Thursday, 1 August 2013

Ted Parker: Voices of the Peruvian Rainforest

To mark the 20th anniversary of Ted Parker's death on Saturday 3 August, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have made just made available a free download of Parker's seminal Voices of the Peruvian Rainforest compilation, which first appeared on cassette in 1985. I still have a well-worn copy of this tape, which was one of the first commercially available recordings of South American bird songs.

Most of the recordings were made in Madre de Dios, and many along the río Tambopata, in SE Peru. I first came across the tape while working for several months as a biologist and guide at Explorer's Inn in 1988, when this was the only camp along the Tambopata. At that time, more bird species had been recorded at Explorer's Inn than at any other point on the planet - 515 species by 1981. A good proportion of the cuts were recorded on the property, so listening to the recordings now transports me right back into those wonderfully rich and diverse southwestern Amazonian forests.

One of my favourites is the recording of Pale-winged Trumpeter Psophia leucoptera song from Cocha Cashu in Manu National Park (the high-pitched disyllabic call is Ringed Antpipit Corythopis torquatus, a familiar sound throughout Amazonian lowland forests).

This extraordinary purring vocalisation will be familiar to anyone who stayed at Explorer's Inn at that time, since the lodge had a tame Trumpeter that often used to sing in the early mornings. This endearing bird would also immediately pounce on and attack any snake entering the lodge clearing; even the large Mussurana Clelia clelia that lived underneath our cabins was considered fair game.
Ted Parker had a phenomenal gift for remembering wildlife sounds. It is often said that he could identify more than 4,000 bird species by their songs alone. Made with an unwieldy parabola on a heavy, twin-reel Nagra recorder, his high-quality sound recordings capture more than 2,000 species of birds, mammals, and amphibians. Some 10,788 are archived at Cornell University's Library of Natural Sounds (now the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library).

Ted Parker died along with Al Gentry, a figure of similar legendary stature in the botanical world, and ecologist Eduardo Aspiazu, after their plane crashed while surveying forests northwest of Guayaquil, Ecuador. I clearly remember our shock and disbelief the following day on hearing the news from colleagues at BirdLife International. 

Ted Parker & Al Gentry (Photo: Tim Awbrey)

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