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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote® Recording Sounds with Gerrit Vyn

Air Date: Week of February 4, 2011

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Yellow-billed Loon flapping. (Photo: © Gerrit Vyn)

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is among the world’s premier bird organizations. Gerrit Vyn is a producer and photographer for the lab and, in this week’s BirdNote®, he tells of his trials and tribulations of trying to record a Yellow-billed Loon in Alaska’s North Slope. Mary McCann reports.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.


GELLERMAN: Usually sound is part of the background of our stories, but in today's Birdnote we bring it front and center. Lend an ear as Mary McCann offers a sonic bird's-eye view of a day in the life of an avian photographer.

Yellow-billed Loon on water. (Photo: © Gerrit Vyn)


McCANN: We’re hearing a Yellow-billed Loon calling on Alaska’s North Slope. What does it take to make a recording like this? Here’s Gerrit Vyn, who captured these sounds while on assignment for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

VYN: Trying to record loons has been a really frustrating thing for us to do. The first year when we went up there, I actually spent twelve hours under a piece of camouflage cloth, waiting for Yellow-billed Loons to call, and I had a pair that were swimming right around the microphone and we didn’t get a peep out of them.

Yellow-billed Loon stretching. (Photo: © Gerrit Vyn)

MCCANN: Now imagine carrying very specialized battery-operated equipment — along with all your camping gear — across the tundra.

VYN: Basically every step you take, you’re sinking anywhere from your ankle to above your knee in wet, spongy terrain, which can be pretty exhausting, and a lot of times, there’s nowhere dry to put your things down and take a rest.

MCCANN: But the pay-off is there if you’re lucky.


Gerrit Vyn recording those Yellow-billed Loons!
(Photo: © Mike Fair)

VYN: These are a pair of Yellow-billed Loons … they’re giving, they’re going pretty much through their whole repertoire of vocalizations – yodels, wails, and moans. If there’s an invading loon on their lake, they’ll especially get vocal. On this recording, there was another loon that had landed on their lake, and they were trying to drive it off of their lake.


GELLERMAN: Wildlife photographer Gerrit Vyn with BirdNote’s Mary McCann. To see some of Gerrit’s photos of loons, fly over to our website L-O-E dot org.



Call of the Yellow-billed Loon provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Gerrit Vyn.

BirdNote® - Recording Sounds with Gerrit Vyn was written by Chris Peterson.


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