Producer and cameraman: David Culley
Narrator: Chris Packham.
“The Secret Life of the Tawny Owl” is an outstanding wildlife documentary featuring intimate footage of one of the UK’s most common yet little understood nocturnal bird species.
Producer and cameraman David Culley has spent five years filming Tawny Owls in the wild using a combination of traditional and hidden cameras. The result is an engaging documentary following the life of a pair of Tawny Owls through a breeding season. David’s cameras reveal previously undocumented behavior and the infrared footage allows the viewer to see into the owl’s world after dark.
I particularly enjoyed watching the young owlets as they fledged and learned to fly, then hunt. The footage of the adult owls hunting fish was amazing as well. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys birds and wildlife – you can purchase the DVD direct from David’s website: http://www.sparrowhawk-island.co.uk/
Watch the Trailer
Recorded in pinsapo (Spanish fir) forest in the Sierra de las Nieves National Park, near Ronda Spain. The birdlife was particularly active this cool spring morning, with many species moving around close by the microphones. You can here some very light rain blow in during the second half of this sample.
Bird species recorded on this track include Tawny Owl, Eurasian Jay, Common Wood Pigeon, Iberian Green Woodpecker, Crested Tit, European Robin, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Siskin, Chaffinch, Hawfinch and Red Crossbill.
En route to another location in northern NSW, I stumbled upon a nice area of forest near a marsh (near Pindaroi) and recorded the following soundscape. It was just before sunset, and banjo frogs, as well as a few other frog species were calling from a nearby marsh. A few birds were still active and calling, including two Common Bronzewings (a type of native pigeon) which called repeatedly with their deep ‘oooms’, adding a gentle rhythm to the soundscape.
We’ve had some good rainfall over the past month in coastal New South Wales, and the frogs are no doubt loving it! The following two recordings were made just a few hundred metres apart in the Chaelundi wilderness, northern NSW. Each sample features a different combination of species calling, illustrating that subtle differences in water-depth, flow rate and surrounding vegetation-type create important micro-habitats preferred by certain frog species.
Micro-habitat 1 – Stony creek bed with puddles
The first was recorded along a section of a stony river bed, with small remnant puddles of water – a perfect mini-habitat for at least 8 species of frog which I found there. Stony Creek Frogs (Litoria wilcoxii) were abundant, the bright yellow males seemed to be everywhere I shone my torch (this species is relatively quiet and not heard on the following recording). Almost as numerous were the beautiful and very noisy Red-eyed Tree Frogs (Litoria chloris), their un-musical calls dominating the soundscape. Bleating Tree Frog (Litoria dentata), Dainty Green Tree Frog (Litoria gracilenta), Eastern Banjo Frog (Limnodynastes dumerili) and Crinia parinsignifera also added to the chorus, creating a cacophony of sound.
Micro-habitat 2 – 500 metres upstream, deeper water with reeds
Further upstream, the river was flowing and at a few places deep water with reeds could be found. I set up the microphones a few metres from the river’s edge and recorded the very different sounds of this more marshy habitat. The main species heard on this recording are Litoria peronii, Mixophyes iteratus & Litoria fallax, although Limnodynastes peronii, Adelotus brevis, & Mixophyes fasciolatus were also present.
Another of the more disconcerting sounds of the Australian bush at night, the throaty coughs and growls of a Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) sounds more monster than fluffy marsupial!
The following recording was made at Dunn’s Swamp in Wollemi National Park, NSW and captures a couple of possums having a territorial disagreement! In the background you can here the calls of White-throated Nightjar, Southern Boobok and Banjo Frogs.
I’m sure the call of the Yellow-bellied Glider (Petaurus australis) has unnerved many a camper in the Australian bush. The typical call starts with a soft hoot, is followed with a loud shriek which leads into a gurgling, throaty rattle – it sounds to me like some poor creature being strangled and shaken!
Gliding and Landing
In the following recording, you can hear the sound of a Yellow-bellied Glider gliding in, landing and then climbing. In the background, the deep hoots of a Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) reverberate through the forest. Listen with headphones to appreciate the stereo effect – you’ll hear the glider glide in from the right side and land on a tree to the left.
In the Australian bush at night, you can hear all sorts of unusual sounds. Over the years I’ve recorded many of these sounds and will publish some of them on this blog over the coming weeks and months.
First of the series is the Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps), a delightful little gliding possum found throughout the forests of eastern Australia. It’s most common call is a bit like the ‘yapping’ of a small dog and can be very monotonous!
This recording was made around 1am in the rainforest of Nightcap National Park, NSW. The unusually deep vocalizations of the Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) are due to a special sound-producing organ not found in any other land mammal. According to koala researcher Benjamin Charlton “We have discovered that koalas possess an extra pair of vocal folds that are located outside the larynx, where the oral and nasal cavities connect. We also demonstrated that koalas use these additional vocal folds to produce their extremely low-pitched mating calls.”
Both male & female koalas can make these bellowing calls, though it’s usually made by males looking to attract a mate.
Less colourful than many of it’s Bowerbird cousins, the Spotted Bowerbird (Chlamydera maculata) is mainly brown with some pale yellow on the belly, and a pattern of buff orange spots on it’s back, wings and rump. What it lacks in colour is made up for by it’s bower decorations and incredible range of calls.
I left my microphones for a few hours near an active bower, and recorded a range of calls as the owner attended to his decorations and displayed to visiting females. You can listen to some of these audio recordings below. The first two samples document two birds interacting together near the bower, possibly male and female. The second two samples are examples of mimicry of other birds, namely Whistling Kite & Australian Raven.