To experience an exciting adventure doesn't mean to run unnecessary risks. Nature will hold many of surprises for you so it is very important to plan the trip beforehand. Gordon Hempton was on countless nature recording sessions and he has some vital survival tips for you. Do yourself the favor, read this article and profit from his experience so you can really concentrate on your nature recordings to reach out the best outcome.
Safety is a real concern. If you don't want to go through a nasty surprise – be prepared when you range into the wildness. You want to minimize risk by being prepared, that way you can focus on listening. Stick to the designated trails, at least until you reach the valley below. Always keep an ear
open for the early signs flash flooding–a roar similar to a passing jetliner. Packing a weather radio with an alert signal is a good idea, too. The tent will also provide an added layer of protection for my gear if a dust storm kicks up. Always carry a small flashlight with your equipment. Maybe you should make a list of everything – “what equipment to take along check list”.
“Know before you go. Whatever location you finally decide upon you can be certain that, if no people are there, no people are there for a reason. Learn of any potential dangers before you go. Inquire about poisonous snakes, contagious diseases, and quagmires that will sink your vehicle past the hubcaps.”
As before, start by making a list of candidate sites from online resources. Avoid charted flight paths, observe satellite images via Google Earth for presence of roads, utilities and adjacent land uses, and finally, speak with land managers before you go, and when you do, be sure to tactfully mention that sound has special value and should not be the last criteria on the wilderness inventory.
Even if your checked bags failed to appear at the baggage carrousel, you should still be ready to go, at least for a few days, because your careful packing of your two allowed carry-on bags: the shoulder bag with your recorder and a second shoulder bag with your microphones. Until the rest of your gear and clothing catch up with you, you can make do in the field, propping your mics in position using natural objects or unlooping your belt from your pants so you can use it to hang a mic from a tree limb.
“Be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. Do your homework. Find the right location. Know your equipment. Keep your gear dry. And above all, stay safe.”
Many animals have adaptations to survive not just drought but the debilitating effect of excessively dry air. But unless you have large ears, sunken eyes, a thick skin, the ability to concentrate urine, and can extract all your water needs from your food, you better plan on bringing plenty of water–enough to last until a search party could find you if your mode of transportation broke down.
Triple digit heat and freezing temperatures all in the same day are not uncommon, due to low heat retention of the arid environment. You’ll want to bring an umbrella even if it won’t rain, as you’ll need safe shade to reduce sweat and retain water. Limit your activity to early morning and evening twilight and at night when wildlife is most active.
Snake chaps may not be needed unless you find yourself near water holes where vegetation becomes denser. All the same, you will wear boots and tuck your pant legs into your socks to keep a leg- climbing spider, tick, or scorpion in view and more easily defended against. A generous spray of insect repellent on your socks will also help to deter such Desert critters. If you do spray, be careful not to touch your socks until you have finished recording, because the strong chemicals in most insect repellents will corrode your equipment.
Walk slowly. This will give time for any creatures to move out of the way– because they are in contact with the ground, they’ll sense your footfall vibrations. And consider a change in footwear to extend your “hearing” range below audible frequency range. Over time the leather soles have conformed perfectly to your feet, allowing the mechanoreceptors located on the delicate under soles of your feet to sense even small vibrations created by the movements of other large animals. Plus, wearing mocs, instead of stiff hiking books, you’ll be more in touch with the ground and less likely to stumble while you walk through the Desert at night.
A safety checklist also includes speaking with local wildlife managers before your recording trip to solicit advice about where wildlife will be most active and to become informed of potential hazards.
In unfamiliar, especially challenging Deserts it’s a good idea to hire an expert guide. Better to break the bank than lose your life.
My guides saved my life in the Kalahari Desert years ago. It was hot as hell– triple-digit figures. I was there to record morning birdsong as part of a global project, but there weren’t any birds. It was the seventh year of a drought and most had perished. What was I going to do? I simply had to have birdsong or the entire global project was for naught.
