THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

151 posts categorized "Wildlife sounds"

17 February 2020

Recording of the week: where there's a whip there's a will

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

Many birds are a dab hand when it comes to singing their name and the Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus vociferous) is no exception. This nocturnal bird inhabits woodlands stretching from Canada to the southern United States and, due to its perfectly camouflaged plumage, is more likely to be heard than seen.

Whip-poor-will illustration 1921
Whip-poor-will illustration taken from Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music, 1921 (courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

This particular recording was made near the Canadian village of Kirkfield, Ontario in 2003 by Tom Cosburn.

Whip-poor-will - British Library reference 130412

Other birds with onomatopoeic tendencies can be found within the library’s online collection of wildlife and environmental sounds. And if you’re looking for somewhere to start, why not give the Cuckoo a try.

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

20 January 2020

Recording of the week: night in a várzea forest by boat

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

Rainforests are noisy places, even after dark. This recording was made in one of the Amazon’s many várzea or floodplain forests, in the dead of night, by wildlife sound recordist Ian Christopher Todd. Based in a boat in the middle of the Amazon River, our recordist found himself surrounded by a cacophony of sound.

Night in a várzea forest recorded by Ian Christopher Todd (BL shelfmark 201326)

Giant Marine Toad

The rattling calls of Giant Marine Toads (Bufo marinus) can be heard alongside the calls of other amphibians. In the distance, unknown sounds emerge from the darkness beyond, creating a multi-layered soundscape. And, as with many recordings of this type, the more you listen the more you’ll hear.

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

06 January 2020

Recording of the week: why you should listen to the common eider duck

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This week's selection comes from Eve-Marie Oesterlen, Lead Metadata Manager for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

As Lead Metadata Manager for the Unlocking Our Sound project I have less time than I would like to listen to the sonic treasures we retrieve from the vaults. One of my guilty pleasures, however, is occasionally lingering in the corridor where the sound engineers’ studios are located to catch snippets of the sounds that are currently being digitised.

My favourite serendipitous discovery so far has been the call of the common eider duck. The UK’s heaviest and fastest flying duck, the eider is perhaps most well-known for its incredibly light and insulating feathers, the eiderdown, which has allegedly kept many a Vikings’ bed warm. Nowadays, the small soft feathers are mainly used as fill for luxury duvets.

illustration of the Common Eider Duck
Illustration from Coloured figures of the birds of the British Islands, issued by Lord Lilford https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/69277#/summary

In the excerpt below, you can listen to a flock of eider ducks or Somateria mollissima, as they are officially called, as recorded by wildlife recordist Richard Margoschis in the Scottish Highlands in 1984. The catalogue entry for this recording (WS5360 C7), copied below, illustrates the lyrical and sometimes (unintentionally) humorous quality of the metadata that is used to describe the wonderful wildlife sound recordings held by the British Library.

Species heading: Somateria mollissima : Common Eider - Anatidae
Habitat type: Temperate estuary. Tide rising.
No. age, sex: Ca.30, both sexes calling
Recording date: 1984-05-01
Sound quality: Sea heard swirling around jetty
Recording circumstances: Weather conditions: sunny & warm, light breeze
Local time: 13.00
Behavioural note: More male than female present. Some, all male, flew away. More available.

Eider 022A-WS5360XXXXXX-0107M0

I dare you not to be charmed by this lovely chorus of gregarious ah-hoos. It is guaranteed to blow anyone’s winter blues away; we all need some ah-hoo in our lives.

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

09 December 2019

Recording of the week: sheep gathering in Wales

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

Most of the library's wildlife recordings focus on the sounds of wild animals, whether that be singing birds in the Australian outback, echolocating dolphins in the Caribbean Sea or stridulating insects in the English countryside.

It's not all about wildlife though; a little corner of the collection is dedicated to the sounds of domesticated animals.

The following excerpt belongs to a series of recordings made by Richard Margoschis in the summer of 1994 near the Welsh village of Pontrhydfendigaid. Over the course of 3 days, a staggering 3000 sheep were rounded up by farmers and brought down from the mountains for shearing. Margoschis used sound to document each stage of the process and the result is a sequence of sonic snapshots that take the listener from the open countryside right into the shearing shed.

Two sheep

This particular example, recorded as the sheep were being gathered, throws us right into the middle of an energetic soundscape; the sounds of bleating sheep are joined by the excited barks of sheepdogs, as well as the shouts and whistles from farmers on horseback as they work together to round up the flock.

Sheep gathering recorded by Richard Margoschis (BL shelfmark 43558)

This recording, together with its counterparts, presents an evocative and alternative glimpse into the working life of farmers during this busy period in the agricultural calendar. The entire series can be listened to onsite at the British Library.

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

23 October 2019

A privilege to be alive on Fair Isle

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds, writes: 

It may come as little surprise, but wildlife sound recordists are usually absent from their recordings. It makes perfect sense, of course; the primary aim of these recordings is to capture the vocalisations of a particular animal or the collective sounds of a habitat. Through the use of microphone grips, long leads and stillness, recordists can completely remove themselves from the sonic picture they're creating.

