Le Perche Natural Park is located between the Loire and Normandy regions, less than two hours from Paris, and has been recognised as one of France’s 51 protected Parcs naturels régionaux de France since 1998. The entire region is a stunning example of unspoiled nature featuring rolling hills crowned with forests, valleys and slopes, hidden paths bordered with thick hedgerow, rivers, and endless large ponds.
I had heard on a number of occasions just how beautiful this part of France was and decided to plan a weekend to explore. I began researching what type of wildlife can be found in the region and was excited to discover that woodpeckers are abundant, particularly in the Forêt Domaniale de Senonches. I had come across a very useful website called ornithomedia.com which had some great articles about what type of woodpeckers can be found in the region and where to observe them. The two most prominent species are the grey-headed woodpecker (Picus canus) and the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius). Using this resource I began planning my trip and noting where could be potential areas to record (also considering un-wanted noise sources). The Ornithomedia website also had a forum so I started a thread asking advice on where and at what time I should go if I wanted to record woodpeckers. I had some very useful responses which helped immensely in planning ahead.
I arrived with my family in Le Perche on Friday evening and as we were only staying two nights I knew I would need some luck if I were to achieve my goal of recording woodpeckers. I had learned that the best time to hear them actively pecking tree trunks is just after sunrise, but having arrived late on the friday I had no time to scope out the recording location. So instead of heading in to the forest in the pitch dark without any idea of where I was going, I decided to save the woodpecker location for my second morning. This meant I could visit the area on the Saturday, do some test recordings and try to find the best location. It also meant I had a better idea of where I was going when I did head back there in the pitch dark before sunrise.
So on the Saturday evening, just before sunset, I drove down to the edge of the forest, parked my car and set off into the woods. I walked a couple of kilometres away from the car park and found a nice open area which I decided would be my recording spot the next morning. I made a mental note of how to navigate there from the car park, then headed back towards my car. The birds were starting to sing as the sun began to set, so I made a small detour to L’Etang De La Benette, one of the many large ponds in the area. I setup my mics on a tripod, ran some long cables and found a comfortable spot to sit back and enjoy the dusk chorus.
The next morning I woke up at 5am and quietly headed off without waking up my family. I’d packed the car the night before so within minutes of waking up I was driving towards my location. There was really thick fog on the road due to the cold morning air and the large number of ponds in the area. I didn’t pass any other cars, nor see a single sole on my way to the forest. On arrival at the car park I put on my walking boots, coat and gloves, grabbed my gear and headed into the woods. I was pleasantly surprised just how easily I found the location and was pleased with my decision to scout out the location before coming to record. It meant I was quickly in the right spot and could get my gear setup before the first birds began singing.
The dawn chorus was stunning, and I also had some nice surprises that I’ll share in a later post. The sun had risen and I waited another twenty minutes or so but still no woodpeckers. Maybe my research hadn’t been so reliable, maybe my luck wasn’t with me. I waited a little longer then decided to pack up my gear and head back to the car. Then I heard it. Duh, duh, duh ,duh, duh echoing through the forest. A woodpecker! Then again, Duh, duh, duh ,duh, duh this time not alone. Another one. Then another. I got my kit setup again (luckily this only took a few seconds), sat back and hit record.
The dawn chorus was still in full swing, and does dominate the recording somewhat. And it turned out that although my location was good, particularly for the amazing natural reverb of the forest, the woodpeckers were actually further away. So hard to know in advance having never visited the area before. But the way the drumming echoed throughout the forest was simply amazing. I left the location about thirty minutes later with a big smile on my face. The trip had been a success and I was really happy with what I had managed to record! The dawn chorus was majestic (I’ll share that in another post) and the woodpeckers’ drumming was something I had long hoped to record.
Photo courtesy of Jean-Jacques Boujot (Creative Commons)