy the original wall of sound.

“May 1st 2016 is International Dawn Chorus Day and the first rays of daylight that morning to fall on the British mainland will be in Caithness in northeast Scotland. The rising sunlight then travels south and west before arriving at Land’s End just over one hour later.

In advance of the daylight sweeps a silver tide of birdsong, the dawn chorus.

I’ve had the privilege of recording birdsong around the world and consider that in our latitudes, between 50 to 58 degrees North, we have the best dawn chorus in the world.

Migrant birds from sub Saharan Africa fly to Northern Europe and between April to June their songs and signals mix and merge with native British birds to create a complex ensemble of voices. This daily chorus is a focussed and intense period of around 90 minutes before sunrise illuminates the landscape and the birds’ attentions turns to nest building, feeding and family life.

I’ve long been fascinated by the dawn chorus in Britain and in particular the idea of this wave of song that illuminates a path cross country through a wide variety of habitats. In 2015 I had the opportunity of recording the dawn chorus in two of my favourite and contrasting locations.

Flow Moss, Northumberland

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The heather moorlands of Northern Britain are a rich and complex series of habitats with a unique collection of flora and fauna. Flow Moss is in the North Pennines and is a remote mosaic of heather, sedge grass and peat bog. This is a treeless place full of ground nesting birds whose display flights take them into the air to wheel, soar and hover.

The moorland chorus in early May begins well in advance of any daylight. At 0230h I set up a surround sound microphone array on a low stand by a track and run a cable 100m back to a place where I have some cover and can record without affecting any behaviour around the mikes.

It’s -2C, very still and calm.

A large, silvery moon casts a monochrome glow silhouetting the heather tops. Shortly after 0300h a curlew rises and calls in flight over a low ridge. Within several minutes the air all across the moor is full of the songs and calls of curlew, skylark, red grouse, golden plover and redshank.

The Old Railway Path, Suffolk

railway

Three hundred miles to the south and east of Flow Moss is the RSPB reserve of North Warren. The reserve is a mixed habitat of reedbed, woodland and wetlands. A disused railway track bisects the reserve with clouds of deciduous bushes and trees in its wake either side of the old railway path, edge lands which are full of birds.

The dawn chorus is perhaps best known in the deciduous woodlands and copses of southern England, and North Warren is a special place in this respect. During April nightingales arrive in Suffolk after a three thousand mile journey from West Africa. The males arrive first and sing at night to call down females from their nocturnal migration overhead.

At 0400h I set up my microphone array on the old railway path and listened. There was a nightingale song battle between two rival males away off in the dense Alder and Birch scrub. By 0500h the chorus had evolved into a wall of song that filled the woods and spilled out into the surrounding landscape in advance of the dawn.”

Chris Watson March 2016

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Respected DJ and producer Richard Norris has an impeccable music pedigree and has released records as The Grid and more recently, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve with Errol Alkan. Here he has remixed Chris’ original recordings into a headphone-friendly ambient gem:

Download all Dawn Chorus recordings
(Binaural records to be listened to on headphones)

Download consists of:
1. Flow Moss, Northumberland – Chris Watson [.wav]
2. The Old Railway Path, Suffolk – Chris Watson [.wav]
3. Dawn Chorus – Richard Norris remix [.aif]

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