Here are some frequently asked questions

Why did you set up the project?
The idea came about when we recorded the dawn chorus last year during lockdown. By chance, I found out that my Grandma died that day in the early hours of the morning in a care home. I get my love of nature from all my grandparents (I even still have bird feeders that were my Nan’s), and so that recording became incredibly poignant for me. At the time, during COVID lockdowns, we were also very aware of how lucky we were to live in the countryside, and have so much nature to enjoy, when friends of ours were stuck in their flats, in cities.

After listening to the bird song that day, it occurred to us that we should start recording it, and keeping it, and allowing others to access it. This way, we could help people to connect with nature via audio. So the idea grew to record the dawn chorus each day (but using low -fi, DIY kit as we do not have pots of money!), and record the chorus ‘warts and all’, as we know that human activity has a terrible effect on the birds and that, as our climate collapses, we are facing huge losses of bird species. So this project was set up to achieve three things:

  1. Recordings of bird songs that members of the public can download from a website in order to help their well-being and mental health
  2. Establish a long running citizen science project providing quality data to researchers for future reference and work on bird studies
  3. Creation of a record over time of changes in bird population in certain localities in Cornwall to track the impact of climate change and the deepening ecological emergency

Aren’t other big charities already doing this?
3rd May is International Dawn Chorus Day. On that day there was a push by bird charities to record birds for the day, or the month (worldwide) and upload them onto a site, but we wondered why the project only lasted for a month. Recording birds in itself is not a novel idea, but doing it daily and allowing for the time differences of the start of each dawn chorus requires automation! (Having said that we did get up at ridiculous times of the day to start recording for a bout a year – it was hard work though, and did not get loaded onto a site automatically etc). Perhaps that is why there is nothing publicly available so far (there may be lots of science projects doing the same thing as us, but they do not normally release their data for public use).

When do the recordings go back to?
Good question! We have been recording birdsong in our woodland for a while, testing different methods and microphones (and we hope to upload them all on to the site soon) but the recordings properly started on 22nd December 2021. A technical glitch meant that we sadly missed the winter solstice, though we do have last year’s winter solstice recording here:

What equipment do you use?
We do not have pots of money, so use low-fi, relatively cheap, tech. We are still testing out the equipment and obviously everything we use has to be waterproof and left out in all weathers all day!

What microphones do you use?
Dawn Chorus recordings are made using a stereo ‘AB’ spaced omni-directional pair technique at approximately 30cm. We use matched pairs’ of Primo EM272 capsules, in a custom mount with custom biasing circuitry. These offer exceptional quality in a price bracket that allows us to leave them out in all weathers.

What pre-amps do you use? Do you use filters? Can you make the birds louder?
Since recordings are for logging of birds and recreational use, rather than for pristine library recordings,  we use budget preamplifiers and converters from Behringer, although this may change in the future. Recordings are 100% natural, no filters, equalisation, compression or AI noise suppression is applied. This was our philosophy from the start, to present what can be heard in a pure and literal sense. The AB microphone technique, spacing and capsule choice assist in this endeavour.

What quality are the recordings? Are higher quality ones available?
At present, mp3 recordings are made at the Youtube bitrate of 160kbps, although in future we aim to increase this to 320kbps for uploaded recordings and to keep a 96k/24-bit lossless wave format archive locally. This will be very costly to maintain due to file size, so we will need to source further funding before it will be possible.

How do you decide what time to start the recordings?
We know that as the days lengthen, the time of the dawn chorus moves substantially; and that dawn and sunrise are two different times each day, and not the same time apart either! (For instance on 1st January, dawn is at 07.31am and sunrise is at 8.20am; whereas on 1st July, dawn is at 04.28am and sunrise is at 05.13am). Not only that, but the time varies from location to location so those times are specific to us! That is why the automation is quite tricky! Dawn Chorus is traditionally defined as starting half an hour before sunrise and continuing for half an hour after sunrise (although the birds do continue to sing for the rest of the day!).

Where can I listen to the live stream?
The live stream is currently running from Youtube though this was not how we originally intended to stream it. Tt is better to listen to it direct from the website. As the recordings get earlier and earlier in the day, the live stream will become less, and less relevant, and so people will be able to hear the recording at a more convenient time by listening later on the website.

Why have you not made the bird song louder in the mix?
Our intention is not to interfere with what mother nature has provided. We are not making ‘glitzy’ polished recordings that have been engineered by a sound recordist, but we are endeavouring to create a daily record of the dawn chorus with as little human interference and interpretation on it as possible! We are also hoping to create an archive of scientifically accurate audio data, so that the only variables are the environment, (not just the weather but human activity too) and the birds themselves. If we start filtering, equalising and changing the sound quality of the recordings it is not a true reflection of what is happening in the real world.

