Sound and vision blog

177 posts categorized "Wildlife sounds"

18 January 2023

Why do hammer-headed fruit bats honk?

The Hammer-headed Fruit Bat (Hypsignathus monstrosus) is the largest of the African bats. Named for its unusual appearance, this species is a classic example of sexual dimorphism at work, with males and females displaying significant differences in both size and appearance. While females are smaller and possess the familiar fruit bat face that usually generates a stream of ‘awwww!’ comments on YouTube, males elicit a completely different response. Their large mallet-like faces, flaring nostrils, flappy lips and bulging eyes, teamed with a huge wingspan of up to a metre, undoubtedly influenced the selection of ‘monstrosus’ when zoologists named the species in the 19th century.

The first scientific description of the Hammer-headed Fruit Bat was published in 1861 in volume 13 of the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. The article’s author, the American physician and anatomist Dr. Harrison Allen, provided a highly detailed breakdown of the bat’s anatomy, including everything from dental records to the stiffness of its fur. The specimen studied by Allen had been collected by the French-American explorer Paul Du Chaillu who had been sent on an expedition to Africa by the academy in 1855. A second description was published in 1862 in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, written by the Scottish naturalist and lawyer Andrew Murray. Murray only received a copy of Allen’s description after his own paper had gone to print (the journal had taken 7 months to arrive in the UK). In the postscript, Murray noted that if both were describing and naming the same species, Allen’s name of Hypsignathus monstrosus must take precedence (the name the species carries today). Their descriptions varied slightly, however Murray assumed this was due to differences in the preserved specimens being examined; Murray believed Allen was working from a dried skin whereas he had access to a specimen preserved in spirits. This enabled Murray to include a detailed illustration of the species alongside his written description.

Black and white illustration of a Hammer-headed Fruit Bat, taken from the 1862 edition of Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London

Being able to observe living individuals in their natural habitat was the next step. Field studies conducted in the 20th century revealed a surprising aspect of the bat's behaviour. During the breeding season, males were seen to congregate at dusk for an evening of intense vocal competition. A chorus of loud, monotonous honking would fill the night air as males used their calls as a way to prove their genetic fitness to nearby females looking for a mate. This recent recording of a Hammer-headed Fruit Bat lek includes the characteristic honking and was made by Michael Mills in Kumbira Forest, Angola on the 8th September 2013 (British Library reference WA 2014/001/001/431).

Hammer-headed Fruit Bat

An extremely long larynx, measuring half the length of its body cavity, is what allows males to take part in such sustained sonic battling. This gathering of displaying males in an arena-like setting, known as lek behaviour, is more commonly seen in birds. Though the mating system is also seen in mammals, only a handful of bats are known to use this process. Scientists continue to uncover previously unknown aspects of bat behaviour and so more species could be added to this list in the future. Our journey to fully understanding this complex and diverse group of mammals is far from over.

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

17 October 2022

Recording of the week: Laughing hyaenas

This week’s post comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

Photo of a Spotted Hyaena

Above: Photo of a Spotted Hyaena by DJM Photos. From Flickr.

Although it may sound like it, the Spotted Hyaenas in this recording are not suffering from a fit of the giggles. Their laughter-like calls actually express feelings of frustration, excitement or fear rather than amusement. These sounds are usually produced by individuals during encounters with dominant members of the clan, when facing a potential predator, or when they want something they can’t have, such as access to a recent kill. Despite the scientific explanation, it’s difficult not to imagine them sharing an inside joke though.

Listen to the Spotted Hyaenas

This recording was made by Nigel Tucker at Imire Safari Ranch, Zimbabwe in April 1999 (British Library ref W1CDR0001982 BD25). It forms part of a larger collection of recordings made in the area which includes the sounds of other well-known African mammals such as lions, elephants, rhinos, wildebeest and antelopes.  

03 October 2022

Recording of the week: have you ever heard a Billy Hooter?

This week’s post comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

Photo of a Tawny Owl

Above: Photo of a Tawny Owl by Jon Pauling. From Pixabay.

As autumn gets underway, the characteristic hoot of the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) will soon be heard in woodlands across Britain. It is at this time that males use their voice to establish territories in readiness for the breeding season that begins in late winter. This instantly recognisable sound has sometimes been reflected in traditional folk names. In Shropshire the Tawny Owl was commonly known as a Billy Hooter while in Cheshire the species was referred to locally as a Hill Hooter. In the north of England, the name changed again to a Jenny Howlet.

