We call it birdsong, but only a few bird species have vocalisations that are truly melodic. This leads to many habitats being dominated by twittery or even raucous birdsong, and to us, those few tuneful species stand out for their unusually musical voices.
The upland forests of Papua New Guinea however, seem unusually rich in birds with melodic voices. These mountain rainforests resound with tuneful birdsong.
Lesser Ground Robins are the most noticeable, singing loudly and sweetly with graceful, melodic phrases. Various other robin species each have their own simpler songs, some medium-pitched, and others so high as to sound quite un-bird-like. Friendly Fantails (that is actually their species name, and its our cover bird) sing delicate arpeggio patterns, while their cousin Black Fantails give boisterous cascades of notes. Whistlers, Pitohuis and Boatbills add to the layering of sounds. Meanwhile Spotted Jewel Babblers call from the forest floor with a steady chiming on a single note that acts like a tonal centre to the other species.
There are exceptions of course. Wahnes's Perotia is a textural contrast with loud and harsh screeches, while small groups of lorikeets skitter noisily among the treetops. Underpinning all these are fruit doves and pigeons with their lovely, booming calls.
You can understand why I think of these as the melodious forests!
This recording takes us high in the mountains, to over 2000 metres. This is still well below the cloudforest, and many of the species here are unique to these mid-altitude forests. The album is one continuous, 4-hour recording, allowing us to hear the rich diversity of highland Papuan birdsong.
This recording was made during a field trip to Papua's Huon Peninsular organised by fellow members of the Australian Wildlife Sound Recording Group. See here for an overview of this expedition.
With the assistance of local villagers as guides and porters, we had established a base in the heart of a remote area - Camp Astrapia. From this camp, I'd set out on my own each morning to record and explore, and after a few days I was closing in on the best sites for recording. However this was our last camp at the end of a long, strenuous trip, and I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
On our second last night, I went to sleep to the sound of rain that had been falling since mid afternoon. Everything was sodden. In the small hours of the morning, I was awoken by an earthquake, the ground shuddering beneath me. Seconds later, came the sickening groan and crash of a large tree falling on the edge of camp. Our local guides were up immediately, calling out, torches flashing, assessing the situation, and then hacking away with machetes to clear the debris.
Tired, a bit jolted, I was not at all feeling like going out into the wet dawn to record, even if the rain had stopped. But I couldn't get back to sleep, and eventually realised that my second last morning was not an opportunity to miss, particularly after the exertion to get here. So I arose, but feeling rattled and just wanting some reassuring company, I asked one of our guides, George, to accompany me that morning.
We negotiated the chaos of the treefall, which was frighteningly only a few metres from where we'd been sleeping, and set off along slippery jungle tracks. For half an hour we pushed through glistening wet vegetation in the dark. I was aiming for a barely discernible foot track I'd found the previous day, which led over the ridgetop to a shallow basin, forming a small amphitheatre.
Once there, George watched me set up my microphones in the dark, switch on, and together we stood a few hundred meters away while the forest woke up. And what a glorious dawn chorus it was. After that first flush of the day's birdsong subsided, I suggested George return to camp and get himself something more substantial for breakfast than a banana.
The daylight and birdsong had refreshed my spirits, and I remained, leaving the recorder going. I pottered around listening, at one point catching a rare glimpse of shy Jewel Babblers in the undergrowth. Eventually I wandered off to check out some other locations, and try photographing birds in the dense canopy. It was midday by the time I returned, finding the recorder still ticking away faithfully.
So I had six hours of recording from that morning. The exhilarating dawn chorus turned out to be overwhelming on playback. It was just too much! So for this album, we begin in the lull after the chorus finishes, and continue through to the point when things had quietened in late morning.
released March 23, 2019
Camp Astrapia, north of Gomdan Village, YUS Conservation Area, Huon Range, Papua New Guinea
Andrew is a master wildlife field recordist. For over 30 years, he and partner / photographer Sarah Koschak have been
documenting the voices of the world's ecosystems and wild creatures. The resulting recordings have been published through their dedicated label: Listening Earth...more