Loads of people have spoken to me about their difficulty in getting to grips with bird song. There is probably no replacement for going out regularly into the field with someone who knows their stuff and letting them guide you, but BirdMIKE comes pretty close.
I’ve had one for some time now, and to be honest, I didn’t really put it to the test at first, simply because I’m lucky and already have a good understanding of British birdsong. Over the past few months or so I have, however, given it a bit of a grilling, and I like what I see and hear. The inspiration to test it came last summer, when, during the making of Springwatch, our sound recordist came back after a night in the field on Islay with a sound he didn’t recognise. I listened, and thought it to be a Moorhen’s nocturnal, tri-syllabic call, but could find no-one to corroborate. I picked up BirdMIKE, and, lo and behold, very nearly the same call is in the mix of recordings on offer.
This aid is really neat, about the same size as a pocket field guide with 270 species of British birds represented, including some pretty rare and obscure ones, like Rough-Legged Buzzard and Pomarine Skua. I especially like the variety of calls on offer for most of the species covered, rather than just the main song. The Cuckoo recordings are a great example of this with territorial flight call, female bubbling, the conventional male Cuckoo and a tri-syllabic version of the same thing, all represented. I do have a tiny gripe about the Common Pheasant recordings, which oddly do not include the most usual territorial call of the male Pheasant in the version I have. This omission is a small glitch in an otherwise very carefully researched and compiled resource.
It’s super easy to use and doubles as a pretty good field guide with clear illustrations and a vocal track telling you about the bird you are listening to / looking at. The brains in the box are the ‘Talking Pen’ and dedicated software which are both small and portable, and robust enough to withstand field use. Touch the pen to one of the magic little dots next to the species you want to hear and, hey presto, away it squeaks, squawks or sings. If you are just starting out in the world of identifying birdsong, want to brush up on some of the species you don’t often hear, or simply want a tool to help confirm sounds you think you already know, BirdMIKE is a must.