What birds can be heard?
Quite often tawny owls and sometimes screech owls will be heard as dawn occurs. We also regularly hear blue tits, coal tits, long tailed tits, great tits, marsh tits, blackbirds, robins, starlings, wrens, green finches, bullfinches, chaffinches, nuthatches, woodpeckers, magpies, sparrows, dunnocks, mistlethrushes, crows and rooks. In the summer we have swallows and swifts flying overhead. We rarely see gulls unless there is a storm out at sea. Once we have this first location working well, we expect to roll out several other locations in Cornwall all with different habitat, so more types of birds can be heard.

What effect does it have on humans to listen to the dawn chorus each day? There is research that shows that listening to audio recordings of nature, can be just as effective as actually being outside, and birdsong or the sounds of nature can increase happiness and wellbeing by up to 30%.

Other research shows that there is a direct benefit of listening to birdsong is it improves the ability to concentrate. Birdsong works because it’s ‘stochastic’, made up of lots of random sounds. There is no repeating rhythm or pattern to focus on.

Other research by the University of Surrey cites work that observed that ‘a rural soundscape was perceived to be higher in restorative potential than soundscapes from a park or an urban settingPayne (2012) so by recording the ambience of a location (sea, wood, fields) as well as the bird song in it, we think the restorative value of our recordings will be even better than just recording bird song alone. The study goes on to say ‘This suggests that natural sounds may contribute to the restorative experience, perhaps because they signify a living or vital natural environment’.

Launching research with the University of Surrey, The National Trust’s Ecologist Peter Brash says: “Birdsong is one of the most distinctive sounds from the natural world and gives us a warm glow when we hear it. We are all attuned to the need to eat five fruit and vegetables a day or take a 30-minute walk. Taking time out to listen to five minutes of birdsong every day could be as beneficial to our wellbeing.”

Why is Cornwall a special place to record birds?
We anticipate our audience extending to locals, others in the UK, and worldwide who love Cornwall but are unable to travel here, especially at the moment. And we know that during the pandemic there have been constrictions on people’s ability to travel far, even within Cornwall and this can increase the sense of isolation and anxiety. We have very much designed this project to fill the needs of locals and non-locals alike. We think that the Cornish aural landscape is one that deserves to be treasured. ‘A soundscape is the auditory equivalent of a landscape; it is the aural environment that you find yourself surrounded by, no matter where you are. It can be ..the howl of a windswept moor, or a forest’s backdrop of birdsong and water. You might notice ‘soundmarks’: auditory versions of landmarks that help to characterise a location. These sounds can help us form attachments to places because they are part of our sensory experience of what is there.(Birdsong and Place by Eleanor Ratcliffe).

Each place across the British Isles has its own unique soundscape. In years to come as climate change takes hold, this unique sound ‘print’ is going to drastically change. We will lose some bird species altogether, others may strengthen in number, and we may gain other migratory birds as they try to escape hotter or wetter parts of Europe.

What else can scientific analysis of the dawn chorus tell us?
We plan to publish the birdsong we record on a website and have recordings from other stations scattered around Cornwall to hear different bird sounds (by the sea for example), which also provide on-going data for ecologists and others who wish to study the birdsong found in those places over time. Birdsong is widely recognised by scientists as a key indicator for patterns of migration, dialect and ‘Singing behaviour thus is just one focus in the general study of communication in the natural social lives of birds’

If you have any other questions for us, do contact us on the form below and we will do our best to answer them!

References:

Going outdoors helps beat lockdown blues: https://technology.inquirer.net/107199/go-outdoors-to-help-beat-lockdown-blues-says-study

Birdsong and Mental Health study: https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/birdsong-mental-health-wellbeing-study

Bird Sounds and Perceived restoration by Eleanor Ratcliffe Et al: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/804034/1/Ratcliffe%20et%20al.%2C%20in%20press%20-%20Bird%20sounds%20and%20their%20contributions%20to%20perceived%20attention%20restoration%20and%20stress%20recovery.pdf

The production of a Perceived Restorativeness Soundscape Scale. Applied Acoustics Payne, S. https://pure.hw.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/9976552/Payne_The_Production_of_a_Perceived_Restorativeness_Soundscape_Scale._Revised._VERSION_FOR_WEBSITES.pdf

Bird Song Research: The Past 100 Years http://courses.washington.edu/ccab/Baker%20-%20100%20yrs%20of%20birdsong%20research%20-%20BB%202001.pdf

The Surprising Uses for Birdsong https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22298779