Saturday, 5 January 2008

" Fit's bin gai'n o'wn "*

Happy New Year to all Loxia Fanatics (all two of you).

Not been doing much crossbilling for a variety of reasons, mainly cos the weather has been so crap - high winds and very wet, both not good for recording crossbills even if you can find them. Must have only about a dozen or so decent recordings for December.

I have been doing a bit more ringing ( of non crossbill passerines) in an effort to (finally) get this C permit once and for all. Hopefully, not long to wait now ( hint to my trainer who might be reading this ! ).

Did have 21 Crossbills at a well known local pinewood site last Sunday (30th) and got a freaky excitement call that tested me - it sounded like one type but 'looked' like another. In these instances I go with my ears. Also got an EcC Scottish tooping at the same time and it was interesting to actually hear the differences - see what I mean about using your ears. Flight calls included 2 Fc2's, 1 Fc4 with the remainder of Fc's being what I would class as typical 'pine crossbills'.

An interesting thread on exercising caution in interpreting crossbill sonograms is here on Bird Forum. My advice to wanabee crossbill call experts is to use your ears as much as your eyes - reading sonograms correctly is far more of an art form than an exact science. Many potential errors can be averted by simply listening to your recordings and comparing to library known 'specimen' calls. Okay, I know what you are thinking " fine for you with your finely tuned musicians ears". Well, maybe it helps but it does not substitute for experience in the field - this knowledge and skill has to be earned as much as learned. Humor me with this parable -Two female singers sing the same song, lets say the Theme from the Titanic "My Heart Will Go On" (or something!). One is Kylie Minogue the other is Grace Jones. Okay, could you tell both singers apart ? Maybe even recognise them 'blind' ? You would at least be able to describe a difference even if you hadn't heard either vocalist before. Well, if the answer is "yes" then you should also be able to hear the difference between a Scottish and a Parrot toop and flight call, the difference between a Fc1 and a Fc2 and even the difference between a 'scarce' type and a '1B' type toop. The reason for this is that in telling the difference between Grace and Kylie you are determining the tonal quality and timbre of each singers voice, in essence their 'jizz' in sound ( please don't google "jizz" and "Kylie" in the same search.....I know someone will now !). One has a higher voice the other a sultry lower voice, possibly mezzo sporano versus alto. That explains pitch but within this each singer will be producing different overtones or harmonics that enrichen their tone, or timbre. For more practice watch the new show on tribute acts on BBC1 on Saturdays - did the tribute Rod Stewart sound like the real Rod Stewart ( I didn't think so ! ).

In terms of refining this 'model' it is the same with the classical afficionado being able to recognize the differences between Beethoven and Mozart, whereas to many unfamiliar listeners they may sound the same. Each composer has different stylistic characteristics, or 'habits', that are made up of many things including form, harmony, melody and rhythm ( as well as orchestration). Well crossbill calls also have form ( to a degree) and certainly have meter.

These are all things that can be determined by the best recording hardware you can ever hope to own: your ears and brain. Sonograms merely provide us with a photographic 'snapshots' of sound events and allow us to classify and order them based on their differences and similarities. They also allow scientists to quantify and verify (or have verified) their data sets.

Philosophy lecture over. Where else can you have crossbills, Kylie and the Theme from the Titanic ? Promise some nice recordings and maybe piccies from tommorrows crossbill hunt. Hopefully an eagle or two as well......meantime go use those ears !

*Doric translation: "What has been happening"

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