THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

124 posts categorized "Wildlife sounds"

29 January 2018

Recording of the week: echolocating birds

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This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds.

Echolocation is a handy tool used by several groups of animals to understand the world around them. The major players are bats and cetaceans, who use the echoes of specialist calls to locate prey and navigate in conditions where visibility is poor, however a few other animals also possess their own biosonar systems.

Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) are one of only a handful of birds with the ability to echolocate. These nocturnal birds roost in caves across the tropical forests of northwestern South America and spend a considerable amount of their time in the dark. In conditions where eyesight is irrelevant, individuals use sequences of clicks to build up a 3D image of their surroundings. The rapid fire and variable nature of these sequences is captured in the following recording made in the Colombian Andes by wildlife sound recordist Ian Todd. Calls from nearby birds can also be heard, especially in the first half of the recording.

Echolocating oilbirds recorded by Ian Todd in the Colombian Andes on 9 Feb 2009 (BL ref 110359)

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An Oilbird in the Asa Wright Nature Centre caves, Trinidad (courtesy of Alastair Rae)

As Ian explained in his accompanying notes, obtaining this recording was by no means a walk in the park.

"To gain access to the mouth of the cave we had to wade across the fast-flowing upland Rio Alicante, and then clamber up a series of huge boulders. The colony of Oilbirds was localised just within the cave entrance."

Hats off to you, sir.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

18 December 2017

Recording of the week: the Curlew's lament

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This week's selection comes from Richard Ranft, Head of Sound and Vision.

Around this time of year as winter takes it hold, and into spring that follows, a daytime walk around one of Britain’s more remote coastal estuaries and mudflats, or over inland moorlands and heathlands will likely bring about an encounter with a Curlew, the largest of all waders. Its soulful voice carries far across flat and rolling landscapes, adding a magical and haunting feel to wild places. And in early English folklore, it was a harbinger of death, or for the poet WB Yeats, it spoke of a love lost:

"O Curlew, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the water in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind"

  Curlews lament

This particular Curlew recording was made in southern England as long ago as 1937 by the pioneer bird sound recordist, Ludwig Koch (1881-1974). It comprises several takes that illustrate the bird’s varied notes. The recording was used for many years to introduce The Naturalist radio programme, broadcast by the BBC Home Service.

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.

27 November 2017

Recording of the week: pond life

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This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Have you ever wondered what a pond sounds like? Most of us will have spent some time dipping for tadpoles, watching insects glide across the surface or looking out for flashes of colour as fish move beneath the water, but our interactions with ponds are usually visual. For some people though, the promise of what's going on sonically is just too hard to resist.

Most wildlife sound recordists will have a hydrophone somewhere in their arsenal and are only too happy to investigate this otherwise silent world. While visiting a smallholding in north Wales, Peter Toll's curiosity was piqued by a little pond that had been carefully created to give life to as many creatures as possible. In his accompanying notes, Peter remarked: 

"It looked so still and tranquil above the surface, until I lowered my hydrophones and was truly amazed by what sounds I could hear below the surface."

What Peter heard was an ecosystem brimming with life. The sounds of newts, invertebrates and oxygenating plants came together to create a vibrant aquatic soundscape, as can be heard in the following excerpt. As the old adage goes, looks can definitely be deceiving. 

Pond atmosphere recorded by Peter Toll in Llandrindod Wells, Wales on 30 Sept 2011 (BL ref 212534) 

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A selection of underwater sounds from the archive was put together for a special programme broadcast by NTS Radio in October 2017. To find out more and listen again please click here.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

20 November 2017

Recording of the week: whistling Wigeon

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This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds. 

Right about now, hundreds of thousands of birds will be en route to the UK, returning to wintering grounds that have provided their populations with food and shelter for millennia. The Wigeon is just one of the birds that will be making this journey. This medium-sized duck usually congregates around the British coastline but, despite the large numbers, you’re more likely to hear Wigeon before you see them. Males announce their presence with an excitable, high-pitched whistle which, teamed with their pretty plumage, helps bring some cheer to the most desolate winter landscape.

Wigeon whistles recorded in Northumberland, England in Jan 2012 by Simon Elliott (BL ref 199321)

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Male and female Wigeon taken from British Gamebirds and Wildfowl, 1855 (courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Many more wildlife recordings can be found in the Environment and Nature section of British Library Sounds.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news. 

12 October 2017

LISTEN: 140 Years of Recorded Sound

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Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound is the Library's new free exhibition in the Entrance Hall Gallery until 11 May 2018.

