I attended the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library's Sound Recording Workshop in 2001. I had a 1.2 megapixel camera and wasn't very focused on photography, so I didn't take a lot of photos. But this workshop was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had. The one this year (2008) costs $895, which is awfully reasonable for such an experience. The price includes tuition, class materials, ground transportation, food, and lodging--all I needed beyond that was my own equipment (but they do allow you to use theirs if you arrange it ahead of time), a round-trip ticket to the Reno airport (which I got free using my frequent flier mileage), and $12 for a t-shirt that I bought from the research station.
I got several lifers including my nemesis bird--White-headed Woodpeckers were all around our campground!! There was also a family of American Dippers near the campground--the young were newly fledged, and it was great fun watching them follow and be fed by their parents. A Spotted Owl kept me company one morning, too--that was spectacular!
Exciting as the campground was, we were also taken to a lot of other places, to experience different birds and different natural sounds and recording conditions, throughout the workshop. We learned how to use the equipment each of us had and got to try out different kinds of equipment to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each. The previous Christmas Russ had called the Lab to get recommendations about what microphone I should get. He was pleasantly surprised to discover how accessible people at the Macaulay Library were--their equipment recommendations are also on their web page. I had a minidisc recorder (not the best choice, and currently hard to even find--now I use an M-Audio MicroTrack II), and Russ got me a Telinga Parabola with a Sennheiser omni-directional microphone. It was fun to play with, but the skills I got from the workshop enabled me to REALLY appreciate what could be done with it! I'll never forget the very first afternoon, after we arrived at the research station, unpacked, and gathered together as a class for the first time. Expert recordist Randy Little, one of our instructors, showed us how to point the parabola when we found a singing bird. Right off the bat, using my headphones, the bird sounded loud and cool. But after sweeping the parabola from side to side and up and down, suddenly POP! The sound was huge and perfect and amazing! Over the week, I learned how to maximize the bird sound and minimize wind and ambient sounds.
I also had plenty of opportunities to try out other equipment. At the end of the week, I decided that as much as I LOVED my parabola, there were some occasions when a shotgun microphone would work better--either at picking up more ambient sounds for habitat recordings when I still wanted to focus on a bird, and also when I needed something much more portable than my parabola. Thanks to getting to field-test equipment, I settled on a nice small, reasonably inexpensive Sennheiser ME66 shotgun microphone that worked with the same Sennheiser K6 power module I already had.
I also got a great overview of sound analysis software and how to use it, and got practice at editing my field recordings. Our group each submitted some of our favorite recordings which were compiled onto a CD--a wonderful take-home memento of a wonderful week!
Here are a few of the recordings I made during the workshop: