In search of birders and birdsong

29 May – 1 June 2013

Bird list for artist residency at Ricklundgården and surrounding areas of Northern Sweden, 14 May - 2 June 2013

Bird list for artist residency at Ricklundgården and surrounding areas of Northern Sweden, 14 May – 2 June 2013

My artist residency at Ricklundgården is coming to a close and I feel very lucky to have been able to experience the beautiful and tranquil surroundings. Ive had the support of Gerd the Chairman of the Emma Ricklund Foundation, who has been active in finding several opportunities for me to record birdsong, in various locations (recommended by fellow birders), and even meet with a bird watching mother and son duo.

The gardens at Ricklundgården- can you spot the frog?

The gardens at Ricklundgården- can you spot the frog?

The sound recordings Ive gathered from the gardens at Ricklundgården and the lake demonstrate the soundscape of just one small area, so when Gerd suggested I go to other places where there were ‘happy birds’, I couldn’t possibly refuse!

The first location was Kultsjöluspen; a stunning small area with several lakes and an island in the centre of dense woodland. It wasn’t the easiest place to get to, because there was no pathway, so I clambered through the woods and over the rocks and ice (which would normally be hidden by the lake), to get to the perfect spot to start recording the sound of the landscape.

The beautiful surroundings of Kultsjöluspen

The beautiful surroundings of Kultsjöluspen

Listen to: Bramblings and Redshank, 1.33 mins

Ricklundgården’s museum tour guide and gardener, Annmari kindly offered to take me along to Klimpfjäll, where she was gathering and preparing wood to build a fence for her horses. Along with other birds Annmari had witnessed the sound of the Great snipe, a bird with a long bill that opens and closes it quickly to attract a mate and to defend its territory, unfortunately there were no Great Snipes this time. The three locations she had in mind included the area near her old house beside the lake, a narrow small road with rows of houses opposite the mountains, where the rare Polyglot bird (I couldn’t even find a link for this bird!) had once been spotted (and all of Scandinavia’s birders had lined up to take a peek, including Annmari) and last but not least the Stekeujokk mountain, which had many streams and natural waterfalls, so gathering sound recordings of birds was difficult here!

Stekeujokk mountain featuring the sing-off between two make Bramblings

Stekeujokk mountain featuring the sing-off between two make Bramblings

Annimari and Therese having lunch with their dog Larsson beside the lake in Vielmesmakke, Klimpfjäll

Annimari and Therese having lunch with their dog Larsson beside the lake in Vielmesmakke, Klimpfjäll

Listen to: Coal tit, Carrion crow and Willow warbler, 2.20 mins

Listen to: Song thrush, Brambling and Willow warbler, 20 secs

Listen to: Brambling sing-off (between two males), 51 secs

On my walk back down the mountain I heard two male Bramblings, one singing from the left and the other from the right, repeatedly mimicking each other’s song in quick succession. I found some research on Wrens which sounded familiar to the singing battle I’d heard with the Bramblings… Burt and Vehrencamp’s research for Cornell Science Laboratory, have shown that Banded Wrens are listening and responding to one another, sending out purposeful and dynamic messages to multiple neighbours. Furthermore, males used different song types to match different neighbours in rapid succession, evidence that they were communicating in a network, rather than broadcasting songs indiscriminately. The results were published in Animal Communication Networks (Cambridge University Press). 

Both Gerd and I were keen for me to meet with others who had a passion for birding, so she arranged for me to meet with Inga and her son Nils to talk about the birds they regularly see and hear in Laxbäcken. I hopped on a bus and about an hour later I was meeting them in a car park outside a school (that would be dodgy if I was at home, but not in Sweden!)

Inga and Nils were passionate about birds and keen to share their years of experience and knowledge, we walked to a few areas along the road and already we were hearing the song of blackcaps and Curlews circling the marshy lake; a common stop off point for migrating birds to refuel before carrying on with their journey. Close-by was a bird watching tower, where I spotted a pair of cranes, a great position to spot birds, but not so great to record their sounds, because of the busy roads with tractors and large vehicles carrying timber.

