I used to chase after birds with a parabolic reflector, trying to get the closest and cleanest recordings possible. The idea was to to “slice the bird out of its environment,” so that only one singer would be heard in the recording, with minimal reverberation. I lost interest in this rather sterile approach a number of years ago, even though such recordings have their place in identification guides and are clearly useful for scientific analysis. Now I primarily record soundscapes which include the sounds of a variety of species, usually with no one individual dominating a recording. Nonetheless, I still have an interest in gathering nice “species portraits,” recordings that emphasize the sounds made by an individual bird, but that include a spacious soundscape backdrop.
For example, consider the following recording of an American Robin singing excitedly at dawn, which I made in 1995 (back in the early days!) in the Adirondack Mountains of upper New York State. I find it pleasing in most respects. It emphasizes the robin, but there are plenty of other sounds spread across a wide soundscape. Listen especially for the whistles of White-throated Sparrows, the two-parted high-pitched songs of a Nashville Warbler, and lots of Mink Frogs giving their tapping calls from a nearby wetland:
American Robin dawn song, with White-throated Sparrow and Mink Frogs. Dawn, 15 June 1995. Recorded by Lang Elliott.
Do you like it? As far as “species portraits” go, I think this one rates fairly high. The robin’s song doesn’t rattle the ear (like most closeup robin recordings do), yet it stands out clearly against the busy background. I’m biased for sure, but I can’t help but crow a bit about this species portrait.