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The Microphone You Already Own

The Microphone You Already Own

Nine days ago, Eric Ripma found an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush singing on territory in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota.  Assuming the bird is wild and arrived under its own power, it is furnishing a jaw-dropping record — only the third north of the Mexican border, apparently, over 1200 miles farther north than the species has ever been known to venture before.  (See Doug Backlund’s photos here.)

Right now I’m in a hotel in Newcastle, Wyoming, on a trip to chase the Nightingale-Thrush, but that’s not why I felt it was blogworthy.  Rather, I wanted to call attention to a blog entry by somebody else who saw the bird a few days ago.  Cyrus Moqtaderi’s post is mostly about the guilty pleasures of chasing rare birds,  but with a passing remark he sent a shiver down my spine:

I made a few rudimentary audio recordings with my camera’s microphone

Cyrus posted some of this audio to his blog; click on the link above and listen to his recording.  Considering that it was the audio track of a video made with what he called a “dinky point and shoot camera,” it’s really quite excellent.  It’s not going to win any awards from snobby audiophiles, but for the purpose of documenting a sound heard in the field, it’s surprisingly good.

These days, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of birders own a camera capable of taking a short video with an audio track.  That is to say, most birders own a camera with a microphone in it.

That bears repeating: most birders own a microphone.

On a weekly basis, people write me asking for my recommendations when it comes to a cheap starting kit for recording bird sounds.  Also on a weekly basis, I’ve receive mystery bird sounds sent to me for identification in camera-recorded videos.  It took me until now to realize that the second phenomenon might provide a partial answer to the first.  Maybe they won’t produce high-definition audio, but if even half of birders’ digital cameras have the power to match what Cyrus’s camera did, then these built-in camera recordings could help to fill a key gap in Joe Birder’s toolbox.

My ability to identify bird sounds mushroomed when I began recording audio.  There’s something about listening to a recording that you yourself made in the field that really helps set the mental glue, so to speak.  For this purpose, a camera video would work just as well as an expensive parabolic microphone.  Granted, it may not be the most efficient use of your memory card, but then memory’s cheap nowadays, isn’t it?  At the end of the day, if you’re really interested in audio, then by all means buy a recorder — the Olympus VN-5200PC is hard to beat for the price — but if you’re in the field for other reasons and find yourself in sudden need of an audio capture,  remember your camera.  It may be good for more than just boring old visuals.

Wish me luck on that Nightingale-Thrush!