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recording owl vocalizations

Subject: recording owl vocalizations
From: Walter Knapp <>
Date: Sun, 26 Jun 2005 13:25:33 -0400
From: "wahpenayo" <>

> Thanks for the information - very much appreciated. It's difficult to
> take the financial plunge with so little experience.

One of the reasons I usually recommend that beginners take a
intermediate step of some reasonably good gear is to get into the field
and start. Experience built in the field and research on available
options will then lead you to the gear for your high quality needs.

Folks here can help with equipment recommendations. As long as you
remember each of us has our own bias, and choose equipment based on our
recording interest. And to a certain extent on what sounds good to each
of us. Particularly as you look at high end equipment it's all pretty
darned good and you are more advised to choose on what sounds good to you.

As a frog recordist, I record owl calls frequently, incidental to
recording the frogs.

> I forgot that the ME series needed a power supply, so that takes it
> out of my range for now. I could probably stretch to $200 for a mic.

You should be able to get a ME mic off Ebay for that price. In the used
market the capsule and power supply are normally sold together. Just
make sure you get a K6 power supply that will take a battery, some are
phantom power only.

> But I also want to get quality recordings for digital analysis, and
> be flexible enough to handle the different recording situations that
> arise. I want to develop a library of vocalizations, complete with
> variations of standard calls. As such, I want these to be as good as
> I can get. Maybe there is no single solution.

As far as digital analysis, it does not take much of a mic for that,
sonograms do a very good job of showing the details of calls, even ones
buried in lots of noise.

> It would be fantastic to have a 2-mic set-up for stereo recording of
> duets (which can be amazing, sounding sometimes like 3 or 4 owls
> rather than 2), and I would love to do this, but then do I lose out
> on distant calls? But a crisp, clean stereo recording of a duet would
> be something to hear. In addition to distance differences, there are
> also varying levels of background noise, from dead quiet to echo
> situations to interference from nearby streams or passing vehicles.

Here's a stereo recording that has a distant owl, done with my
SASS/MKH-20 mic on a tall stand, recorder is the HHb Portadisc in tandem
with a Sound Devices MP2 preamp to increase the gain. The owl was
distant enough to be very faint by ear.
Pretty much any owl you could hear you could record with this mic setup,
and it's picking up it's stereo field from about a 270 degree arc. It
is, due to the price of the mics, well outside of your price range.

Not owls, but coyotes and frogs, the coyotes are quite distant (faint by
ear), the frogs in a pond about 100 yards across:
The SASS/MKH-20 on a tall tripod next to the pond. Recorder is the HHb
Portadisc, in tandem with a Sound Devices MP2 preamp to increase the
gain. One could not use this much gain on mics with higher self noise.

All of the various interference is much easier to listen through if your
ears have directional cues. Stereo has big advantages there. I record a
lot of scientific studies, and nearly always record in stereo.

Note owls tend to call at night, when the ambiance is often low level
and very clean. High quality recordings of them in their natural sound
surroundings will make pretty high demands on equipment, mics in

> Is there less expensive option for a mic, or choice of mics, that
> would allow me to handle most situations? Is a powered mic necessary
> to get good recordings? I'm probably stuck between needing very good
> equipment to do what I want to do and not being able to afford it. At
> some point in the future, I do want to go for highest-quality
> recordings

In general a powered mic is the choice as it can be sensitive enough for
the really quiet distant calls. For picking out a individual caller, a
parabolic is the most bang for the buck. But for multiple callers in all
directions it's not going to be the ideal choice. For that you need a
stereo setup with a very wide field. Or, if doing mono, a very
sensitive, quality omni mic might be choice.

You are correct, you are describing needing very good equipment, which
tends to be way above the money you are saying you have. You can record
owls with lessor equipment as far as note taking or sonograms go. It's
when you want those high quality recordings of the calls it raises the

If you are sure your future includes highest quality recording, it's
well to plan now. It's better to spend a little time saving money to get
better. And planning can target that money to best advantage.

Someone else mentioned Ebay. All my Sennheiser MKH mics came from Ebay,
at a average of well under half retail price. But it took years to do.
Note in addition to the mics, you need good suspension and wind
protection, that's not a insignificant cost.



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