The Atlantic Forest domain stretches from the northeastern to the southern regions of Brazil and northern Argentina and southeastern Paraguay. In the northeastern part of Brazil it occupies a thin coastal strip not exceeding 40 miles in width, while in the south it extends from the coast to as far as 200 miles inland.
It harbors around 2,200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians – 5% of the vertebrates on Earth. This includes nearly 200 bird species found nowhere else, and 60% of all of Brazil’s threatened animal species call this forest home. (source)
Nature recordings is one the subjects I am fascinated about listening and recording. I starting to become highly curious when I browsed through Estonian ponds and Borneo cicadas. Once I decided to start exploring this field, I made my mind into Brazil. Below I share how I came about recording and living pretty much in the middle of the forest and useful things I learned along the way.
CHOOSING A PLACE
- budget to go and live there
- ability to communicate with people in that country
- knowing people / have friends or relatives who can help with housing, cultural features and security measures
- having at least the start of a plan to record
More than flying tickets, one might need to pay to access an area. Either to be taken there (even several times) or to pay accommodation and food in order to go on with your project (like I am doing right now).
For my next trip, I will definitely check if the people in the area I’m visiting can speak any of the languages I know. Do not rely on travelling and tourism sales oriented websites, as those will probably make you believe that is easy to find people speaking english (for example). My native language is portuguese and even so I have encountered communication issues in Brazil, specially when I arrived in the State of Minas Gerais whose people have a very distinct accent and use so much of slang. I asked two people if the bus stop in question was the one just by a taxi square, with a simple four word sentence and speaking very articulated words. One gentle girl smiled and gave me both her thumbs up all while nodding her head positively, all the three times I asked the same question, each time more slowly and articulated. Oh, yes, that wasn’t the bus stop with the taxi square and I had my big and heavy travelling suitcase, the backpack with the equipment and the Rycote kit. Just before the bus started accelerating again I was lucky enough to stop it and ask again to the bus assistant (yes, they had one) who finally really understood me. Even for people that will understand some english they might get really shy, bored or tired of interpreting it all the time and not take the effort to actually make things work.
Naturally, one might not have friends already in the country to visit but it is very useful and comforting. If not, and you are unsure about being safe, common traits, go on to an online forum and ask local people. In a country with a poor structure and organisation, even understanding where and how to buy a ticket to a transport can be a major headache.
About two months before I travelled I looked on State Parks and protected areas near my main temporary residence and emailed the responsible cabinet for those. This can easily be state-owned and managed by the ministry department.
TIPS ON APPROACHING AN ORGANISATION IN ORDER TO HAVE ACCESS TO RECORD
Shortly after I arrived in São Paulo, I called them to schedule a meeting. I was lucky to be welcomed by very nice and friendly people. This happened to me a handful of times so, depending on the culture you will likely be asked why you chose it, so I hope you are interested in their culture too! You will need these people all the time you will be there doing your work, and the the better relationship you develop the more they will be eager to help you. Ask if they have written information, such as booklets, if they work close to biologists, or experts on some species and the possibility of you working in some form of collaboration or at least get to know them. If it’s possible, make a visit to the place before you talk to them, so you can be precise in your questions. I payed my ticket on a Sunday for the first park I worked in, and got to know the place a little. When I met the administration a few days after, it was only good that I had already been there and enchanted by that magic world. When the cicadas were singing loud, I though about being on another planet, so I could ask when they were most active. Or why I did not see any monkeys on their trail. If the birds don’t come out much when it’s very hot. Etc.
Many people / organisations still don’t quite understand the relevance of documenting the sound of a natural system. But it should not take much for them to love the idea. Maybe you can bring your laptop with you and show them a spectrogram of another recording you did (everyone really likes to visualize sound).
With a pre-determined plan, one can show it is an organised individual. In both places I have been, I asked if they had a particular situation of their interest that could be potentially important or helpful to record. For example, there might be a bird that is difficult to see or an area that is changing, for good or bad, and it feels important to register.
Local people can be incredibly helpful on this sound quest. I’m thinking of the rural area where I am living right now with very low population density and pretty much everyone knows each other. Some of them, who have been living here for quite a while, know all the unmarked trails, where to listen to monkeys, when it’s best to listen to a particular bird they like, recognise traces, or know about some animal’s behaviour. They will also be aware of landscape (and soundscape) changes which is so valuable for this work. So go around, meet people and talk a lot about the surroundings. And it’s not only about their practical knowledge, but also about how they listen. One can certainly expect a different sound awareness from a semi-heremit in the middle of valleys, surrounded by forest and the man in the suit living on the business street of the city, right?
So where have I been, where am I know…
The first area I worked on was the Parque Estadual da Cantareira. It’s a national park where I have been very welcome and with some coordination I can do almost everything that I want. I was going there each day I wanted to record, since it’s a public space with schedule opening / closing times.
At the very moment, I am doing this job under a volunteer program in Iracambi; I simply proposed to do this kind of job and it was immediately accepted. I truly recommend this type of structure as I am able to live in the middle of the forest in their accommodations, record when and what I want, leave the gear outside for the whole night without worrying abut theft, hike and be very free for the time here.
Happy field recording!