Teresa and Miles Tuffli are avid birders who regularly contribute audio recordings and photographs to the Macaulay Library. They enjoy volunteering their time with nature-based organizations within their community of Sonoma County, California. Teresa and Miles shared their story with the Macaulay Library about how they got started birding and all the wonderful things they discovered along the way. Read their story below.
Not long after we began birding (and eBirding) we went on our first local Audubon Society walk, led by an exceptional ear-birder. Going birding with someone who could identify nearly every bird sound in the field was an inspiring and formative experience. Not only did his ear-birding abilities seem like magic, but knowing who to look for helped us see more birds – and who doesn’t want to see more birds?!
After that walk, we decided to get serious about learning the common bird vocalizations in our area. We made a pact to say aloud every bird sound we heard throughout the day. Whether mid-breakfast, on a dog walk, or driving with the windows down – we’d suddenly exclaim, “Chickadee! Scrubber! Willy Warbs!!!”
Around this same time, we took off on a cross-country roadtrip. We bought a used DSLR camera so we could photograph new-to-us birds to study them later and confirm IDs. The first bird we ever photographed was a Mountain Chickadee, and when we uploaded the photo to our eBird checklist – we’d unknowingly contributed to the Macaulay Library!
We quickly learned what a powerful learning tool the Macaulay Library is. It became a daily fixture in our lives as the go-to resource to confirm bird sounds we heard, or to study the variety of vocalizations made by our neighborhood birds, like the Dark-eyed Junco or the Spotted Towhee. We often started by looking up sounds recorded within our county and realized there were far fewer audio recordings than photographs – even of common birds. It made us want to contribute to help fill in these gaps. So, we decided to try our hand at it—first recording audio with our phones, then upgrading to an Olympus LS-10 handheld recorder.
Making audio recordings and uploading them to the Macaulay Library has greatly sped up our learning process and upped our birding game. Simply deciding to concentrate on sounds and putting our ears on high alert tunes us into our natural surroundings in a much deeper way. When we’re recording birds, we stay still and silent for longer than we normally might have. Previously, we may have noticed a vocalization, identified it if we could, then moved on to look for the next bird. Now, we observe a bird more patiently, spending much more time noting its behavior and listening to it vocalize. This extra time spent watching a bird vocalize engages our visual and auditory senses simultaneously and ultimately helps us link the sound to the bird.
Preparing an audio clip to upload provides prime study time. Repetition is the best way to ingrain anything into memory, and reviewing and trimming a file in an editor requires us to listen to it over and over. Additionally, a spectrogram is created when a sound file is finally uploaded. This visual representation of a vocalization further intertwines the senses of sight and sound. Seeing the shape of a song or call is hugely beneficial when trying to memorize it.
Contributing to the Macaulay Library means our collection of spectrograms is permanently preserved, and we can revisit any sound at any time. Sound is a powerful memory trigger, and we’ve found that each of our own recordings fondly evokes that very moment in time where we stood silently, listening to that particular bird tell us about its day.
Making recordings helps us learn vocalizations and greatly benefits us as birders – it’s a big reason why we enjoy doing it, but it’s certainly not the only one. We love that each bird sound we record and submit to the Macaulay Library is a piece of scientific data. Last year, we were contacted by a biology student in Mexico doing research on the geographic variation in Acorn Woodpecker calls. He saw our recordings of Acorn Woodies and asked if we could send him the original files with details on behavior and location. We were honored to help out, and even followed up with additional recordings we subsequently made to contribute to his research. His request really emphasized to us that we are connected to the greater ornithological community via eBird and the Macaulay Library. This opportunity may not have presented itself had we not taken the plunge into the fun world of recording bird sounds.
We’ve come a long way since that first inspiring Audubon walk. Deciding to record bird sounds has given us the satisfaction of helping the scientific community, deepened our awareness while in the field, and markedly improved our ability to identify birds by ear. It’s hard to overstate the sense of connection we feel walking through our forest and knowing which birds are tucked away, hidden from eyes, merely by recognizing their voices. What a comforting reminder that we are never alone in the woods.
To read more of their bird musings and adventures, visit their blog I’m Birding Right Now.