Working for birds in Africa

Bird Song of Zambia

Sat, 12/22/2012 - 11:34 -- abc_admin
R. Stjernstedt. Privately produced. Three cassette tapes. Available from WildSounds, Cross Street, Salthouse, Norfolk NR25 7XH, UK. UK£23.50 (UK& EC), UK£20 (non-EC) plus postage & packing; each volume UK£8.95 (UK& EC), UK£7.62 (non-EC) plus postage & packing.
page 82

The set consists of a series of three cassette tapes, which contain the vocalisations of 415 species of birds to be heard in Zambia. They are divided up into one, which has the songs of the non-passerines, with two tapes having calls of passerine birds. One tape is devoted to those birds, which in a southern African and east African context, only occur in central Africa and Zambia and for these the songs of 94 species are given. Some of the recordings have been made by other people and in countries other than Zambia and full acknowledgement and geographical details are given on the enclosed leaflet, which is tightly packed into the cassette cover. This leaflet contains information on the sequence in which the songs are given, including the Zambian and Roberts' number, the common and scientific name, where and when the recordings were made and, in some cases, interesting ecological information concerning the recording itself. Bob Stjernstedt provides his own narration and each call is introduced using the English and scientific name of the species concerned.

The quality of the recordings is good and they are 'real', in terms of background noise not being edited out in the studio, and this adds a feel of authenticity to them and, in my opinion, does not detract from the recordings in any way. For example, the rooster calling in the background of the cut of Natal Nightjar Caprimulgus natalensis confirms that this recording was made early in the morning. The lengths of the cuts vary and calls have not been repeated in order to fill up the cassettes, which in most cases have a blank portion at the end. I have used these tapes extensively, they work well and illustrate the differences on a subcontinental scale in the songs of some of our bird species. There are some interesting comparisons to be made with other available bird-call tapes on the market. For example, the call of Collared Palm Thrush Cichladusa arquata on this set of tapes invokes an almost immediate response from local birds on the Zambezi river, while that given on the set of Gibbon (1991), taped in Malawi, elicits no reaction from these birds at all. The calls of Natal Nightjar, from Natal, on Gibbon (1991) have a much slower tempo than that on this set of tapes, although the Zambezi birds read positively to Ihe slower call of the Natal birds. This demonstrates that we have a long way to go in understanding the scope and scale of variation in the songs of some species. I had some difficulty with the leaflets in terms of folding them up and packing them away nicely with the cassette in their cases. They are not waterproof and any moisture (water or sweat) dripped onto them causes the ink to run with disastrous consequences. I had to break the record tabs on my cassettes to prevent accidental over-recording, but this is a simple and quick procedure that should be done when the tapes are purchased. These tapes have been produced outside of a recording studio and Bob Stjernstedt has done a great job given the constraints under which the recordings were compiled. They are essential field equipment for anyone contemplating work north of the Zambezi, and are also useful south of the river, particularly in Zimbabwe.

Kit Hustler

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