Dr. Liversedge, of Dutch-descent, served as my English-speaking bird expert, driver and interpreter. He helped me communicate with Bertis, my native guide, who knew only two words in English– Lions and No Lions.
Early on, whenever we stopped while cross-crossing the Kalahari’s famous red sands, I would give Bertis an inquisitive look, and he would say, “No Lions.” Good on that count, but days went on with no success recording the dawn chorus. Finally, I saw on the horizon a line of green and heard the faintest birdsong. I enthusiastically motioned for Dr. Liversedge to drive us closer. Our Land Rover came to a stop at the edge of the Bush. Hearing birdsong, I leaned over to grab my gear and reach for the door lever.
“Lions!” yelled Bertis.
I looked around.
“I don’t see any lions. How does Bertis know?” I asked Dr. Liversedge. He spoke with Bertis then told me. “Bertis does not know how he knows, but he knows.”
That lack of certainty did not quell my own certainty: I desperately needed to record birdsong. So I opened the Land Rover door, got out, and started stepping into the Bush…where I immediately came face to face with five lions. S-L-O-W-L-Y I back-stepped to the vehicle and got safely inside–with new respect for Bertis and a lasting belief in the importance of local guides.
We drove several hours further to a place called Bushman Fountain, which consisted of several water holes covered with a thick film of green algae. Some of the more prominent rocks bore petroglyphs left thousands of years earlier by Bushman hunters. I setup there the next morning and also placed a second set of gear about 100 yards distant on a bare patch of ground among some bushes, figuring that a likely lurking spot for a large carnivore awaiting thirsty prey.
Both positions proved to be excellent choices. Mid-morning, mission accomplished, Bertis asked me through Dr. Liversedge, “Is there anything that you would like to bring back to America?”
“Yes, I would like to find a magic stick to take home to my five-year-old son.” I wasn’t sure how “magic” would translate, but apparently it did, because Bertis said he knew where one grew. Bertis told Dr. Liversedge in Afrikaans how to get there, and we were off!
Hours later, and to my total surprise, we come to a stop at the exact place that I had seen the lions. As Bertis begins to get out, it’s my turn to shout: “LIONS!”
But Bertis calmly shook his head. “No Lions.”
“How does he know?” Another conversation in Afrikaans ends with “Bertis does not know how he knows, but he knows.”
So we all get out, walk into the Bush, and cut the magic stick that my son still has today.
On the way back to the Land Rover we saw all five of the lions, lounging on a knoll. All five had eaten their fill.
Yes the challenges are many. The cost of expensive recording equipment, difficulty in finding and reaching a suitable location, harsh weather extremes, and safety concerns, among them. But don’t let them dissuade you. We give you a hand and want to support you in your own nature recording trip. Download the “what equipment to take along check list“ to be sure to go on an safe adventure trip!
You need more advice for your nature recording trip? Check out “Earth is a Solar Powered Jukebox”. The eBook of Gordon Hempton is the perfect guide to become a nature recording specialist. He reveals some important facts how to listen, where to go and you can profit from his longstanding experience.
You need some inspiration? Check out one of the world best nature recording sounds by Emmy-winner Gordon Hempton and listen to his Quiet Planet library: Deserts – Weather and Wildlife Demo:
Whether you are a beginner or seasoned veteran, we hope you gained some helpful insights to go out and rock your own nature sound recordings!
Stay tuned for our next episodes with many more tips and tricks and please check out the wonderful nature sound libraries (DESERTS, QUIETUDES, CANYONS, WETLANDS, CONIFEROUS-FORESTS, UPWELLINGS, DESIDUOUS-FORESTS, WINDS OF NATURE, TROPICAL-FORESTS, NATURE-ESSENTIALS, FORCES OF NATURE, WAVES, THUNDER&RAIN, FLOWING WATER, PRAIRIES, RIPARIAN ZONES, OCEAN SHORES, HAWAII) including extensive articles about the respective record theme by nature recording genius Gordon Hempton!