Bird watching tower where I spotted Cranes, Curlews and Common terns

Bird watching tower where I spotted Cranes, Curlews and Common terns

Listen to: Corn bunting, Carrion crow, Willow warbler, Great tit and Chaffinch, 1.30 mins

Listen to: The Curlew, 1.22 mins

Listen to: Siskin, Coal tit, Brambling and Willow warbler, 1.31 mins

I’d been saving exploring Satsfjället mountain, nearest to Ricklundgården until the last week of my residency, Annmari very kindly drove me to the foot of the mountain, the path leading there was much longer than I thought (I know this because I walked back!) Not being a regular trekker/mountain climber I didnt think to look for a trail to follow, so I just started to climb (clambering with my sound recording equipment), and just over half way I spotted an orange dot on a rock and it dawned on me that this climb could have been so much easier! Watching in disbelief as another (much cleverer) climber skipped along the pathway and trying to forget that I had just dodged trees, rocks and streams on my way up! I climbed to the top (thanks to the orange dots) and was rewarded by two sightings of the same Ptarmigan, (which I thought was a Grouse) who didnt fly away at first, but just ran a little and tutted at me! On my way down I was so focused on where my feet were going that I didnt notice a small herd on reindeer laying on a patch on snow basking in the sun, I used my dads binoculars to see them up close, but they soon spotted me and scarpered. When I was close to the bottom of the mountain, I had another (lucky) sighting of the reindeer, which meant that I could take a photograph! As you can imagine capturing sound recordings on a mountain was either very quiet or very windy, but as well as putting a hole in my sock after a 6 hour expedition, I managed to capture a very quiet recording of the Cuckoo, but the recording of the Capercaillie was too quiet, so click the link to listen on the RSPB website.

I made it to the top of Satsfjället mountain!

I made it to the top of Satsfjället mountain!

The tutting Black Grouse spotted twice whilst making my way up the mountain

The tutting Black Grouse spotted twice whilst making my way up the mountain

Reindeer coming down the mountain

Reindeer coming down the mountain

Listen to: The Cuckoo (a very quiet recording, so grab some headphones!), 35 secs

The (very simple!) map Ive created featuring all the locations Ive explored to capture bird song in northern Sweden.

The (very simple!) map Ive created featuring all the locations Ive explored to capture bird song in northern Sweden.

My final birding list (see image at the top of the page) at the end of the 3- week artist residency totals 24 birds (‘H’ stands for heard and ‘S’ for seen). Whilst I was communicating with staff at Ricklundgården about my bird sightings and sounds, I was learning more about what the name of each bird was in Swedish. The bird names sounded so much more exotic when Gerd (Chairman of Ricklundgården) said them, so I asked her to read the list, (which totalled 18 at the time, so up to ‘crane’ on the final list) whilst I took a sound recording. Along with Gerd’s sound recording, I took a another recording where I recite the bird list, so that the layered tracks work as an English-Swedish translation. The second recording of Gerd was taken outside my studio in the garden and features her reciting the names of birds as quickly as she could, I like how it sounds like many birds singing and calling all at once, similar to the dawn chorus.

Gerd reciting the names on my bird list outside my studio

Gerd reciting the names on my bird list outside my studio

Listen to: Gerd and Lucy reciting the bird list in Swedish and English, 36 secs

Listen to: Gerd reciting the bird list quickly outside the studio, 15 secs

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Bird migration, dawn chorus and the Swedish weather

25 – 28 May 2013

Recording the sounds of the birds at sunset at 11pm at Ricklundgården

Recording the sounds of the birds at sunset at 11pm at Ricklundgården

Migration is a seasonal movement, where many birds fly thousands of miles from north to south between breeding and wintering grounds to survive, in response to changes in food availability, habitat, or weather. Birds navigate (mostly at night) using cues from the sun and stars, mental maps and the earth’s magnetic field (research suggests birds can see the magnetic field of the earth). Flying in large flocks reduces the risk of predation, although there is still the risk of being hunted for food by birds of prey and mammals, including humans. Structures such as power lines and wind farms are a threat to migrating birds because they act as dangerous obstructions at night. Habitat destruction to wetlands that are stopover (where birds stop for food/drink and to rest) and wintering sites are threatened by draining and reclamation for human use.

