The White-capped Monarch is a small bird of the flycatcher family, found only on a few islands in the central Solomon Islands.
At 5am, on the rainforested island of Tetepare, they begin their hauntingly beautiful predawn singing. Each bird gives a series of single, pure-note whistles - hesitant and slightly tremulous. At first only one or two birds call, ethereal and hypnotic in the night. The magic develops as more birds join in, each bird singing its own note, together making a kind of organic music; an elfin choir in the forest.
A chorus of nocturnal insects call softly, along with wildlife characteristic of these Pacific islands; eyelash frogs, 'kissing' bats, megapodes, white-eyes and koels. The sound of waves breaking carries faintly from the distant reef.
This is a single continuous recording - a deeply peaceful and unique soundworld.
"There are times in our field recording when we come across something utterly unexpected and wonderful. This was one of those occasions.
"At first I was fascinated with the idea that these birds were singing in a musical scale. Actually, it seemed more like one of the old medieval church modes, which predate our modern scales, and specifically, the Aeolian mode - what we would now term a minor scale.
"However nature is not a musical system, and whilst our music is specifically pitched, these birds weren't vocalising like that. A musician may describe them as singing in micro-tones, quavering their notes and gliding them almost imperceptibly. In reality, it would be more accurate to say that our musical ears may perceive the illusion of a scale, but frequently, these birds would sing tones that were not on the modal scale at all.
"What I can say is that the whole experience of being in the rainforest, with faint shafts of moonlight penetrating the canopy, and these wonderful sounds around us, was utterly enchanting. Deeply relaxing. It was a unique occasion, rarely heard, and only encountered in that localised region of the Solomon Islands.
"We decided that the effect is so restful that many would enjoy listening to the complete recording. It is one of those soundscapes that just lulls you hypnotically, yet it is always changing."
In addition to the White-capped Monarchs vocalising throughout this recording, several other species can be heard:
Koel Cuckoo - rising "wid-oo, wid-oo, wid-oo..." - I think this is the female calling (heard once early on, 1.13, then 6.52... and also later).
Solomon Islands Eyelash Frog - succession of yaps (eg; 6.07, 8.58, and closer, with an unusually articulate call for a frog 44.04)
Tetepare White-eye - occasional utterences of high-frequency, twittering song (11.28, 17.54, 21.16, 34.17, getting more frequent later as dawn approaches. This species is endemic to Tetepare)
Sacred Kingfisher - "kek, kek, kek..." (begins calling at 12.38...)
Melanesian Scrubfowl - somewhat raucous chuckles and cries, often heard at night (eg; 23.07, 23.39...)
Bat species, I never found out which one, but it has a very audible 'sneezing' vocalisation - (59.45, 61.55)
Yellow-faced Myna - nasal whistles (62.55, 65.56...)
Waves breaking on the nearby reef can be heard throughout the recording, which concludes as the proper dawn chorus begins.
Tetepare is known as 'the last wild island', as it is a hard-won conservation success story among the widespread and often predatory logging practices that have decimated the ecosystems of other islands in the Solomons. It is now a protected area, supported by very low impact eco-tourism development. It is a very special place, and if you have the opportunity, we recommend a visit.
That Tetepare has been preserved as a sanctuary is the result of vision and hard work on the part of the islanders themselves. A visiting Australian couple, both ecologists, supported them in this enterprise, and Dr. John Read has written the story of their combined efforts to save the island. John describes the ecology of the island with warmth and passion, and we recommend his book as a natural companion to this recording. Links for the book, and for the island's Eco Lodge:
Our thanks to the Tetepare Descendants Association, formed by the local community to protect the island against what are often predatory and unsustainable logging practices. For more information on visiting Tetepare: www.tetepare.org
We'd also like to acknowledge the friendship of Mary and Twomey, the latter for his gentle companionship as our local guide while on the island.