Listen to the Tawny Owl

This recording of a Tawny Owl was made by Richard Margoschis in the grounds of Woodchester Mansion in Gloucestershire, a few hours before dawn on 16 October 1979. The strident hoots of our male are set against a drizzly woodland scene. A second male can be heard responding in the background.

The British Library ref. is WS5492 C8.

If you’d like to listen to more wildlife and environmental sounds recorded after dark, check out this 60-minute mix of recordings from the collection which can be found in the NTS Radio archive.

29 August 2022

Recording of the week: Learning garden birdsong with Charles and Heather Myers

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

Charles and Heather Myers

Above: Charles and Heather Myers, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

Charles and Heather Myers were a husband-and-wife recording duo. They met through their shared love of nature and sound recordings. Their impressive collection here at the library (BL shelfmark: WA 2010/017) consists of a whopping 559 open reel tapes and over 5,000 recordings. All are meticulously edited, catalogued, and organised by species and subject. The duo’s dedication and technical prowess make every recording in this collection a joy to listen to, and the time they spent organising and documenting made it a pleasure to digitise and catalogue as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Any recordist should aspire to have a collection half as good as this!

Charles and Heather were both active members of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society (WSRS) and regularly met at field meetings before they got married and set up home together in Shropshire. They were always more than happy to share their knowledge and recordings with anyone interested, and often sent in material to the WSRS journals and members’ recording compilations, as well as entering, and often winning, the society’s annual recording competition. Heather took over as the society’s secretary from 1983 to 1994. Both Charles and Heather’s obituaries in the Wildlife Sound journals are filled with kind tributes from members who saw them as friends and mentors.

Heather with reflector

Above: Heather Myers with reflector, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

As well as contributing to the WSRS, they often submitted recordings and prepared pieces to their local talking newspaper for the blind. Many of these submissions are preserved in the collection, including this piece titled ‘Garden Birds No. 3’. In it, Mr and Mrs Myers welcome the listener into their garden in Shrewsbury, and introduce them to some of the regular avian visitors and their vocalisations. In this excerpt, Charles explains the difference between song thrush and mistle thrush songs. The full-length recording, archived here as British Library call number WA 2010/017/502 C6, also features the sounds of magpies, crows, house sparrows and dunnocks, with the latter two introduced by Heather. This is one of many precious recordings from the collection in which Heather and Charles’s passion and personality shines through.

Listen to Garden Birds No. 3

Download Charles and Heather Myers transcript

Charles with reflector

Above: Charles Myers with reflector, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

Sadly the recording ends abruptly. The piece is incomplete, and neither ‘Garden Birds No.1’ nor ‘Garden Birds No. 2’ can be found elsewhere in the archive.

If you enjoyed this recording and would like to hear more from Charles and Heather Myers, a 60-minute mix of ambient sounds and talk from the collection can be found in the NTS Radio archive.

02 May 2022

Recording of the week: Have you heard a hedgehog huff?

This week's selection comes from Dr Madeline White, Curator of Oral History.

We all know what a hedgehog looks like: small, brown, covered in prickly spines, adorable by any measure. Few of us have seen one in the wild though, much less heard the noises they make. As nocturnal creatures who like to hide in the undergrowth they are already hard to spot, but their habitats are at risk from urbanisation and their numbers in the UK are in jeopardy.

Meet Hugo:

A photo of a hedgehog in the middle of the road, in the night. There are cars parked on driveways in the background.Photo credit: Madeline White

I took this photo outside my house in 2017. It was my third encounter with a hedgehog in the middle of the road in as many weeks. Each time I dutifully donned some gardening gloves and moved them out of the road into a bushy area close by. As delightful as the opportunity to see a hedgehog up close was, it was worrying that I was seeing them with such frequency in the middle of the road. A hedgehog can travel around a mile a night to find food and a mate. But as more people build walls and fences on the boundaries of their homes and gardens, the pathways that hedgehogs take between them are closed off, forcing them out of the safety of the garden and into the danger of the road.