There are approaches to identify migration intensity, from using upward pointing microphones to record the nocturnal contact calls of flocks flying overhead, to measure time, frequency and species… and my favourite older technique involves observing the face of the moon and counting the silhouettes of flocks of birds as they fly at night. Isn’t that great? An approach I might take on!

This is a great map to demonstrate bird migration by gardenbird.co.uk, it includes the Willow warbler’s migration from the UK to the Ivory coast and Ghana on the West coast of Africa. The Fieldfare flying to the UK from Scandinavia and Russia. The Brambling flying to the UK from North and North Eastern Europe. It doesn’t include the Chaffinch or Great tit who don’t migrate (apart from those in colder regions in the winter), and are widespread and familiar throughout Europe, with the Great tit also present in the Middle East, Central and Northern Asia, and parts of North Africa.

Bird migration map by gardenbird.co.uk

Bird migration map by gardenbird.co.uk

So that’s a little about bird migration, but what happens when those birds stop off or arrive at their final destination? Ive recorded the sound of the dawn chorus (when birds sing at the start of a new day), and in Ricklundgården sunrise starts at 3am, and I can hear birds either defending a breeding territory or trying to attract a mate. Ive compared this sound recording of birds, to another taken on the same day at sunset at 11pm.

The first three sound recordings (taken at 3am), feature the following birds singing and calling: Willow warbler, Brambling, Great tit, Fieldfare and Chaffinch. The recordings demonstrate a timescale of just 20 minutes, revealing how quickly the ‘chorus’ of singing comes to an end.

The track ‘Dawn chorus part 3’ features one prominent bird- the Fieldfare, with the occasional call from the Brambling and Willow warbler in the background. All of the Dawn chorus sound recordings are surprisingly quiet in comparison to the dawn chorus back home in Leicester, this could be due to the fact that it never really gets dark at this time of year in Northern Sweden, so the birds are singing constantly throughout the day or that most of the migrating birds have made their journey south or possibly some havent returned home north yet.

I took another sound recording at sunset (11pm) to capture the sound of the birds singing, and again this incredibly quiet track revealed just the Willow warbler singing on its own.

Listen to: Dawn chorus part 1, 4.18 mins

Listen to: Dawn chorus part 2, 5.12 mins

Listen to: Dawn chorus part 3, 1.56 mins

Listen to: Birds at sunset, 2 mins

This is a short quotation from Donald Kroodsma’s book: The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong. This short paragraph briefly covers the different ways in which birds learn their song.

Ten thousand species strong, their voices and styles are as diverse as they are delightful. Some species learn their songs, just as we humans learn to speak, but others seem to leave nothing to chance, encoding the details of songs in their DNA. Of those that learn, some do so only in early life, some throughout life; some from their fathers, some from eventual neighbours … some only from their own kind, some mimicking other species as well. Some birds have thousands of different songs, some only one, and some even none …”

Funny weather we’re having!

To talk about the weather is a very British pastime, but… the weather in Ricklundgården in Northern Sweden has changed dramatically since I arrived. The landscape has altered in just over a week, starting with the garden covered in a blanket of thick snow, a frozen lake and some light drizzle to full-on glorious sunshine, quickly melting away the snow, thawing out the lake and making my arms and face red with sun burn.

To mark this unbelievably quick change in weather, Ive capturing the sound of the ice melting at the edge of the (still partially frozen) lake in Ricklundgården, using two hydrophones (under water microphones).

Hydrophones used to capture the sound of the ice melting at the edge of the lake at Ricklundgården

Hydrophones used to capture the sound of the ice melting at the edge of the lake at Ricklundgården

Listen to: Duo drumming, 3.06 mins

The ‘Duo drumming’ recording was taken from a small hole in the side of the rock face that had ice cold water dripping directly onto the hydrophones, creating a continuous beat, almost like two musicians playing together.