This exhibition also inaugurates the Library’s Season of Sound which, includes happy hour listening sessions, a series of talks and late-night shows.

What would you find?

  Gallery_blog

100 Sounds

In the exhibition space we present 100 sounds from the archive, amounting to nearly seven hours of playing time, dating from 1889 to 2017 and covering music, drama, oral history, wildlife, environmental sounds, accents and dialects, and radio.

Many of the selections are rare and unpublished and they can be accessed from any of the exhibition’s listening pods, which have been designed for a secluded and prolonged listening experience.

Hand-out_blog

 Some of my favourites…

  • Radio drama: a musical excerpt from an off-air recording of a radio play by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin - The People in the Park made in 1963. This is an example of a radio drama which was not saved by the BBC and which the British Library has preserved from an off-air recording. The chosen musical excerpt is representative of the humour and the strong feminist message of the piece.
  • Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan live at WOMAD recorded by the British Library in 1985. The Library has 2500 hours of recordings made at the WOMAD Festival by a team of volunteer staff from 1985 till the present.
  • Brendan Behan singing ‘The Old Triangle’ in 1954 from his play The Quare Fellow. This is a private recording donated by the Theatre Royal in Stratford East.
  • An excerpt from an oral history interview with chef Cyrus Todiwala, interviewed by Niamh Dillon in 2008, recalling his reaction to first encountering Indian restaurant menus when he arrived in the UK from India in the 1990s.
  • A wildlife recording of a Turkish soundscape at dusk made by biologist and field recordist Eloisa Matheu in 2010.
  • Hugh Davies performing his composition ‘Salad’ on a variety of egg and tomato slicers in 1978.

Also… the voice of Florence Nightingale; James Joyce reading from Ulysses; the voice of Brahms; Maya Angelou live in Lewisham; the earliest recording of British vernacular speech; bird mimicry; whale songs; …

‘Mystery tracks’

To put you in the zone we have installed five ‘mystery tracks’ at the very front of the exhibition space. If you are curious to know the ‘when’, ‘where’ and the ‘who’ of the mystery tracks, the details are revealed in a hand-out available elsewhere in the space.

Mystery tracks 1blog 

Timeline

For reference there is a timeline listing key developments in the history of recorded sound (including radio), and illustrating how the effect of recordings and recording technologies has changed our relationship to sound over the years.

Listen timeline_blog

Artefacts

The British Library has a collection of rarely seen audio players and other artefacts. For this exhibition we have taken a few out of storage. Players include an Edison home phonograph from 1900 and a Nagra SN miniature tape recorder from 1970. The artefacts include a colourful selection of picture discs and the original nickel-plated stamper used to press a disc version of Tennyson reciting 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' in 1890.

Listen to Tennyson reciting 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'

Edison Diamond Disc phonograph_blogEdison Diamond Disc phonograph (c.1919)

Boy Wireless

To illustrate how archival sounds can inspire new works in the 21st century, composer and sound artist Aleks Kolkowski has created a unique sound installation.

Boy Wireless was inspired by a diary kept by a sixteen-year old radio enthusiast, Alfred Taylor, writing in 1922-23, at the dawn of broadcast radio. The original diary is also on display in the space.

BoyWireless_B Boy Wireless sound installation by Aleks Kolkowski

Aleks Kolkowski_blogAleks Kolkowski at the British Library cutting souvenir voice recordings on the exhibition’s opening night.

Save Our Sounds

The Library’s sound archive is one of the biggest on the planet. It contains six and half million audio recordings from all over the world in over forty different formats. The preservation of recorded sound is at the heart of our work. In 2016 the Library launched the Save Our Sounds Programme to digitise the most vulnerable items in our collection and in other collections across the UK. Donations to support the programme are welcome.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for more news.

24 September 2017

World Rivers Day

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You may not know it, but a global celebration of the world's waterways has taken place on the last Sunday of September every year since 2005. From rallies and special film screenings to community cleanups and riverside get-togethers, this annual event highlights the importance of our rivers and the need to protect them.

In honour of World Rivers Day 2017, here are some of our favourite river recordings from around the world.

Agua Azul cascades recorded in Chiapas, Mexico by Richard Beard (BL ref 149032)

Riverside atmosphere recorded in Wedza, Zimbabwe by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125784)

River Dart below the surface recorded in Devon, England by Peter Toll (BL ref 212542)  

Boyd River atmosphere with frogs recorded in New South Wales, Australia by David Lumsdaine (BL ref 150641)


Creek-593146_1920

Be sure to check out the Twitter hashtag #WorldRiversDay for more info on the day's events. You can also find other watery sounds in the Environment and Nature section of British Library Sounds.

