#022 Field Course in Location Sound

Towards the end of January I was so pleased to take part in a field course on location sound, led by Chris Watson and Jez Riley French, at the UWS campus in Ayr. I was already interested in Chris Watson’s work, having listened to him speak previously at the University of Glasgow, and bought some of his records. I had also bought some microphones from Jez in the past so I was vaguely familiar with his work too.

UntitledThe course was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about location sound. I had previously been doing quite a lot of field recording in my spare time, but the course deepened my understanding so I felt like I would be able to enhance my future recordings through the techniques I learnt. We looked at the different layers of a recording, and what is important to create an atmosphere that is subtle yet immersive. We were introduced to many different methods of recording, using a selection of microphones, booms, positions, locations etc., and then we also looked at interesting ways to deliver recordings to an audience, in various settings, using different speaker systems.

The aim of the course was to create a sound map of the River Ayr. We spent the week travelling to different points along the river, visiting Glen Buck Reservoir and the harbour at Ayr, to listen to how the sounds developed from the source of the river to the mouth. We worked in groups and alone, to experiment with the different microphones and recorders we were able to borrow. I particularly enjoyed using the hyrdophones, which allow you to hear in places that are otherwise often out of reach.

Untitled 2


#021 Researching Barbary Macaques in Germany

Between September and November last year I volunteered as a research assistant on a phD study looking and sociality and health in Barbary Macaques.


The research looked at how time spent in body contact with others, self-grooming, grooming others and other social behaviours, influenced the build up of parasites in a group of macaques resident in the Affenberg Salem reserve in Southern Germany. This reserve houses three groups of macaques, two of which interact with paying members of the public, while the third, our study group, has little interaction if none with the public. The macaques are described as semi-free, which means they can potentially be released into the wild. Humans influence their lifestyle by feeding them once a day, being present in the forest as researchers, and trapping females to implant hormone control.

I learned to individually identify the macaques, first by learning gender-age classes, and then distinguishing amongst these classes using facial features, size, fur colour, personality etc. Each day I followed 8-9 focal animals for forty minutes, logging any social behaviours using a pre-established behavioural ethogram. Mainly we noted time spent in body contact with others, and whether this was friendly, aggressive, or sexual. While carrying out focal sampling we would also do an instantaneous scan, and note down on every minute whether the individual was: located on the ground/not ground; position (sitting, lying etc.); activity (feeding, resting etc.); food type if feeding; whether or not cheek pouches were full. After each focal the researchers would then work as a team to carry out a group scan. Each of us had our own area, and at the start of the twenty minutes we would walk to this area, and then scan, recording all of the macaques present. We would note their location (using GPS points marked on trees), their height, position, activity, whether or not they were in body contact with other individuals, and food type if they were feeding.

Another element of our work was collecting faecal and urine samples. While carrying out focals, if our focal animal defecated, we would take time out from the focal to collect the sample and record it. Each sample was split into two tubs, which were marked by individual, date, time, consistency, and GPS location. One sample was used for hormone analysis, while the other was used for parasite analysis. The rest of our faecal samples were collected on sampling day, which would be one day each week on which we didn’t do any group scans, but spent most of our day trying to collect samples. In the morning we would go to the forest a little earlier, to find the monkeys still in their sleeping trees, and attempt to collect urine by holding a sieve covered in a plastic bag at the end of a long pole. This proved very difficult, as the monkeys would often shy away from the device, but was occasionally successful.

The research I carried out in GermanyIMG_1534 copy was very similar to the work I had previously carried out in Madagascar, so I enjoyed refining my skills and experience in behavioural data collection, and learning about a species which was new to me. I had never studied such a large group of primates before, and I felt it was a great achievement to be able to identify so many individuals at a quick glance. It was a shame that I never got to do any parasite analysis, which had been the main draw of this study for me. We simply stored all of our samples for later analysis by the phD students, as the project was short staffed and we had to spend as much time as possible collecting behavioural data in the field.

Volunteering on the project was a great opportunity for me to do some filming, take lots of photographs, and to collect field recordings. I am now working on making a zine of some of my photographs, and putting together a short video of the footage I filmed. There were a lot of great sounds in the forest, many birds and interesting macaque sounds. I think the forest was underneath quite a busy flight path as I often heard aircraft noise, and this features in a lot of my recordings.

#020 Isle of Eigg Volunteering


At the start of September I spent a week volunteering for the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, just off the West coast of Scotland across from Mallaig and Arasaig. Eigg is a very inspiring place to be. They are not connected to the main electricity board, and produce all of their energy from wind, wave and solar power, with each house/business being alloted a certain amount of electricity. Recycling is prolific, and there is almost zero opportunity to produce any waste (they use cars and gas canisters). This highlighted for me the brazen truth that there is no need for us elsewhere to “flush and forget” or “dilute and disperse”, it is completely possible and much more satisfying, never mind sustainable, to live in greater harmony with the environment. I have been reading Dave Goulson’s book “A Buzz in the Meadow”. He talks about the different forms of life he encounters on his wild flower meadow in France, and conveys the importance of all the aphids, beetles, and bees that we need to support organisms higher up. The book concludes with a chapter on Easter Island, a community that tore itself to pieces by destroying all of the trees (no more boats, houses or arable land) and organisms dwelling there, before turning to cannabalism and eventually dying out. The analogy is that we are doing that to the Earth, how long until we cut down the last tree? The book is a great read and very amusing. The people of Eigg encourage us all to “Look after our own island”.

While volunteering I worked on a croft, pulling Ragwort which is poisonous to cattle. I also did some work in the forestry, clearing bracken around developing trees and some path maintenance too.

I took a lot of recordings on Eigg, and will piece together a sound map of the island by the end of the year.