Listen to: Pouring ice cold water, 5.03 mins

The ‘Pouring ice cold water’ recording was taken from another hole in the side of the rock face near the frozen lake edge in Ricklundgården. It features the sound of the ice melting and water gushing on to the hydrophones.

Listen to: Under ice, 56 secs

The ‘Under ice’ recording demonstrates the sound of ice melting in the garden at Ricklundgården, with a gentle trickle of water rolling down the hill and across the hydrophones.

Drawing birdsong using natural objects

21 – 24 May 2013

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In my last post I used Raven, a sonogram software to visualise the sound recordings of birds at Ricklundgården, as I was keen to incorporate the idea of pitch and time (the measurements on the sonogram), to enhance the accuracy of my drawings to reflect a composition of birdsong. However, I found that instead of inspiring and enhancing the drawings, the sonograms took away all spontaneity from the drawing, which is usually created in response to a sound recording of birds in my studio and sometimes on-site. Looking at the sonogram for inspiration to develop my drawing almost felt like I was cheating, as if I didnt have to invent a symbol for individual birdsong, because I had a scientific answer right in front of me. Whilst I appreciate the sonogram software, for its accuracy and ability to visualise sound, I wont be using it to structure my drawings, but as an addition to assist with learning birdsong.

During this residency, I have investigated a range of media to represent the sound of birdsong, from using pen, pencil and charcoal on paper, whilst responding to sound recordings of birds or listening and drawing on-site; to using printing methods with ash and drawing ink, charcoal rubbings and installation and using natural objects to explore further the individual symbol/s assigned to each bird and its voice.

Starting with very basic printmaking, which I have to thank my mum for, because she posted the printing roller, perspex, watercolour paper and newsprint (because my suitcase was too heavy!) Ive created prints using natural objects, such as leaves, twigs, lichen and feathers with ash (from the fire) mixed with water. Then I created prints with drawing ink and used the natural objects again, but this time to create the shape of the symbols (to represent each birdsong and call) for this composition: ‘Ricklundgården birdsong’. 

Brown drawing ink prints symbols of birdsong _edited-1Two leaves and feather and hair ash print_edited-1

I have a whole studio space to myself, so it would be silly for me to just stick to the size of my sketchbooks and not venture outside of A4 and A3. Ive been collecting natural objects from the surrounding gardens everyday and they have been used for printmaking, but this time I wanted to actually use the objects to create an installation, that could represent all or part of the composition ‘Ricklundgarden birdsong’. The pin board in my studio was perfect to use as a blank canvas, so I pinned and blue tacked twigs, leaves, feathers and grasses to the board, using a drawing of the composition to help structure the shape of the objects, to look like the birdsong symbols.

Final_edited-1

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When I was capturing sound recordings at the edge of the frozen lake, I found a handful of fine white down feathers, which belong to either a goose or eider. These feathers are positioned underneath the vaned feathers, and are fluffy because they lack barbicels, so the barbules float free of each other, allowing the down to trap air and provide excellent thermal insulation. As you may or may not be aware these feathers are sometimes used in expensive bedding and winter clothing and the practice of removing these feathers is not always a nice one. I don’t want to go in detail about the shocking methods that The Down Feather Industry have been accused of by PETA, who encourages shoppers not to buy down feather products, but to check labels for synthetic down or polyester fill.

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The down feathers are incredibly light and delicate, and its hard to keep them in one place because the slightest breeze can move them. To keep the feathers together I tied cotton around each one and hung them up in the window of my studio. In the evening I noticed a shadow and decided to do shadow drawings, using a sheet of paper in the window of my studio and a variety of media- the charcoal drawings where my favourite, but even the tiny amount of heat generated from the torch was enough to send the feathers spinning, so some of the drawings illustrate a lot of movement.

