Desert Waterhole

At 1800h local time I fixed a Sennheiser MKH 8040/30 middle and side rig against a sun bleached log by the edge of a small muddy pool. This was the only surface water I could find on the floor of a steep sided valley formed by the ephemeral river Kuiseb on the western fringe of the Namib desert in Namibia, southwest Africa.

Covering the windshield with green camouflage scrim I ran a stereo mike cable back 100m to my hide which was perched by a stony outcrop on the valley side, from here I could observe from a distance and record in close up. But not just yet.

I tested the mikes, sealed off the connector with tape and retired to camp as darkness crept over the dunes.

At 0300h I returned to the site, easily finding my way under clear star bright skies. There was no light or noise pollution here at this time and the effects were startling. In the absolute desert stillness the starscape fills the sky from horizon to horizon and the sense of quietness was massive.

I could hear very little, occasionally the micro sounds of scurrying beetles and small rodents. However my first recording at 0330h picked up the very distant hoot of a spotted eagle owl (Bubo africanus) far off down the gorge, over 1Km away. Much closer, amongst the stones and sand by the mikes, barking geckos (Ptenopus garrulous) would occasionally call from the mouth of their burrows.


By 0800h with the sun and temperature rising in a cloudless sky groups of Namaqua sandgrouse (Pterocles namaqua)  were landing around the mikes to drink then dipping their breast feathers into the pool. These birds collect water in their feathers and return to give their nestlings a drink. A round trip at this site of over 40Kms.


After two hours of burning heat the birds, and myself, have had enough. The sandgrouse disperse and I recover the mikes after recording a day time finale and chorus from a myriad species of flies.


Three very different recordings with the same set up, in the same place separated simply by time.

Chris Watson

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