Before and After the Ragwort pulling

bracken 2Clearing bracken in the Forestry

#019 Volunteering

For the past month or so I have been volunteering as a Peregrine Watch Volunteer Ranger for the Scottish Wildlife Trust at their Falls of Clyde reserve. You can view the blog for the site here: http://blogs.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/fallsofclyde. As a volunteer I complete a log of what the birds are doing throughout the day, and encourage anyone who happens to be walking by to talk a look at the birds through the telescopes we have. The main purpose of volunteers at the site is to establish a presence which will protect the birds and their eggs from any danger.

Nesting Peregrine Falcon

Female Peregrine Nesting on Eggs

I have also been volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland as a Conservation Volunteer. At Grey Mare’s Tail, we worked to move boulders to protect the foundations of the bridge there.

Grey Mare's Tail


#018 oto-date Newcastle Akio Suzuki

At the end of March I spent 5 days volunteering at AV Festival 14: Extraction, in Newcastle. I spent these days invigilating gallery exhibitions and films by Akio Suzuki, Wang Bing, Ana Molska, Adrien Lecouturier, Victor Lopes and Lara Almarcegui. I also volunteered at a stunning performance by Richard Skelton and the Elysian Quartet at Brinkburn Priory. As part of the festival, Akio Suzuki spray painted his oto-date logo at points in the city he deemed interesting listening points, and produced a map of the points. I used this map to direct myself around the city, and took some recordings at each point.

#016 Cape Gannets and Video Cameras

It can be very difficult to understand an animals motives and decisions, unless you can see, hear and think, among many other things, the way it does.  Tremblay et al. (2014) attached video cameras to Cape gannets in order to enhance their interpretation of the decisions these birds make when foraging. This allows them to see what the bird can when foraging, and to more accurately understand what its movements are based on. Cape gannets form alliances with other animals such as dolphins and other birds when hunting, and so it was expected that their movements would be influenced by the presence of these animals. The study found the majority of study birds showed “systematic movement adjustments in relation to other foragers”. They found that other predators were very important in determining Cape gannets’ movement patterns. Boats were also often used as cues for presence of fish, more often than dolphins, but this may be because boats are more readily visible than dolphins.

The following footage is unrelated to the study by Tremblay et al. (2014) but demonstrates the use of cameras attached to Gannets. It was produced by RSPB and The University of Exeter.


Tremblay, Y. Thiebault, A. Mullers, R. Pistorius, P. 2014. Bird-borne video-cameras show that seabird movement patterns relate to previously unrevealed proximate environment, not prey. PLoS ONE. 9(2): e88424.

#015 Territoriality in Tropical Bird Species

When studying birds in tropical regions, it is important to consider the behavioural and physiological differences of these birds compared to temperate birds. An important example of this is the differences in levels of testosterone between tropical and temperate species.

In temperate birds, testosterone levels increase as day-length increases in Spring and as a result of this male birds start singing more. However this is not the case in tropical birds where the role of testosterone is much less important, their levels of testosterone remain steady throughout the year. This difference has been related to a slower and more relaxed pace of life of birds in the tropics, who have longer breeding seasons and fewer young than temperate species. This reflects in the territoriality of different bird species-those in the tropics will establish a territory in Spring as their testosterone levels being to rise, and then abandon the territory in Autumn, before migrating to escape the poor weather conditions in the Winter characteristic of temperate zones. However for tropical birds, year round territoriality is the norm. This is aided by the fact that fluctuations in food and shelter are less common in the tropics so a single territory can support its inhabitants year round. This means that adult survival is high and so breeding opportunities for young birds are hard to come by.

Hummingbirds display territoriality of flower patches, in order to fuel the high energetic requirements of their agile flight and hovering abilities (Justino and Maruyama, 2012). Territorial hummingbirds actively defend clumped flower resources, but this defence is costly as other hummingbirds steal nectar from patches defended by territorial hummingbirds. This study found that clumped flower patches are only defended when there is a minimum resource availability. The reduction of nectar results in the hummingbirds abandoning the territory. This corroborates the idea that an energy threshold is needed to justify the cost of territory defence. Hummingbirds in this study reacted to both reduction in number of flowers and reduction in nectar volume. It is thought that the minimum number of flowers for a territory to be established and defended may represent the energetic requirements of each hummingbird species.

Maynard (2012) studied call timing and territoriality in male long-tailed manakins (C. linearis). Long-tailed manakins have a lek-based mating system in which males form obligate male-male partnerships attract females using a combination of coordinated vocal duets and visual displays. The male pairs call from fixed display areas that remain stable for years and males from alternative display areas tend to be visually isolated from one another by around 75m. However the vocal signals of long-tailed manakins can travel up to 100m, so neighbouring birds are routinely in constant contact. Therefore the environment in which males attract females is acoustically competitive. It has been found that males time their calling bouts to avoid overlapping with their neighbours, and that males were more likely to call in the silent intervals of their competitors. However it was found that although males avoid overlapping with known neighbours, they increase their levels of overlap in the presence of unknown rivals. The birds showed more variable call timing and sometimes an increase in the levels of overlap when other rival individuals were around. This study suggests that avoiding overlapping calls with known neighbours allows the birds to preserve the quality of their duets, and also allows them to listen to the quality of the duets of their competitors. Overlapping of unknown rivals implies an aggressive attempt to interfere with the information transmitted in other birds’ calls.

Maynard, D. F. Ward, K. A. Doucet, S. M. 2012. Calling in an acoustically competitive environment: duetting male long-tailed manakins avoid overlapping neighbours but not playback-simulated rivals. Animal Behaviour. 84. 563-573.

Justino, D. Maruyama, P. Paulo, O. 2012. Floral resource availability and hummingbird territorial behaviour on a Neotropical savanna shrub. Journal of Ornithology. Vol. 153.