In this blog, Devon birdwatcher Peter Shaw describes to us how he uses hearing technology to enhance his awareness of birdsong out in the field.
“I had been aware for some time that my hearing was not up to scratch. Even during my student days, I had suspected that others could discriminate sound more acutely than me. Why else would they rave about the fantastic sound reproduction of the latest stereo, when I could detect only marginal improvement?
I got my first real confirmation that my hearing was missing out when bird watching. A passerby asked me if I had noticed the goldcrests in some nearby scrub. I had not.
"I can still hear them," he remarked as he walked on.
I could not, though I quickly located them with my binoculars. They were only a few metres away, but I never got to hear them.
Years later, I noticed other things – needing the TV turned up to levels uncomfortable for my wife, frequently asking people to repeat themselves – which prompted me to have my hearing professionally profiled.
My hearing profile clearly showed that I had very little hearing capacity for the higher frequencies and I told the goldcrest story as anecdotal confirmation to Curtis. He played a recording of its song, and it is indeed high pitched - 4 kHz.
Credit: Jarek Matusiak, XC129192. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/129192
Once I had received my new audifiers, I took them out for a trial in the countryside. No goldcrests about, but I heard a song I could not immediately recognise. It dawned on me that it was, in fact, one of the birds with which I am most familiar – a robin. The reason it had initially puzzled me was that I was hearing the upper registers of its song that I had been missing for years!
Credit: Jarek Matusiak, XC252403. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/252403
Clearly, my new hearing devices were delivering real improvement, but one further tweak was needed.
I regularly wake early and listen to the suite of Radio 4 programmes finishing with Tweet of the Day just before the start of the Today programme. Chris Watson's commentary was interesting, but I could not hear the firecrest he was talking about, even with my audifiers.
Credit: Harry Kälin, XC362408. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/362408
Replaying the 'Tweet' on iPlayer later with Curtis, we discovered that the song was pitched at 6 kHz! He reprogrammed my audifiers to pull the firecrest into audibility and I now have an enhanced 'bird watching setting'.
Next stop, bats… ;)