In early Spring 2019 I spent a few days exploring the Calvados region in the north of France. One of the main reasons I wanted to come to this region was to record the White Stork population that come here during breeding season. I had tried to make the trip a couple of times in previous years but had to postpone each time so was happy that I was able to travel up there this year.
I had done significant research online over the previous years, focussing on the best time to come, where the White Storks nest, how to ensure my presence won’t disturb them etc. One of my most useful sources of information was a local contact at the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux (LPO) Normandie. This is the Normandy division of the French League for the Protection of Birds. I was put in touch with a very helpful officer who gave me plenty of useful information before making the trip.
The location I chose to record at is the Chateau de la Riviere in Saint Fromond, an old fortified castle built in the 13th century. Uninhabited since 1818 and badly damaged in 1944 during fighting related to the Normandy landings, the castle is now home to White Storks during breeding season who have been coming to nest here since around the 1970s. I’m happy to have learnt that each year their numbers are increasing.
After prepping my recording gear the night before, I set off an hour or so before sunrise. I had a simple 40 minutes drive to reach the location so arrived perfectly just before the break of dawn. As soon as stepped out of my car I heard the distant sound of beaks clacking in the air. I could see the castle ruins through some trees and as I slowly approached I realised that I would have to climb over a fence into a field in order to get close enough to record. I was sure this was private land but with no farmers around to ask permission from, I hopped over the fence and started to walk around the castle grounds.
There were about thirty nesting pairs in total, and the nests these birds build are so impressive in terms of size. What makes this location so special is how the White Storks have literally taken ownership of the castle ruins with their large nests sitting atop the castle’s former towers and walls. After discretely scoping out the perimeter of the grounds, I began recording at a few locations. Unfortunately, with the geographic landscape in the area being so open and flat, there was some traffic noise from a distant motorway that was very difficult to evade. After trying a few locations I settled for one which was the furthest from the traffic source. I also used my parabolic reflector to really hone in on the sound of the Storks.
In this recording we hear a pair of White Storks clacking their beaks as well as the hiss of a baby Stork that would occasionally stick its head out of the nest. I was so happy to have not only recorded the clacking beaks of the adults, but also to have captured this hissing of the young. After making a few recordings I then just stood and admired the birds for a while as they flew in and out of their nests. They really are majestic creatures.
After an hour or so I headed back to my car. I was just packing my gear into the back of the car when I heard the sound of a Sedge Warbler singing in the hedgerow next to the country lane. I grabbed my recorder and parabolic reflector and captured this recording. A nice way to top off a pleasant morning of field recording.
Until recently White Storks were considered to be an endangered species but thankfully their numbers are on the increase. They are common in the Alsace region of Eastern France but I would highly recommend a visit to the Chateau de la Riviere which has to go down as one of the most unique locations I have recorded at.