Hello! Welcome to Orkney at Dawn....

May 1, 2017

I'm Fiona Driver. I'm a musician and composer up here in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland, but recently I've started another project.... recording Orkney's wonderful wildlife! It's mostly birds - after all, hares and voles don't make much noise and the sea life is quite inaccessible! 

Orkney's bird life is rich and diverse. Springtime is a cacophony of wonderful sounds, from the haunting curlew to the rare woodland birds and the busy sea cliffs, and not forgetting the charismatic sparrows and starlings that can be found on every roof in Orkney. However, the challenges of recording these marvellous sounds are many. The wind is the number one problem. It simply never stops, and even seemingly calm early mornings can be rendered useless by an annoying breeze. The next issue is ferries, and boats in general – 3.30 am can find at least one chugging away. Then there are planes, cars, tractors and so many wind turbines that I can see (and hear!) several from my house. Orkney is never silent, but I am determined to do this, and I have persevered.



Inspiration comes from my late father, zoologist, biologist and ornithologist Dr Peter Michael Driver, who passed on his love of birds to me. I cannot remember a time when I did not know the name of every bird in the garden, where they nested, what colour their eggs were. I absorbed lots of information as I grew up by the shore on the island of Hoy, and I was always rescuing injured birds and nursing them back to health.


Back when it wasn't illegal, Dad had a spectacular collection of birds' eggs, and it was very sad when he had to get rid of them. When he died there were also thousands of scientific specimens to sort out, and that was fascinating and rather gory. Desiccated bat, anyone?


Dad died four years ago, and I was given a small heap of his records. Among them I found some recordings of birds that he had made, dating back to around 1960. One featured ducks hatching, and was made at the Delta Waterfowl Research Station, Manitoba, for the BBC. The second one was made at Birdland, in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds. Dad helped to create Birdland, which explains the connection. I have the reel-to-reel recording device he used, but it no longer works and I have no idea how to use it. Technology moves so fast, and he was totally out of touch in later life.


Having studied recording as part of my music degree, I began to wonder if I could have a go at recording Orkney's birds. 

I bought an appropriate microphone and a hand-held recorder in April 2016, and headed out into the moorland one calm evening in Spring.


I sat in the dark in the heather for a full hour while curlew, lapwing, snipe and common gulls whirled around my head. The resulting recording was unfortunately ruined by the gulls screeching at me non stop, but it was my first taste of bird recording and I was excited. I also accidentally captured a marvellous recording of my friend Paul's Lambretta scooter out for a test drive.


I was very busy with my degree at this time, and also I wasn't planning to do much with the recordings, so it wasn't until the following year that I started to take this a bit more seriously and think about unleashing my work to the wider world!


These photos of dad date back to the sixties, when he was around the age I am now. 


I think these last two were taken on Bardsey Island off the Welsh coast, where he lived in lovely Carreg farmhouse and worked at the bird observatory. I guess those birds he is holding may have flown into the lighthouse.


Dad was 50 when I was born, so this was all long before I knew him, but even in later life he retained his interest in birds, and it infected us all, and especially myself and my youngest brother Merlyn.


The binoculars in the photograph were Dad's favourites; he used them for years and they are decorated with the bird rings from when he was an official ringer. I still have them, even though my Nikons are much better quality. The old ones are very special! 















































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