Down feather charcoal drawings_edited-1

I seem to have got through more paper than I thought and was running low so, Gerd, Chairman for Ricklundgården had kindly offered to find me some larger thin paper, to create rubbings. Using willow and compressed charcoal I tested all the natural objects from the garden, and was surprised when the down feathers came out really clear, with fine detail including floating barbules (hair-like floaty parts), and simple clean organic lines from the rachis (middle part), which could be bent and folded into any position.

IMG_1310_edited-1Final charcoal down feathers_edited-1

Birdsong sonograms

18 – 20 May

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The birds at Ricklundgården now have a little help finding food in such snowy conditions, so far Ive seen Great tits, Blue tits and Greenfinch feeding on the peanuts and fat ball that are located outside the back window of my studio and kitchen. Providing food for birds is particularly important in winter, as the RSPBs birdwatch results (taken in Jan 2012) show a decrease in some of the UK’s best-loved bird species.

Ive explored the areas surrounding Ricklundgården and taken sound recordings from outside my studio, inside the giant tree house, the woods and the edge of the frozen lake. Ive identified the following birds in the two recordings below; Brambling, Carrion crow, Fieldfare and Willow Warbler (I did think there were more birds, but after listening and comparing with a bird CD, it seemed that the birds Id heard had quite a varied repertoire, in particular the fieldfare with its high pitched chattering and squawking!) Fieldfares seem to be fairly common here, Ive seen at least one pair everyday so far, Ive also heard (but not seen) Willow warblers.

Fieldfares are on the RSPBs red list and Willow warblers on the amber list, because the UK breeding population has declined considerably. The Brambling looks very much like a Stonechat (the poor fella that flew in to the studio window, then flew off). Its difficult to distinguish between the two because they are a similar size, and when male Bramblings are breeding their head and bill turn black, just like the Stonechats! (Nobody said identifying birds was going to be easy!) Unfortunately the bird expert is unable to meet with me, so Im continuing to teach myself as I go along!

Listen to Ricklundgården Birdsong: Fieldfares, Bramblings, Carrion crows and Willow warblers, 2.41 mins (first recording) and 2.32 mins (second recording) 

Birdsing drawing with ink wash background_edited-1

This sketchbook drawing with ink wash background (above) was created in the studio, when listening back to the first sound recording (above). Ive created an identification register (below), to represent the vocals for the birds featured in both sound recordings.

Whilst Im still learning how to identify birds and their songs, I find it easier to remember which bird makes what sound/s by giving each song and call a visual representation, just as a sonogram or spectrogram does. However my visual interpretation of bird vocalisation is purely responsive and not measured like a sonogram. Although I can see some similarities between my symbols and most of the sonograms, in terms of the shape and pitch of the note.

Recording bird calls and using their sonograms to study species is an important technique used by field studies teams, its also a great way to see a visual representation of birdsong that can be interpreted, measured and compared to help learn and recognise calls. A sonogram is a representation of a sound with frequency (pitch) on the y-axis vs. time on the x-axis. Sonograms allow us to examine sounds (including sound that is above and below our hearing range). The sonogram is read from left to right and vibrant coloured areas are loud and faint ones soft, and in greyscale the louder areas will be darker. The higher the pitch of a note the higher up the display and vice versa. A note which starts as high on the left and ends as a lower note on the right, is descending in pitch and a note which starts low on the left and ends high on the right, is rising in pitch. 

Ricklandgarden bird ID register with symbol

Ricklandgarden bird ID register with symbol

Ive used Raven Lite, a free software program to create a sonogram for all birds that feature on both recordings. If we compare the Brambling sonogram with the first Fieldfare sonogram, we can see that its pitch is low, and more concentrated in one place, creating a distinctive pattern that occurs less often than the other bird calls, due to its metallic loud call. The Fieldfare recording reaches a higher pitch and volume then any other (probably keeping those pesky predators away), with each note rising quickly in pitch and then quickly starting again. Screeches are often represented as a ‘smear’, spaced close together to create a rattle. The second Fieldfare sonogram represents a combination of quickly repeated notes, that are stacked on top of each other, some appear fuzzy to reflect ‘buzzy’ notes. This creates a complex chattery, squeaky call with a variation of pitch and volume. The Willow warbler sonogram shows a combination of notes descending in pitch, but at the same volume. The Carrion crow sonogram shows concentrated patches of notes, (similar to the Brambling), but spaced more closely and drawn out in a low nasal sounding pitch to represent the crows cawing.