Occasionally a recording will begin or end with an announcement. Here the recordist may state the location, time of day, weather conditions or species heard. Sometimes we hear the animated protestations of a recordist under attack (trust me, this happens). Other times it might be the gentle snores of a dozing recordist. But, for the most part, recordings are dedicated to nature and nature alone.

The following recording is a little different. And it's one of my favourites. It was made by Patrick Sellar, co-founder of the British Library's wildlife sounds collection, in 1974 on the Scottish Island of Fair Isle. The main subject of the recording is the Great Skua (Stercorarius skua), or Bonxie to use its colloquial name, however throughout the recording Patrick gives us a running commentary of the events taking place. He speaks of a birdwatching group approaching the nest site and describes the aerial attacks that this approach elicits (the alarm calls of one of the birds can clearly be heard). He then turns his attention to the landscape itself, describing in detail the clear view, light wind and calm sea. Though the calls of the Great Skua, along with the sweet aerial song of a nearby Skylark, can be heard throughout the recording, it's Patrick's description of what can't be heard that really helps us, as listeners, recreate the scene in our minds. As the birds call out we can almost feel the gentle breeze on our face and see the tiny, white-crested waves below. 

Though I love the entire recording, it's Patrick's closing sentence that has really stayed with me. After describing the scene so evocatively, he signs off with the words ' It's one of those days that's a real privilege to be alive on Fair Isle'. For me, these words perfectly encapsulate the power of nature. To make us stop and remember just how lucky we are to be alive is really quite something. 

Patrick  Sellar recording Great Skuas on Fair Isle, 1974 (BL ref 02672)

Colour photograph of the north coast of Fair IsleFair Isle, photographed in August 1974 by Dr Julian Paren (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This recording is just one of many which has been digitised as part of Unlocking our Sound Heritage, an ambitious 5 year project which aims to preserve and provide access to 500,000 rare and at risk recordings from across the nation. 

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

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16 September 2019

Recording of the week: Whooper Swans take flight

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This week's selection comes from Greg Green, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Swans are often portrayed as elegant and beautiful birds, and while they can be very aggressive, they are certainly among my favourite birds to see and hear. So it was an absolute joy when I had the chance to catalogue many reels of swan recordings. I enjoyed many of the recordings in these reels, including the stunning wingbeats of Mute Swans in flight and even a heartbeat which I previously selected as a recording of the week last year.

19th century illustration of a Whooper Swan19th Century Illustration of a Whooper Swan (Biodiversity Heritage Library CC-BY)

This recording of Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) by John Corbett was captured in the tranquility of the Swedish lakes. Two whoopers can be heard bellowing to each other. An impressive sound on its own, but here the sound diffuses, reverberates and echoes throughout the vast mountainous surroundings so perfectly that it’s as though the landscape was designed especially for these calls. Or perhaps these vocalisations evolved in this habitat to resonate further for long distance communication. The pair take flight as the recording plays on, beautifully demonstrating the Doppler effect as they fly past the microphones and out to the horizon, their calls gradually fading into the echoes from the environment. Just stunning!

Whooper swans recorded by John Corbett (WS1734 C5)

This recording has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

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

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02 September 2019

Recording of the week: rain over the Iron Range

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

The early morning enthusiasm of this Australian dawn chorus, recorded in Queensland’s Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park, hasn't been dampened by the weather. The sound of gentle rain is accompanied by a variety of vocalisations from birds such as the Black Butcherbird (Melloria quoyi), White-faced Robin (Tregellasia leucops) and Australasian Yellow Oriole (Oriolus flavocinctus).

Rain over the Iron Range, recorded by Tony Baylis (BL ref 163202)

Raindrops on leavesRaindrops on leaves (via Pixabay)

This recording was made in November 2005, as the Australian spring was drawing to a close. It comes from a much larger collection of wildlife and environmental sounds recorded in the national park by field recordist Tony Baylis, all of which can be listened to at the British Library.

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

17 June 2019

Recording of the week: Leonardo da Vinci's watery obsession

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

One of the major themes of the library's current exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion is water. From the workings of underwater breathing apparatus to the formation of waves, Leonardo had a lifelong fascination with water and the human desire to both understand it and control it.

'Leonardo da Vinci: A mind in motion' exhibition posterLeonardo da Vinci: A mind in motion exhibition poster featuring a sketch of one of Leonardo’s thought experiments (Arundel MS 263, ff. 44v-59r)

The sound archive has a rich collection of watery recordings, ranging from waterfalls and rivers to rain and snow. Leonardo spent years studying how water interacts with obstacles of all sorts and the same can be said of some sound recordists. Richard Beard was one such recordist. During the course of his life, Richard recorded the sounds of water all over the world, from geysers in Iceland to waves in Australia.

This recording was made much closer to home, on the Isle of Wight, and features the sound of water gently cascading onto the sandy beach of Brook Bay. 

Waterfall at Brook Bay, Isle of Wight,  recorded in 2006 by Richard Beard 

Many more recordings of water can be found in the Weather and Water collections on British Library Sounds. Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion runs until Sunday 8 September 2019.

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