Record Mission: January 22, Pureora Forest, Mapara – Hunt for the Kokako day 2

Well OK, so after staying up till 2 recording pine, we then slept in a tent, despite having an entire 12 person lodge to ourselves. Why you ask? Well, we bought the tent a year ago and still hadn’t used it, so I was determined to spend one night in the wild. Also, being the Australian that I am, I forgot that January in NZ was still freezing.
It was a fun night, though I didn’t get a lot of good quality sleep in our children’s sleeping bags bought at the warehouse for 6 dollars. So 5am dawn chorus record sort of…failed.
We were heading up the mountain by 7am though which isn’t bad. Here are my journal entries from the second trip up the mountain of doom. (Not to be confused with Mount Doom).

Location 4

9am – We started at 7am, we’re making our way up trying to get dawn chorus. We sort of missed it. We got some good stuff back at the lodge or should I day Dave did while I slept, but we’ve missed most of the chorus…my bad.
Great wind in foliage right now, but we’ve had a slight disruption to our cause. Two magpies have followed us…literally followed us…and sat by our recorders at every stop! (For those who don’t know, Magpies are an import to NZ from Australia, yes, my fault again…along with the possums).
In addition to this outrage, a crop dusting plane has been circling the sky non stop. (This one can’t be blamed on Australia, so I’m off the hook.)
Now this isn’t one of those occasions where I can say ‘oh well I guess sometimes you get sounds that are different to what you hope or expect.’ There is nothing good about this crop dusting jerk!
The only good thing is that I can still maintain my humour about it and the silent laughs Dave and I have shared will be one of the standout memories of the trip.
Damn, 10 mins in and here come the cicadas. Though the magpies seemed to have backed off and perhaps the plane has gone down for a refuelling because we’ve had a few nice minutes here.

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Location 5

9:51am – We’re sitting near the summit and there are a couple of Kokako sitting and eating in the trees. They’re not saying much, but we’re having a little bit of a moment with them. Cicadas are definitely on the rise. But at least there aren’t any magpies here yet. We’re getting some great wing flaps too.
Gold! Kokako is singing. It’s not so much about catching the sound, or that it’s a particularly lucrative strike, as if we had literally struck a gold vein. It’s more like sighting a unicorn or entering a fairytale, and for a few brief moments, you are with this rare thing and all the trivialities of life dissolve. There is no greater feeling when recording than to feel those moments unfolding around you, as the clock counter ticks away each digital second fills your hard drive with snapshots of joy. Compiling fragments of this moment shared between us and this marvellous creature. I realise that time is all we have, time is our only possession with which to experience this life and this world.
Thank you mister Kokako for your wisdom of the day and for sharing your song with two very lucky sound nerds!

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Later in the day, after a nap, we went back to the meadow base of the forest to record a little bit of dusk.

8:20 – it’s dusk. We’ve recorded 2 locations. The first was just down the road in a little clearing of bush and pine. Now we are back at our track have been here since 7:30, so a good chunk of dusk, even if it is a bit buggy.
Wow, something huge just went crack up the hill like a tree about to fall. Massive!
Well it’s been nice getting a lower down and more distant version of the dusk we recorded yesterday.
Going back to the lodge now to set up some more pine night recording and maybe we’ll grab a few FX too. Must be up at dawn though tomorrow morning to get the chorus properly. Fingers crossed I can wake up.

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Record Mission: January 21, Pureora Forest, Mapara – Hunt for the Kokako day 1

Record mission day 6, wow, it’s nearly been a week already.
We visited a DOC site,(Department of Conservation), and got ourselves a good tip on where the best place to record Kokako is nearby, Mapara it is. Kokakos are one of NZ’s rarest birds with one of the most beautiful songs ever…
So off we go. We find ourselves a lodge in the middle of the pine plantations, just a stones throw from the Pureora forest. Packs loaded with gear, we set off up the hillside in search of a Kokako.
So, Mount Pirongia was just a warm up. This place was intense! Some of the steepest hill I’ve ever seen, and it kept on going up and up and up. I’d say, “I can see the top, we’re nearly there…” But sure enough…there was always more up, up, up, still ahead.
As with the Pirongia climb, I decided to make journal entries as I went.

