Kestrel's Musings

Rambles and explorations from this perspective.

Learning to Read Bird on a Low Budget.


Okay, an iPod and MacBook Pro is not low budget in many senses. However, recording and analyzing bird sounds even as a low budget hobby can be pricey. One recommended list I read had a $500 mic as the cheaper alternative. I am not ready to take that plunge, although discovering a new and inspiring blog,, has me thinking about it. (Check out Nathan Pieplow’s many great posts like this one on taking The Plunge into sound recording. He even indirectly mentions one of the best, and one of my favorite bird learning environments around, the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, when he notes the Macaulay Sound Recording Workshop, which takes place there each year. I was fortunate enough to be taking a course there last year concurrently while the recording group was there. I am doubly lucky to be taking a different course this summer while the recording group will be there. This phenomenal course will be at the top of my list once I am out of the low budget zone.)

I am new to the iPod world which makes me new to the app world too. After thoroughly enjoying iBird West, BirdTunes, and Bird Codes, I wondered if there was a way to use RavenLite on my iPod. I imagined that there had to be an app like feature to take a recording and put it directly into a spectrogram. I searched the app store for a RavenLite app to no avail. I sent Nathan at an email asking about recording apps. He directed me to a 2010 post of his reviewing a new app for the iPhone called Spectrogram. I checked it out and voilà. HOFIsong



Seeing that Mourning Dove coo appear exactly as I heard it was an epiphany. I see it. I see the sound. That low, initial coo that peaks up and then down slightly to pause followed by three subtly varied coos. Really pretty amazing.

For those interested, the Spectrogram app converts the sounds directly into a continuously flowing spectrogram. I quickly found that I could not slide my finger across the screen to see what was recorded previously because there is no record. I used the pause button and the screen shot feature to save the moments. Hence the settings and play icons also in the images. This is the low budget part, and fairly crude too. I once suggested to a fellow birder and trip leader that a point and shoot camera worked as a recorder in a pinch allowing you to take the sound with you to help with identification later or simply learning the sounds. I was scoffed at. I suspect that he missed the point. Ingenuity and resourcefulness counts. What ever it takes to learn. Especially when it just might promote more learning and ultimately a voice for the conservation of birds. But I digress a bit. Back to learning to read bird.

The Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds is underway. Learning to read bird is here. After first learning to recognize birds by sight and soon after by sound almost 20 years ago, I am as eager as ever to understand all I can about birds. A spectrogram opens up listening to an entirely new level that I am thoroughly enjoying.


Author: Kestrel

Kestrel identifies as a naturalist, Yosemite Interpreter, guide, outdoor educator, science teacher, friend, music lover, auntie extraordinaire, adventurer for birds, and fellow sojourner on this big blue marble. Out there she strives to live life most generously and satisfyingly. Here she endeavors to share what rolls around the heart and grey matter...

3 thoughts on “Learning to Read Bird on a Low Budget.

  1. Kestrel, thanks for recommending I just started to delve into its depths today and am very impressed with the clarity at which the author teaches this potentially confusing topic. I think visualizing calls is really going to help me learn some of these birds that have only subtle variances in their calls.

    • Yes! Regarding all of it. I have felt a resonance with Nathan’s writing. His clarity and passion is inspiring. I was inspired to check out other blogs as well since I am very new to this blogging world. I am suddenly learning a lot! P.S. I emailed Larkwire immediately after our FB post regarding calls. They are very interested and looking into making an app for learning calls, yet apparently there maybe some insurmountable hurdles.

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