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Natural soundscapes

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Highland Rain - Papua New Guinea

A gentle rainstorm begins in a highland cloudforest.

It is late afternoon, and the mists swirling through the treetops are building to rain. At first, there is just a spattering of raindrops, but the precipitation grows and is soon falling steadily. The background whisper grows to a pervasive hiss, emanating from the folliage above as rain lands on the canopy and then falls, spattering off leaves and onto the forest floor.

After a while, the rain subsides, leaving the forest soaked and residual moisture still falling from overhead. With the quiet, birdsong returns.

And not just any birdsong. This recording was made in the high cloudforests of New Guinea, and many of the species you can hear are found nowhere else on the planet.

So prepare for a soaking in this unique environment.

"Recording rain authentically is a challenge. The first problem is that its wet, and electrical equipment really doesn't like 100% humidity. Audio recorders are usually fairly robust, and can be tucked away in a bag. But microphones need to be open to the environment, and are far more sensitive. The majority of them can't handle tropical conditions, let alone full on rain - they snap and fizzle badly. The microphones I use (Sennheiser MKH8020s) perform perfectly in extremes of weather, as this recording demonstrates.

"The second problem is that water drops hit things - like microphones - with a Thunk! The challenge is to shelter the microphones in a way that keeps direct rainfall off them, but allows open exposure to all the subtle sounds of water hitting leaves and the forest floor. Man-made materials, like plastic sheets, are useless because they're so audibly obvious.

"On this occasion, I found a diagonally growing tree trunk, and sheltered the microphones under it, facing outwards to each side. The moss-covered trunk absorbed the rainfall, and kept the mics dry. Meanwhile, I was listening a little way off, and got well soaked!"

Birdsong is not really a feature of this recording, however it is present, and many of the species audible here are found no where else, being endemic to the high altitude cloudforests of the Huon Peninsula.

There is little activity for the 15 minutes or so, as the rain falls. But once it begins easing off, a few birds begin calling again. Here are some of the species I can identify:

Huon Melidectes (eg; 20.43); loud, rich, rolicking songs
Unidentified small lorikeet species flying overhead ( 25.33)
Black-throated Honeyeater (eg; 29.12); shimmering ripple of notes
Rufous-backed Honeyeater (30.40- 31.30, and long sequence from 59.43); single, 'down-up' whistles
Lesser Melampitta (from 31.00, and closer around 34.00); 'zizzing' contact calls
Blue-capped Ifrit (from 36.33); high-pitched, squeaky calls
Black Fantail (41.33); sharp 'chip's

All land is owned in New Guinea. Even when one is in 'wilderness', it is actually someone's land; a family or nearby village. Not only does one need the permission of the land owner to be there, but no conservation initiatives can be undertaken without their active support and involvement.

Large areas of the Huon Peninsula are currently managed for conservation through an innovative program co-ordinated by the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Project, an internationally funded NGO backed by Seattle's Woodland Plains Zoo. The region included is known as the YUS Conservation Area, and embraces the watersheds of 3 major river systems. The tree kangaroo is the icon species of the project, and they are actively tracked and monitored. Of course in protecting tree kangaroos, the whole ecosystem is preserved and maintained.

To support the villagers in this, the TKCP has taken an active role in promoting and marketing their coffee crop. This is sold as a fair trade product through outlets in Australia and the USA. In addition, the TKCP administers research in the region, necessitating that visiting academics hire guides and porters at established rates. In addition, the TKCP employs several rangers from local villagers to police the forests, and report any unapproved activity such as hunting or the establishment of additional gardens.

During our visit, the TKCP was our primary contact, assisting us in negotiating the logistics of our trek. In return, local villagers received wages and further experience in guiding, and the TKCP benefits from the research outcomes of the expedition.

More about the TKCP, its engagement with local villages and aims, and support from Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. Also an interview with Lisa Dabek, one of the prime movers behind the initiative.

Purchase and download this album for the finest audio quality, the convenience of offline listening, and adding to your music library. Also links to photo gallery for this album.

Profits from the sale of this recording will be donated to further local conservation initiatives in the Huon Peninsula.

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