I was lucky enough to be able to visit Extramadura, Spain in May 2009 as part of a group of wildlife sound recordists. The scenery is breathtaking and it is a real haven for a huge variety of wildlife. Much of the time was spent in wooded hills recording everything from larks, to thrushes to warblers with the occasional barks of Red Deer. Thanks to a local contact we were able to gain permission to access certain parts of the national park in the early morning.
Probably the most frustrating bird to record was the Woodchat Shrike. The singing males we found were very fond of signing just before an aircraft made itself known through the rumble of its engines. I think it is quite possible that the rumble elicited song on many occasions (it is certainly my experience of recording flocks of wintering geese – aircraft and flocks of geese taking to flight seem intimately linked!). If it wasn’t an aircraft that ‘invaded’ the recording it was a Corn Bunting. I eventually made a reasonable recording but just as it was starting to rain, so you can hear the occasional drops of water hitting my microphone windshield on this recording in which the Woodchat Shrike is accompanied by a distant Corn Bunting. The only mimicry I could identify was that of a Red-legged Partridge which were present in the area.
A species which I think has a truly lovely song is the Woodlark and I was fortunate to find myself standing underneath one as it sang from a cloudless sky in the early morning – an hour or so before first light with little background noise (apart from the occasional chicken and a Blackbird). Here is an excerpt from that early morning session.
In the same area and again well before first light I came across a Cetti’s Warbler. Unlike those I am familiar with in the UK this individual sang almost continuously (rather than giving out one burst of song every few minutes), through with only a partial song for much of the time. An excerpt from the recording is here which illustrates both the partial song and the full song.
Towards dawn, the soundstage was dominated by Nightingales. These birds are comparatively uncommon in the UK but on the European mainland they seem to be everywhere. In fact many a good recording of a less ‘vocal’ bird has been spoilt for me by the sudden intrusion of a nightingale which seems to bully its way into the soundstage. Never-the-less he does have a very sweet song. Here’s an short burst – mind your ears!
Another crepuscular species that was common-place was the Crested Lark. Besides the beautiful Woodlark, I only encountered three other species of lark in Extramadura: Calandra Lark, Crested Lark and Thecla’s Lark. Here are short recordings of each and I hope I have got the identifications correct!
What you’ll notice in all of them is the background jangle of sheep bells, sheep were everywhere and constantly accompanied by an almost musical jingle jangle of bells.
On several evening we made a trip to a colony of white storks. To avoid disturbance I recorded from under an embankment by a main road. Fortunately, the main road wasn’t that busy and although many recordings were ruined by passing cars, there were one or two sections where cars were absent and the calls of adults, their greeting bill clacking and the relaxed ‘snoozing’ noises of young in the next were just about the only sounds to break the silence. Here’s a short excerpt – which took many recording sessions to get!
One morning I came across a small group of inquisitive cattle in a field just next to the track I was on. One of them made some fantastic lowing noises with a superb echo. Unfortunately, the lowing coincided with the passing of a distant car which so far I’ve been unable to filter out.