Location 1

6pm – we’re trying our luck at recording the elusive Kokako. Very rare and endangered. But this is one of the few stands of forest where conservationists are having a bit of success with them. We thought we heard one earlier down in the valley, so hopefully, as it gets closer to dusk, we might just catch one singing it’s mournful tune. We have both only ever seen one and it was caged in a zoo. Tragically, the rich tunes embodying the stories and tales of his ancestors were lost to him.
Like so many rare birds, when their numbers diminish, they lose their song. Without the social diversity of a communit, their songs become simplified and less poetic, especially when there is no competition and no partners to impress.
This one had been taught by humans to wolf-whistle and that was about all we heard him do.
Regardless, the wind In the trees is marvellous. No cicadas and just a light breeze through the tree ferns.
Oh wow, some amazing bird is making a weird noise right by us. Oh, it’s a tui, those cheeky tricksters.

Location 2

7:17pm – No dice so far. We have moved past a section that I already regret not recording, not for it’s birds, but because of the stunning air and lack of insects. We may go back tomorrow though.
We are at the top of the canopy and we just saw several kokako on the path so we’re hopeful, but the bugs here are going nuts and it’s getting late. I know it will he darkish by 8:30 and this mountain was hell climbing up with our packs, so I’m not too keen on doing it in the pitch dark.
A Bell bird just showed up in front of the mic. Good on you little fella.
Come on kokako where are you? At least there is definitely some good wing-flap action up here.
We’ll we only have a day before we have to head home and I’m starting to get a bit tired. My feet are both aching. I rolled an ankle last night and slashed the big to of my other foot on some blackberry bush.
What time do you wanna wake up to come back and get the dawn chorus Dave?
5am?
That’s just what I was thinking, Dave.

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Location 3

8:10pm – So that last spot might have been great, had we not forgot to press record. Lesson number one….always push record. Lesson number two, sometimes everyone forgets to press record.
We still have yet to get a definitive kokako but there is always tomorrow. The great thing is that I’m here in this lovely place, with my love.

Location 4

9:10 – Well and truly dark. We reached the bottom and have come back up the hideous path of doom a little way, to get any last scraps out of this dusk. I have to say, the birds either started earlier than dusk and we missed most of the action, or they simply put on a bit of a lame show. The worst thing is the magpies and blackbirds kept popping up to ruin the action.
We got some great Long-tailed Cuckoo, a little Kaka and even a nice e Ruru (Morpork) screech, so not a total loss. The cicadas are done finally and the huhu bugs are back. I can hear the river from here, so not totally ideal, but well, there it is. Oh boy, some dogs are barking, I hope it’s not hunters…very scary when you don’t have a hi-vis vest. Lets call it a day and see how we go at dawn.

When you can’t get enough of a good thing, why not stay up till 2 am recording pine at night? Again…

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Record Mission: January 20, Mount Pirongia, and the Wickedy Waikato!

OK, Day 5 of record mission…epic coffee. I’ll hand it to the Tron, they know their coffee.

Bellies full and happy, we set off with our gear up mount Pirongia. This is where the mission gets serious. Previously we had been driving to locations and setting up our rig out of the back of the 4WD, (making sure it’s engine wasn’t ticking, of course). But now, we had our mics, stands and recorders in our backpacks as we hiked up some serious vertical tracks. OK, maybe not vertical or even actually that steep, but it was still a mission with heavy gear strapped to our backs, especially since we are generally a little unfit and had drunk a fair few wines the night before.

So along the way we stopped at a few locations and set up our gear. At the first place I thought to take out my phone and just take some notes, so I’ll include them here. Pretending that they are excerpts from my explorers journal, lets start from the top…or the bottom of the hill as it were…

First location

12.30pm, I constantly meet tourists who have seen more of the country I live in than I have., despite the fact that I may have lived there for years. What’s more is that because they come from across the globe they feel like they may never return to your country so often spend more time engaging and taking in the souls and spirit of a place.
So perhaps when people find a place they love and think they would love to live in they should consider that perhaps it’s better to love a place and take time to value it, long for it and miss it than to live there and take it for granted as we so often tend to do.
Home is where the heart is and sometimes you don’t need to be there to feel the presence of home within your memories and within your heart.
When we go recording sound, we take time to engage with places – places both beautiful and ugly – rare and commonplace. We take each location for what it is.
Right now I’m sitting in one of the more beautiful pieces of New Zealand Forest that I’ve been in for a while. Surrounded by native birds, stunning ferns, giant rimu and rata. Light rain just started sprinkling though the canopy and the birds have gone bananas. Lots of wing flaps of the Kereru and crackles of the damp forest have just lifted the ambience up a notch.
What is particularly special about this place is the fact that the rain is keeping the summer cicadas at bay.

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Second location.

1.30pm, Just had a close encounter with a fantail. Sadly, we didn’t have a microphone set up close to where we are sitting. Fan tails, being the cheeky little fellas that they are, sat next to us and started his whole rant. All I had to capture his song with was the iPhone. We’ve never managed to get a nice recording of a fantail up close with a good mic. As common as it is to see them, capturing their voice is such a hard thing to do. Sometimes just getting the sound with what you have is good enough. Capturing sounds on the go is just as important as making the effort to do the good recordings with the awesome mics. Just like fishing it’s about being in the right spot at the right time and having your line in the water. When it comes to gathering sounds, the water is everywhere. Our world is alive with sounds, so it helps if your fishing line (microphone) is always with you and ready to go.
By the time we had grabbed a better mic the fantail had gone. However, we did get a nice fly passing around in front of the mic. It’s also about taking what you get. And serendipity has a way of offering you alternatives to what you were aiming for that are just as good, or occasionally even better.
As was the case the other day when we were driving to a spot of bush and Dave noticed a spider on his leg. We pulled over, to let the spider out of the car, (unfortunately it was slightly squashed at that stage), and just by the side and the road we saw a secret hidden path into the pine forest. The path was thick with scrub and the car got a jolly good scraping, but the forest we recorded there was our best so far. Oh boy the fantail has just returned. Let me see if I can adjust the mics and catch his elusive song.

Third location.

2.30pm, 3 hours hike from the main summit of mount Pirongia, looks like we won’t make it to the top as it’s now 2:15 and we have only half a bottle of water. At least we will reach the first summit though, only another hour or so to the top. Man I need to wee. Lucky I brought the toilet paper.
Pretty air. Still hardly any cicadas and I don’t think there are any non-native birds up here either.
Dave is just further down the path talking to some hikers who are telling us that there is no Kokako up here, but he’s giving us some good info on where we might have some luck. Heaps of flies just here, and less canopy since we are higher so all the trees are shorter. We’re about 40 mins drive out of Hamilton and so there is a little bit of air traffic too. But this short jaunt has gotten me thirsty for hiking higher and staying over night in a Rangers hut so we can get a real good dawn and dusk chorus as well as night time buzz.

Fourth location.

Finally at the summit. It’s 3:49pm. Lots of flies and hot. No sunscreen. So a mountain bug file I guess. Would be lovely air track at night. There is also quite a few planes so, there you go. This whole climb has been about reaching the top, as that is so often the goal in life…but it seems the journey was not only more pleasant, but most likely, more meaningful in terms of what we achieved. Is that not like most things in life. We are so fixed in getting to the end and reaching all our objectives that we so often fail to see the path we are on as being the ultimate destination. Each footstep is headed in a forward direction, but each place in which the foot lands is special, important and worthy of our attention.
These stretches of time while we are recording are filled with opportunities for reflection and contemplation of the moment. I’m constantly aware of the present and the many sounds that accompany me where ever I may be. At this present moment, I happen to be getting sunburned. So I guess it’s time to move on.

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Fifth location.

4:20pm, Just back down the track a little way from summit. Tucked back under the canopy. Sounds much nicer already and a lot cooler to boot. Sparse birds and much less flies. There was one cicada, but he seems to have shut up for now (after some persuasion with a few rocks). There’s a constant rumbling of the peak hour airport noise, but I reckon we could roll that off pretty easily as it is so distant. What I like about this spot, is there’s a few really nice leaf drops happening. Not much of a breeze but the odd leaf fall is nice.
It’s a funny thing recording sound. I feel like if I wasn’t recording professionally, and just had a basic recorder like the Sony m10, catching sounds simply for my own private record, it would still be a very meaningful process.
I think if I just sat for 20 minutes at a time and listened to the sounds but wasn’t recording I wouldn’t quite get the same mental connection to the moment. I think this is the same effect that distinguishes simply sitting and having a ponder, versus sitting and writing down one’s thoughts. If you are going through a process of physically recordings thoughts, sights, or sounds, it’s like you are doing a little dance with the world around you. Taking a second to connect, to share, to exchange. Nature offers itself to you and you offer your full attention though a commitment to log that moment. Even if you never read the words again, or listen back to the sounds, or you perhaps even lose the photograph, it wouldn’t matter. Each one of these actions is actually more about the moment it was created than the end result of the work left behind. As all artists will tell you, the artwork is but a residue, a shadow of a moment shared between artist and inspiration. A moment that came and went.

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Sixth location.

5:30, Halfway back to the bottom. Nice moment before the dusk chorus. Birds are more chilled, the bugs are a little slower and the people are starting to fade fast. And by people, I just mean us, and by fade i mean – growing weary. We have only seen a few people hiking all day. It’s been great to have such long stretches without disturbation. It’s getting late though and we have more friends to catch up with tonight. I’m starving. All we ate today was some eggs for breakfast and a Nut bar. The one bottle of water has saved us, but we are both very dehydrated and won’t last much longer. Oh choice, I think it’s starting to sprinkle again. Nice way to end the record day.

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Record Mission: January 19, Kinleith, on the road to Hamilton

Day 4 of our January record mission. All is going well so far. Up at dawn and on the road again, (after coffee and breakfast of course…a soundie needs coffee to keep their ears sharp like a fox!)

We were travelling pretty steadildy most of the day, on our way to see Dave’s good friend, Dave who lives in Hamilton. (FYI – Most good Daves know other really cool guys all called Dave)

We stopped on the side of the road a few times to capture a bit of forestry action and once more found some nice secluded spots for some pine ambience.

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And then…more driving.

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Record Mission: January 18, Motuoapa, Kiko Rd, Taupo and Prawns!

Day three of the January record mission and oh what a day!
Before we left Turangi, we stopped in at Tokaanu wharf at the edge of Lake Taupo. We had seen hundreds of swans on the lake the night before and thought, sweet, we’ll come back at dawn with a loaf of bread and get some sounds of a swan feeding frenzy. Wrong. Turns out Taupo swans don’t give a crap about bread, must be all the trout.

So then we thought, lets go check out the trout farm and see what all the fuss is. We recorded a few bits and pieces there of water drains and that sort of thing, which was all very nice. However, the sight of all those giant trout got us hungry again, so we had no choice but to journey north to the Huka prawn farm at Huka falls!

Because…all work and no prawns makes Dave a dull soundie! (Oh and some mighty fine cheesecake too…and some wine…why not?)

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We did stop on the way at some magnificent pine along Kiko road at Motuoapa. We recorded some excellent forest ambience with hardly any cicadas. Simply stunning weather and tranquil surroundings made for a perfect mornings work.

After our lunch at Taupo we decided we should go back and record the same forest at night…you know to avoid all the cicadas. Little did we know, the day time bugs were actually no where near as hectic as the night time summer bugs! Giant Huhu beetles flew everywhere, smashing into your face was one thing, 3 million mosquitos setting up camp in our car was another. We ended up spending a lot of time working in the dark. But it was a good night and we got some great sounds including some excellent forest crunches and wood breaks.

Here is a nice pic of Dave, mid-log smash. Nice one, Dave.

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Sitting in the dark of that forest my mind once more began to wander. I tried to work out what made it feel so creepy. I figured that perhaps it was because the forest would someday be harvested. Since it was a plantation of pine and it was mature, I knew that it’s time of being a beautiful sanctuary of life was soon to end. It was like being in a future graveyard. All the insects and birds that called the forest home, would one day suffer the chaos and destruction brought by the loggers. Even though I think plantation forests are a good and economical resource, it’s still sad to see nature destroyed.

The very first place on our record list for this trip was a forest near Turangi we had recorded once before. When we arrived, however, it was a vast field of dead stumps, piles of dirt and tractor marks. The scene was both sad and gross, reminding us not only of the fleeting transience of life, but also that you’ve got to record what you can when you can, because you never know when it will be gone.

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Record Mission: January 17, Turangi

Day 2 of our record mission started with some much needed breakfast and coffee.
We headed off into the forest again, starting with some nice pine in light drizzle and then we working our way around the lake areas and back to the native bush where we had been recording the night before.

This was the highlight of the day for me. We got a chance to see how beautiful the place we had recorded the night before was in the day. I love capturing different perspectives of the same location. A day and night pair is always nice to have in a library.

All in all, it was a pretty easy going day, recording long files and enjoying the freedom of being out in the world. It’s about halfway through that first day that you start to realise you have a full week of such peace to look forward to.

My normally busy mind slowly begins to unravel and the daydreams drift into a flow that is both unintentional and welcomed. For me, true appreciation of the present comes when I stop trying to appreciate it.

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Record Mission: January 16, Turangi

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Day one of our record trip started a little slow due to the fact that we didn’t set off till after 5pm. We arrived in Turangi and checked into our motel at about 10.30pm. Despite our sleepiness, we headed straight out into the night to find some quiet patches of forest.
We knew from the start that, being summer, this was not such an ideal time of the year to try and record air and forest ambience due to the masses of bugs an cicadas. However, sometimes you just have to take what you can get. Since we have time now to record, now is the time we shall record.
Even in winter, night time is the best time to try and catch good still forest air to avoid bugs and birds. So off we went into the Tongariro national park.

We headed down Kaimanawa road, back towards desert road and found a great patch of native bush that was silent and gorgeous.

I must admit that at first I was a little nervous. Ever since I worked on the sound for Wolf Creek 2, (an Australian film about a psychopath that preys on backpackers), I have become even more sensitive to the dangers of being in isolated wilderness at night. However, once I had settled in to the surrounds and opened up to the beauty of the nighttime New Zealand forest, I found the sense of peace and serenity that often escapes my attention in everyday domestic life.

After sitting for an hour in complete silence in the dark, listening to night birds and the gentle hum of night crickets I start to wonder why we humans have isolated ourselves so much from nature? We don’t just ignore it, we lock ourselves away from it. But, in the warmth of summer, it’s amazing how welcoming the night air can be. Why do we avoid being outdoors at night? It’s not just a matter of comfort and security, it’s almost like a domestication that our species had undergone which keeps us from seeing that we are still a part of this natural world. We belong here.

Recently I was at a bar with some friends, enjoying the soft candle lighting and I thought how much better bars and restaurants feel when they use dim lighting. I stopped to wonder why that is? Then I realised, with a slight sense of stupidity, that of course it feels better to be surrounded by fire light at night rather than the glare of fluorescent globes! For centuries we lived with nothing but flames to light our camps and our homes. Living at night by the fake illumination of the incandescent bulb is a new novelty and as far as our bodies are concerned, it’s unnatural. So get outside people! Light a fire and enjoy the warmth and light that we all once danced to. Better yet, don’t take a light at all and just sit quietly and look up to the stars.

Out in the bush, the sky is filled with stars. In everyday life, I only look up for moments at a time, never for long periods. I sometimes get out of the car and on my way to my front door I lift my head and think, ‘oh look at the stars!’ I then proceed into my house, turn on the light and go about my life.

But if I sit and look up for long enough to watch the stars tracking across the sky, I realise how much I miss out on by living indoors and how lucky I am to have an excuse to get out here and experience the world. Even if that excuse is still technically work, and even if it is just for a few nights a year.

Once we had recorded a few good chunks of silence, we then decided to spice things up with some branch crunches, foliage moves and of course a whole heap of stones thrown into the tranquil pond for some nice clean water plops.

All in all, it was a productive and invigorating evening, but we still had a long trip ahead of us so by 2am, we were ready to hit the hay.

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New Website!

I have decided to update my sound website, as this year my partner, Dave Whitehead, and I are deciding that it is time we get up to date, commit to blogging and start adding a little more flare into the personal side of our business.

As with any creative business, it’s easy to get swept up in the process of making the art and never make time for taking stock of why we do this. I have found through writing a blog for my author page that maintaining a blog is both difficult and rewarding. It gives me a chance to work through my goals and interact with a community of other artists. Hopefully this site will allow me to start taking the business side of my sound editing work and give it a more active online presence.

We have some exciting things planned for this year and I can’t wait to make this blog a part of that experience.

Starting tomorrow, we are heading off on a record trip, so let’s see how I go in documenting that adventure.

Wish us luck!

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