This week is Hedgehog Awareness Week, a campaign run by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society that highlights the problems hedgehogs face and what the public can do to help. One of the simplest actions we can take is to make ‘hedgehog highways’ in our fences to give hedgehogs like Hugo safe routes between gardens.

So have you ever heard a hedgehog huff? Perhaps not, but courtesy of the British Library Sound Archive, you can now. As you listen, I encourage you to think of ways you can help the hedgehogs where you live:

Hedgehog [BL REF W1CDR0001374 BD1]

Cute, right?

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

06 February 2022

Recording of the week: When in the trees the rooks build high

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

Birds have long been viewed as predictors of weather. Their voices, flight patterns and nest building activities have been closely observed by countless generations, keen on knowing what conditions to expect for the coming year.

One such bird is the Rook (Corvus frugilegus). This member of the corvid family is mainly found in farmland and open woodland from north-western Europe to eastern Siberia. A highly social bird, rooks congregate in large, noisy groups called rookeries. They start building their nests ready for egg laying in February and it’s the position of these nests that is said to indicate what kind of summer can be expected.

The old saying goes like this:

'When in the trees the rooks build high, expect the summer to be warm and dry.'

In 2012 Alan Burbidge made the following recording of a treetop rookery on the Scottish island of Islay. The busy, noisy atmosphere was brilliantly captured by the two microphones laid out on grass near the edge of the rookery trees.

Rooks calling at a nest site. Recorded by Alan Burbidge on Islay, Scotland, 2012 (BL shelfmark WA 2012/016/004)

A photograph of a rookery high in some treesRookery (Photo by Debs-eye, CC-BY-NC-ND)

As pleasing as this little piece of folklore is, it doesn’t help very much as rooks generally like to build their nests up high anyway. If you’re able to get out walking this month, do listen out for rooks and pay attention to where they’re building their nests. But perhaps don’t start planning those summer barbeques just yet.

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

05 July 2021

Recording of the week: A hibernating dormouse

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

You'd be hard pressed to find anything cuter than a sleeping dormouse. This tiny little rodent can spend up to seven months of the year asleep, moving between a state of hibernation and torpor (deep sleep) before reawakening when the weather is warm enough.

Hibernating dormice

The following recording was made over 50 years in London by wildlife sound recordist Lawrence Shove. In it we can hear the rhythmic high-pitched calls of a dormouse fast asleep, oblivious to the activity around it.

Common Dormouse calls during hibernation recorded in London England on 11 April 1966 (BL REF 104845)

Common Dormouse calls during hibernation, recorded in London, England on 11 April 1966 (BL REF 104845)

This recording is part of a much larger collection of British wildlife recorded by Shove during the 1960s and 1970s. The collection has recently been preserved through the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project and will soon be available online.

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

07 May 2021

Games in the Woods: getting creative during the Urban Tree Festival

Ever wanted to create a game inspired by trees? Well now’s your chance!

The British Library will be running Games in the Woods, a tree-themed online game jam as part of this year’s Urban Tree Festival which takes place from 15 to 23 May 2021. The festival, now in its fourth year, celebrates all things related to urban and suburban trees, woodlands and associated wild places that bring so much life and joy to our cities.

Games in the Woods online games jam logo

The jam encourages people of all ages, either alone or in teams, to create digital or analogue games such as video games, interactive fiction, web comics, board games, escape games, card games or anything else that springs to mind.

Participants are encouraged to make use of the library’s digital content when creating their games. A dedicated playlist of downloadable wildlife and environmental sound recordings is available on the library’s Soundcloud account. From woodland creatures and babbling brooks to rumbling thunder and pouring rain, these recordings should come in useful when designing soundtracks.

A wide selection of images from the library’s collection of digitised 19th century books can also be drawn upon during the creative process. Check out our Flora and Fauna albums or, if you’re feeling lucky,  just use tree-related terms to search the photostream.

Collage of tree-related images from the BL Flickr collection

Head on over to the Library's Digital Scholarship blog where Stella Wisdom has posted more information about the jam. Here you can also read about a similar novel-themed jam that was recently organised by Leeds Libraries.

Games in the Woods will run throughout the duration of the festival. There will be a launch event on Saturday 15 May with inspiring examples of interactive digital experiences featuring trees and then a show and tell on Sunday 23 May for jammers to share their creations. We look forward to seeing what you come up with!

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

Sound and vision blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs