Early Spring 2017 and I had arrived late to my Air BnB wood cabin just outside the commune of La Ferté-Vidame in the Eure-et-Loir department of northern France. We were only staying for the weekend and I had a few different recording locations I wanted to explore. One of these was the Foret Humide Des Mousseuses, home to an exceptional variety of plant and animal species which thrive in the wetlands of this peat bog.
This protected forest is rather small (about 10 hectares) and not so easy to find. I had prepared as much as possible in the build up to this trip, spending hours researching blogs, internet sites, YouTube videos and Google Maps (the Street View function was particularly helpful). I had also contacted the local environmental agency who kindly explained where to park and how to access the forest. There is a series of wooden trail paths that have been built to aid exploration and help protect the peat bog and mosses that lay underneath but the challenge was going to be locating exactly where these paths were.
I set off before dawn in the pitch dark and drove about 10 minutes to where I had been told to park. It wasn’t a car park as such, rather a small lay-by on the side of the road, but I located the panel indicating the entrance to Mousseuses forest. So far, so good, even in the dark I was able to recognised where I was thanks to Google Maps Street View. I got my walking boots on and pre-set my gear : Sound Devices 722, a pair of Sennheiser 8040s in Rycote blimps set in ORTF using a Rode Stereo Bar on a tripod. Once set I headed off down the main path that led away from the road and into the forest.
After walking down the main path for about ten minutes I came across a “private, no entry” sign. It was at this point that I realised how difficult finding the wooden trails was going to be. There were no other sign posts (at least none I could see in the dark) and I had to just go with my gut feeling. I backtracked a hundred metres or so, then saw a small path off to my left. My sixth sense told me to try this way and miraculously I soon came across the start of the wooden trails.
It was still dark so I carefully walked along the trail as silently as possible, pointing my torch to the ground to help guide me. About 5 minutes in and I heard a loud screech above my head in the trees. A female Tawny Owl calling out! I sat the tripod down, hit record on the 722 and sat still. Luckily for me, my presence didn’t seem to disturb her and she continued to call out.
After some time, the Tawny Owl flew off to another part of the forest. Dawn was beginning to break so I ventured further along the forest path. I found a good spot and decided to set up my gear here for the dawn chorus. I positioned my tripod in the centre of the path, then ran a log XLR cable further back. I sat down, put my headphones on and hit record.
This region of France is extremely flat so unfortunately manmade noise, such as distant traffic, is easily audible. Because it was early spring, many of the trees were yet to develop thick leafage so this also means the forest is more exposed to exterior noise. Sadly, just as the dawn chorus was in full swing I heard the revving of a car engine. This went on for some time, so I decided to pack up my gear and head back to my cabin for breakfast.
Despite this noisy end to a peaceful yet adventurous morning, I was pleased to have explored the Foret Humide Des Mousseuses and delighted to have encountered the resident female Tawny Owl.
Photo courtesy of Antony *** (Flickr) – Creative Commons License