Spring offers the nature sound recordist plenty of interesting opportunities with many birds, amphibians and mammals becoming more vocal as they enter mating season. I will often identify a particular species, or group of species, I would like to record then research where they can be found. Towards the end of winter 2019 I began planning a few recording trips for spring of that year and decided one of my goals would be to record amphibians. As I had already planned a weekend in Avignon in the south of France during peak mating season for many frogs and toads I decided to focus my research around finding ponds or wetlands in this area. Soon my research led me to the Etang Salé not far from Courthézon which is about a 45 minute drive from Avignon.
This unique salt pond ecosystem is a temporary wetland area, drying up during the hot summer months. It provides a rich environment for many species of birds, amphibians and plants and became the first site in the Vaucluse department to be classified a Sensitive Natural Area (ENS). As I researched more I soon found that the pond was home to Marsh Frogs, Common Frogs and Natterjack Toads, as well as bird species such as the Great Reed Warbler and the Eurasian Reed Warbler.
Late April 2019 and I was up before dawn packing the car ready to head off. I took with me my trusty pair of Sennheiser 8040s to record in ORTF stereo as well as my Telinga parabolic reflector should I need to record a more focussed sound source. The pond was fairly easy to locate and I arrived just as the sun was rising. I parked the car and began unloading my gear when my attention was quickly drawn towards the pond. It wasn’t frogs or toads I was hearing, it was the beautiful song of a Nightingale! This bird had been on my recording bucket list for years and I had no idea I would find them here. In fact, this may well have actually been the first time I had ever heard a Nightingale in the flesh. Such a pleasant surprise!
I quickly finished setting up and cautiously headed towards the bushes from where the Nightingale was singing. They are notoriously difficult to see so I had to use my ears to locate exactly where the bird was perched. I pointed my parabolic reflector in its direction and hit record.
I spent a long time admiring the Nightingale’s beautiful song before moving on to explore more of the pond. I began hearing frogs croaking off in the distance but they appeared to be on the other side of the pond so I decided to continue along the path that should eventually lead me to their location. I soon heard more Nightingales singing as well as other bird species and stopped to record the following soundscape of a Nightingale graciously singing in the company of a Great Tit.
I continued to circumnavigate the pond aiming to get closer to the amphibians I could hear. But before reaching the frogs I came across yet another wonderful performance, this time a stunning duet between a Nightingale and a Great Reed Warbler. I love the way both species naturally give each other space in the soundscape, never overstepping one another’s aural territory.
It was a stunning morning, a beautiful sunrise having now given way to glorious warmth and crisp blue skies and I was really enjoying my time in the company of such wonderful singers. I soon located the frogs that were in a smaller pond a hundred metres or so away from the main salt pond. Around twenty Marsh Frogs were croaking as I approached so I set up my ORTF mics close to the pond, hit record and walked away in order to minimise disturbing the frogs.
The Etang Salé near Courthézon is a wonderful location to observe wildlife and access is made easy by the wooden boardwalk that goes around the entire circumference of the pond as well as a large hide looking over the centre of the pond. Many other species were present, including several hundred Swifts that were acrobatically catching insects flying over the pond’s surface. From a recordists perspective, the pond is located close to farmland and unfortunately it’s difficult to capture recordings without the distant hum of farm machinery. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and had the added bonus of not only recording amphibians as planned, but also to have unexpectedly recorded the wonderful Nightingales.