25 August 2017

It's all in the tail

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Tails are probably not the first things that spring to mind when thinking about animal sounds. Beautiful songs or spine-chilling cries, sure, but tails? It's unlikely.

Several animal groups use their tails to generate sound. One of the most famous of these are rattlesnakes, a group of venomous reptiles found across North and South America. As their name suggests, rattlesnakes possess a rattle at the end of their tail. Its function is to warn potential predators to keep their distance or face the prospect of a deadly bite. The rattle is made up of small pieces of keratin that bang together when the tail is rapidly vibrated. Rattlesnakes aren’t the only reptiles to use a bit of tail-shaking when confronted by danger. Many other types of snake use the same, albeit much quieter, method to send a warning to other animals on the lookout for a quick dinner. Why evolution graced rattlesnakes with a sound-producing tail has been the subject of scientific positing for decades but, whatever the reason, the rapid shake of a rattlesnake’s rattle has proven to be a highly effective messenger.

Rattlesnake tail sounds recorded at London Zoo by Richard Ranft (BL ref 21461) 

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Birds can usually make themselves understood with their voices alone, however some species also bring their tails into the mix. The Indian Peafowl is one such species. For a long time the majesty of the male's tail display was thought to be a purely visual cue to woo nearby females and deter potential rivals. As well as producing a feast for the eyes, a peacock's tail display also creates a distinctive rustling sound which was initially thought to be an inert byproduct of the main spectacle. When researchers at the University of Manitoba investigated this further however, they discovered that the sound also had infrasonic properties which, though inaudible to humans, can be detected by other birds. But what message does this sound actually convey? It's thought that the infransonic rustling acts as a sonic reinforcement to the tail display, helping other individuals assess the quality and strength of the performer. Indian Peafowls naturally occur in dense forests across the Indian Subcontinent, so being able to utilise low frequencies, which travel further than high frequency sounds, is particularly useful when individuals can't always be seen. Nobody wants to wade through loads of scrub only to be disappointed, so listening out for these infrasonic clues can save both males and females a whole lot of hassle.

Peacock tail feather display recorded in England by John Paterson (BL ref 62061)

Peacock-2254989_1920

Another bird that uses its tail feathers to communicate is the Common Snipe. Males possess modified outer tail feathers which, when held at right angles to the body, produce a drumming sound during their dramatic aerial display flights. As snipe are crepuscular, these flamboyant performances normally take place at twilight and sit in stark contrast with the bird's usually shy and retiring demeanour.

In May 1943, RAF Flying Officer R.A. Carr-Lewty published a paper in British Birds which included this eloquent description of the drumming display:

"When drumming, the Snipe descends with the two outer tail-feathers widely extended, and in this position they are free to vibrate without interference from the other rectrices. Once the requisite speed has been attained, these feathers, by reason of this extension and their peculiar shape and structure, commence to vibrate and continue to do so as long as the speed is maintained; the Snipe attains this speed by diving. In normal flight, the outer tail-feathers, being supported by contact with the other rectrices, have no tendency to vibrate."

Common Snipe drumming display recorded in Scotland by Richard Margoschis (BL ref 22497)

Common Snipe (courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)Common Snipe (courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Moving across to mammals, the North American Beaver uses its flat, paddle-like tail to alert nearby individuals to the presence of danger. When things just don't seem right, beavers will slap their scaly tails on the surface of the water as an alarm signal to other beavers. As these animals are timid and nocturnal, a meaty tail slap may be your only clue that a beaver is nearby.

North American Beaver tail slap recorded in Ontario by Tom Cosburn (BL ref 69781)

  Tail of a Beaver (courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)Illustration of a beaver's tail (courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Though songs and calls often dominate our perception of what the natural world sounds like, animals across the world have evolved many other ways to communicate with each other. So the next time you think about wildlife sounds, spare a thought for the tails out there.

14 August 2017

Recording of the week: the seabirds of Bempton Cliffs

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This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

If you find yourself in East Yorkshire during the summer holidays, be sure to pay a visit to the stunning seabird colonies at Bempton Cliffs. Every year nearly half a million seabirds congregate on the hard chalk cliff faces in order to breed. Numbers are at their highest between April and August, when Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Puffins and gulls jostle for the best positions along the precipitous ledges. This recording, made by Richard Margoschis in 1990, captures all the excitement of this busy community.

You can listen to more wildlife and environmental recordings in the Environment and Nature section of British Library Sounds.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news.