Listen to: The Brambling call (mono) (The sonogram software will only ‘read’ recordings in mono.) 

Brambling sonogram with a low pitch and metallic note

Brambling sonogram with a low pitch and metallic note

Listen to: The Fieldfare alarm call (mono)

Fieldfare reaches the highest pitch, with a distinctive 'smear' to demonstrate rattling notes

Fieldfare reaches the highest pitch, with a distinctive ‘smear’ to demonstrate rattling notes

Listen to: The Fieldfare chatter (mono)

Fieldfare chatter is shown by a combination of repeated stacked notes

Fieldfare chatter is shown by a combination of repeated stacked notes

Listen to: The Willow warbler song (mono)

Willow warbler song shows a combination of notes descending in pitch

Willow warbler song shows a combination of notes descending in pitch

Listen to: The Carrion crow caw (mono)

Carrion crow caw is drawn out for a longer duration as a low pitch nasal sound

Carrion crow caw is drawn out for a longer duration as a low pitch nasal sound

Danger window warning signs

16 – 17 May 2013

Warning sign drawings for Stonechat_edited-1

Following on from the Stonechat’s collision with the large studio window (and its full recovery), Ive created a series of alternative ‘Danger window’ warning signs for birds, using ink and charcoal, which feature an interpretation of the Stonechat’s song. The drawings are contained within a triangle or circle to reflect traffic warning or no entry signs, to indicate potential hazards or obstacles. The middle drawing (above) features a magnetic field to demonstrate some birds ability to perceive not only the visible range but also the ultraviolet, polarised light and magnetic fields. 

IMG_0519Blue ink drawings using natural objects_edited-1

Most birds collide with windows because they see a reflection of the sky and trees in the glass, or because there is another window or mirror in the room making the bird think there is a way through. Im happy to say that since the incident there haven’t been any other birds colliding with the studio window.

Fire ash and pine cone drawing_edited-1

Ive got a collection of natural objects that Ive found in the surroundings of Ricklundgarden and have used them to create prints to reflect a flock of birds, using ash from the open fire (which looks like mud in the above image) and blue drawing ink. These prints were created with a pine cone (using fire ash) and a small branch from a pine tree and nitrogen sensitive lichen from a birch tree, (with blue drawing ink).

A close call for the Stonechat (actually a Brambling!)

15 May 2013

Prevent bird window strikes with Stonechat symbol_edited-1

Flinging open the curtains to start the day, I could see a group of Stonechats (*later realising that this was a group of Bramblings*) in the tree through the small window at the back of my studio… although, I didnt know for sure if they were Stonechats or Coal tits, so I grabbed my binoculars and bird book, just as I was figuring it all out I heard a thump against the large studio window. You guessed it, a male Stonechat had hit the window and was out cold on the ground, then it happened again with a juvenile- although this story has a happy end for both birds, who eventually recovered and flew away. I felt it was only right to create something to go on to the window, to make sure that no other birds were injured (even if it did mean obscuring a perfect view).

Stonechat_edited-1

I hadn’t heard the Stonechat song, so I listened to it on the RSPB website (as the name suggests, its sharp loud call sounds like two stones being tapped together). I listened a few times and then drew a symbol to represent its voice.

Danger window warning and Stonechat song in fire ash_edited-2

The Stonechats had left a small mark where they collided with the window, it was a very faint mark almost like dust. The open fire has a pile of ash that Ive been wanting to draw with, I sieved the ash over a piece of perspex and with the Stonechat symbol in mind, I drew in the ash with a ruler and pencil. Adding a triangle around the symbol to signify a traffic warning sign and ‘Fara fönster!’ (the Swedish translation for ‘Danger window’.) I did a few more drawings by clearing the ash and sprinkling it on again, including an interpretation of the Stonechat sound recording on the RSPB’s website. This idea was then used to create my own anti-window strikes (above), complete with charcoal feather wings and Stonechat symbol, as a warning not to fly in to the window again!

Settling in to the summer house

14 May 2013

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After a bit of a hiccup (missing the connecting flight to Vilhelmina because the flight from Copenhagen was delayed and terminal 3 at Stockholm airport is a world away from arrivals!) The lovely people at Scandinavian Airlines couldn’t tell me where my luggage was (turns out it was in Vilhelmina where I should have been!) To make up for the missed flight and not being able to locate my luggage, they booked me into the Clarion hotel, the entrance felt like a gallery, with stylish brightly coloured woven bean bags, LED sculptures and striking photography. I was given an overnight bag, free dinner and my room had a walk-in shower- wow wee!

I arrived at Ricklundgården in Northern Sweden today to start a 3-week artist residency to create a series of drawings, digital prints and sound recordings, in response to bird song. Gerd, Chairman of Ricklundgården (who has been super supportive) greeted me and took me food shopping, I went a little crazy (I was really hungry) and managed to spend nearly £70 on food for 3 weeks! That kind of shop at Asda would be less than half that amount! No Asda in Ricklundgården though.

After putting my expensive food shopping away, I rearranged the studio and unpacked into a space that used to be the summer house for Emma Ricklund, later on it became part of an inn, frequented by artists. A foundation was set up in 1972 after Emma died in 1965, requesting in her will to continue to support artists by providing a space for them. Around the summer house there are original items and antique furniture, including an open fireplace, a painted plaque with ‘Emma’ written on it, lampshade, cushions and a shot gun (Im sure its not loaded!)

Its raining so I cant go out and record sound, but I can record from inside. Ive set up an easel next to the window in the studio, so I can listen to the birds and create some responsive drawings. It starts hailing and its difficult to hear the birds, so the marks Ive made with willow charcoal are very subtle (see drawings above). I choose to enlarge some of the symbols used for birdsong to take a closer look at the shape, and plan to develop a more in depth approach to visualising birdsong, using sonogram software to look at speed, tone, pitch, direction and pattern.

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When the rain has gone (almost), I jump outside and look for the best place to sit and record birdsong, there is still snow on the ground in some places and some patches are deep- nearly up to my knee! I find a giant tree house with tree trunk legs to shelter from the drizzle (and protect my new microphones), I recognise some birdsong, but not all- Im going to need an expert! The mono printing materials had to be left at home because they were too heavy, but I still want to use natural objects print with so Ive collected leaves, twigs, tree lichens (nitrogen sensitive and nitrogen loving), grass, sand and stones.

This sound recording (using the A/B recording technique with a coat hanger), was captured today in the rain from under the giant tree house.

Listen to Under the giant tree house, 2.46 mins

Swedish adventure

30 March 2013

A selection from the bird vocalisation identification register

A selection from the bird vocalisation identification register

Just six weeks to go until Im on my way to Saxnäs, Northern Sweden for a 3-week artist residency at Ricklundgården where I will create a series of drawings in response to birdsong, in a studio directly above a bird migration path. Working in collaboration with local bird expert Rune Andersson, I will identify local birds to create on-site responsive drawings and studio drawings (whilst listening to sound recordings of birds). Ive already created some drawings from birdsong heard at Castle Gardens in Leicester and compared on-site and studio drawings on my main blog.

Rather than sketching the appearance of a bird, these drawings will interpret the tone, pitch, direction, speed and pattern of bird vocalisation, as did Czech visual artist Olga Karlíková in her work ‘Audible landscapes’. Olga kept a register to identify birds and created a symbol for each bird, so that this could be used when interpreting the sounds of birds through drawing. The register that I have put together only has 12 symbols so far, (the image shows a selection of these 12), but this will grow as I encounter and identify more birds, particularly with the support of ornithologists and local bird experts. The drawings will be developed into digital images (see a work in progress here) through various mediums, including pencil, pen, charcoal, ink and twigs and mono printing.