Review from Exploring the Best 2007 Cover story The Birdman of Salt Spring by Michael Wiley
Rise early, walk softly and carry a big garbage bag ...
John Neville, well-known Salt Spring naturalist and birdsong recorder, lives by those words. In order to be in the woods or at the water's edge at the prime time for recording, Neville often arises at 3:30 a.m. His goal is to be in the designated bird territory when the birds are most vocally active, and before the cars, outboard motors and chainsaws have added their voices to the composition.
Originally from England, Neville credits his naturalist grandfather for his own early and lasting appreciation for the outdoors and the critters, as he calls them, which inhabit it. Arriving in Canada in 1975, Neville found himself surrounded by unfamiliar critters and unfamiliar sounds. Books were plentiful, but he found few sources of recorded bird songs. Seeking a solution and following his passion, Neville enrolled in ornithology and bird recording courses' given by the University of Cornell. Neville released his first CD, Birds of the Kootenays, in 1994 and has released a new CD almost every year since.
When Neville heads to work in the pre-dawn hours, his "tool kit" includes mini-discs, recorders, spare batteries, a 55 cm parabolic dish with a shotgun microphone (mic) fitted at its focal point and the ever-present plastic garbage bag. Neville spends many long and often cold hours making his wonderful recordings. Experience has taught him that a handy garbage bag is great insurance against a sudden downpour or an accidental mishandling near a pond or marsh. Apart from footwear and clothing appropriate for the temperature and conditions, Neville wears dark or dull clothing to avoid spooking his subjects. With all the necessary equipment and planning, the final ingredient is always patience-patience during the slow, stealthy advance toward his target, and patience while waiting quietly for the birds to approach him. The skilled Neville will sometimes be able to record the birds from as close as two metres. Neville says that a distance of six metres is adequate.
Neville's CDs are invaluable in situations where you hear a new bird song and have no idea what kind of bird is making it. In my case, the mystery call was rather loon-like, but I doubted that even an uncaring loon could miss the species standard by that much. I couldn't decide if I should be looking in a tree, on a fencepost or on the water. Thanks to Neville's Bird Songs of Canada's West Coast, I was finally able to identify the Pied-billed grebe.
Faithfully recorded and reproduced birdsongs are the expectation, but the real highlight of these CDs is the sound of a friendly, passionate naturalist, delighted to share his recorded sounds and experiences. Neville believes that the more we know about the woods and its inhabitants, the more comfortable we will be in the woods and the better we will appreciate the responsibility of stewardship we have over these assets. Neville's website, www.nevillerecording.com, is far from being all about selling Neville's CDs. The website is full of interesting tidbits and even provides information about the equipment and techniques required to record birdsongs on your own. Check it out.