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Natural soundscapes

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In the Refuge of a Fern Gully

Birdsong filters through tall eucalypt forest in Australia's eastern highlands.

It is a sunny morning, the day after unsettled weather, and a strong breeze is still moving through trees up on surrounding ridges. But down in the shelter of a narrow gully, among tree ferns and dense shrubs, birds find refuge from the elements. Here, even though there is no running water, the ground is moist and plant growth is dense.

The birdsong heard is typical of these upland forests; golden whistlers, fantails, yellow-faced honeyeaters and grey shrike-thrushes call from the forest midstory. Meanwhile, smaller birds flit among low shrubs; scrub-wrens, spinebills, fairy-wrens and thornbills. From not far off, a superb lyrebird is heard giving a variety of percussive and sonorous vocalisations.

This is a single continuous recording, with an interesting diversity of birdsong and just a little of that ridgetop breeze to give a sense of the landscape.

"On the morning I made this recording, the wind was shoving the treetops around noisily. It wasn't a gale, as it had been on previous days, but it remained a decent strong wind which subdued and obscured any birdsong. I was feeling that the conditions were not advantageous for a good recording.

"Walking around a corner on the track however, I found myself in a small creekline, where the contours of the surrounding ridges gave shelter from the wind. Large tree ferns grew overhead, adding to the protection, and here the birds had congregated to enjoy the sunshine and still air.

"After setting up the microphones, I stood quietly in a patch of sunlight between the tree ferns, and enjoyed the place myself."

The community of bird species heard on this recording is fairly typical of eastern Australia's wetter eucalypt forests. Many species are heard throughout the recording, sometimes closer and at other times more distant. Timings are given for those more notable occasions when the species can be easily recognised.

Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are heard prominently throughout, with their bubbly "chickup, chickup" calls (1.38 … 8.41 … ). A Grey Fantail moves around, giving its high-pitched and tinkley song frequently (… 4.40, 4.48 …).

White-browed Scrubwrens give high contact calls (7.54, 8.01 … 8.22 … 26.35…48.38), which are sometimes difficult to differentiate from those of Brown Thornbills (56.56-57.53, 58.24, 59.23). A family of Superb Fairy-wrens keep in touch with similarly high contact calls (10.30-11.20, 13.41-14.03, 64-66), and the occasional reeling song (46.51).

A Superb Lyrebird calls loudly in the middle distance, mostly giving mechanical, percussive and species calls rather than its well-known imitations (right channel; 3.42 … 12.21-13.55).

Southern Yellow Robins are discernible occasionally, with their distinctive "chap chap" (21.13… 62.31-63.17), while White-throated Treecreepers give a variety of calls, which can be quite ambiguous at times, but here are mostly a short iteration of their characteristic piping (11.32), 45.22), plus short bursts of rapid "wit, wit, wit, wit, wit" (41.37-42.20).

Golden Whistlers sing prominently and repeatedly throughout, with songs often prefaced by a few notes and concluded with a whipcrack (… 15.28 …). The Grey Shrike-thrush is similarly tonal in its vocalising, but its voice has more body and is of slightly lower pitch (12.20, 64.48-65.30), while the Eastern Whipbird has a very characteristic and loud whipcrack (…42.23…).

Others of the honeyeater family heard include Silvereyes, with either a thin 'nee-hee-hee' (6.12, 6.21, 6.26 … ) and trilling singing (27.35-29.50…), Eastern Spinebills with quick piping songs (2.33 … 4.54 … 51.21, 55.32), and a White-naped Honeyeater which is only heard occasionally (2.56).

As the morning birdsong thins out a little, a few additional voices are heard; the alarm call of a European Blackbird nearby (44.16), the distant upslurred whistles of a Shining Bronze Cuckoo (61.59), and a few minutes of soft piping calls from a Spotted Pardalote (66-67.40).

You may also notice there are a few occasions when you can hear two tree branches rubbing together in the breeze.

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