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165 posts categorized "Wildlife sounds"

13 October 2020

Making of: The Unearthed Odyssey

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Written by AWATE, Artist-in-Residence for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage. 

In 2019-20, I was the Artist-in-Residence at the British Library Sound Archive for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage. I was tasked with creatively using the sounds (up to 7 million!) in order to showcase the recordings in the collections. I decided to focus on the topic of migration and over the course of several months, created a conceptual Afrofuturist album spanning three centuries called The Unearthed Odyssey.

Watch the full performance of The Unearthed Odyssey here

It’s the story of children on a spaceship being taught the history of Earth. Needing to find another planet, they have been sent out into the unknown for safety like so many people in the story of humanity. It takes place on the one day a year they are awoken for an audio lesson in human migration. The teacher takes the form of an artificial intelligence interface which uses hip-hop production techniques to explain migration using samples from the British Library sound archive.

I used recordings from the World and Traditional Music, Pop Music, Drama and Literature, Oral History, and Wildlife and Environmental departments. The scale and depth of the sound archive made me want to use parts from it all, rather than focusing on one collection, period or location. With more time, I would have used even more!

The narrative structure is laid out with the first song as an introduction. From there, there are three movements or acts. Act I: Original Home. Act II: The Journey. Act III: New Home. Within these acts, the musical style would change significantly, with the first compositions consisting entirely or mostly of layers utilising samples from one recording. As the piece progresses, more additional production and virtual instruments are introduced for a fuller and more modern sound.

Much of this is a step-by-step guide to how the piece was created. Many of the thought processes I had when producing this piece haven’t been included. I am probably still processing them now. For greater detail into the themes and ideas I worked with and was attempting to communicate, please watch the Q&A with Kieran Yates from the premiere.

AWATE 1Above: A screenshot of a Logic Pro X arrangement and sample editor windows showing parts of composition and waveform of sampled recording.

Part I: Listening

After researching the collections I wanted to use and downloading 66 recordings from the sound libraries and servers, the most important task at hand was listening to all of these potential samples! I had run through them all quickly in order to determine whether the audio quality was usable and how interesting they sounded but now had to go through them all - some being 20 seconds and others more than 3 hours.

For every audio file, there was a story and I used the British Library itself as well as online searches for greater context on the subjects in the recordings, the time, geography, politics and the archivists themselves. This was to have an understanding of what I was listening to. To centre my listening and to inform the direction of the new work that I would be turning these recordings into.

With that said, the most important part of the criteria in shortlisting and using these sounds in the first place was how dope they sounded. How cool or interesting they were. Whether they could be manipulated into another sound to evoke emotion with the use of effects. My purpose as the Artist-in-Residence was to entice people into the archive. Stories and context are important but first and foremost, I wanted to make amazing music.

AWATE 2Above: A screenshot of a list of the downloaded recordings labelled by catalogue number.

Part II: Chopping Samples and Beatmaking

The next step after deciding which sounds I would definitely be using would be the part I have always relished - chopping samples and placing them/triggering them. For the uninitiated, this is the audio equivalent of a collage - going through a magazine with a pair of scissors, cutting out bits you find interesting or that would work well together aesthetically or thematically and finding ways they can interact with each other on the page before sticking them down. Making art out of art. Using found material to express how you are feeling. The tools of necessity after public funding for arts has been cut and you cannot afford to play or learn an instrument.

For Unearthed, I used two broad techniques for this. One of them involved using the slice tool in my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of choice, Logic Pro X, to cut the pieces of the recording I wanted to use and place them on the linear editing window to create loops or patterns based on the BPM (Beats Per Minute) that I had set the project to. This is a fairly straightforward way of placing samples and works well for using slightly longer chops or when you don’t want to go through the next process which is…

Using a sampler. On Logic, my favourite stock sampler is the ESX24. I would chop the parts of the recording I wanted to use, then drag the files into the editor window on the ESX, create a new group, drag them into there and in the groups tab, set the polyphony to one. This meant that the samples could now be triggered using my ‘qwerty’ keyboard or music keyboard via MIDI or drawn on the MIDI file. Setting the polyphony to one meant that each chop would interrupt the other so that no two could be played at the same time. Poly = many. Phono = sound. For this technique, I used my keyboard to create interesting new patterns using the chops and recorded them.

AWATE 3Above: A screenshot of the programme ESX24 and its editor window with imported samples. It features the list of samples and an image of piano keys. Doing this allows the samples to be triggered like keys on a piano.

With my samples placed on the arrangement window, I then build the rest of the tracks using drums, bass, piano, synth and experimental sounds. The extremely talented Gabrial Ryder came in to lend his talents on the keyboard and piano to add additional production on many of the tracks. Many of his parts were integral to the intro and second half of the piece. I used various plugins to create effects and unique sounds such as EQ, reverb, delay, chorus, flanger, bitcrusher, distortion, step editor and compressors. All of the instruments and plugins were stock Logic sounds that I manipulated into one of a kind textures.

Part III: Oral History

Having created eight distinct instrumental songs, the next step was to listen to the various recordings I had collected from the Oral History and Drama and Literature collections. I searched for stories from immigrants and children of immigrants to the UK and elsewhere. Specifically, I wanted anecdotes of people in their countries of origin before migrating, descriptions of the journeys they undertook as well as what it was like for them adapting or growing up in a new place and how they were treated or made to feel.

Listening to these stories was quite emotionally taxing. Some included people describing surviving severe abuse or fleeing the Holocaust and horrific wars, others describing feeling completely alienated in their new countries and some included all of these things. This listening process took longer than I had anticipated, simply because I needed to take the time to properly recover from hearing people talk about such things, even when they had an indefatigable spirit or sense of humour about it. Much of the subject matter, I could relate to or had a connection to through members of my family.

In Logic, I listened and extracted excerpts as loops to my hard drive as separate files labelled by keywords based on who was interviewed and what was mentioned. From there, I could attach colour labels to each recording based on whether I would use it or not. Within the Logic sessions for the beats, I placed the oral history samples and fine-tuned them using EQ, reverb and other tools as well as turning the beat down during some of the stories and cutting the beat out at certain points. I was effectively using the stories as the lyrics on the instrumentals.

AWATE 4Above: A screenshot of bounced audio samples from oral history interviews featuring the interviewee, keywords and colour label.

Part IV: Arrangement

At this point, I had eight songs done with the sample based instrumentals and interwoven spoken parts from the archive and it sounded great! I arranged the tracks based on their subject matter to fit the narrative of the first section after the intro being about the original home, second section being about the journey and third section about the new home. They were also arranged according to the richness and complexity of the music, especially in terms of additional sounds and virtual instruments in Logic. For the most part, after the introduction song, the first section features production taken solely from the archive with the piece progressing into more and more additional instrumentation, while keeping the sound archive samples as the main ingredient.

From here I had to construct the wider narrative with the spaceship premise that had been decided on but did not yet feature. For the voices of the children on the spaceship, I spoke to a group of children from immigrant families in south London a few weeks after taking them on a day trip to the British Library with some wonderful staff. I had a stereo dictaphone which I walked around with while asking them questions after setting the scene for them. Having training in Philosophy for Children with the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE), I allowed them to interrogate their own thoughts and search for connections in what we were speaking about, listening to their own experiences.

In Logic, I chopped this conversation into the parts I wanted to use and arranged them in a window with the 8 finished tracks. Like the oral history samples, I applied processing tools to these samples to make them clearer and added a gated reverb to my voice. For me, the idea of the children today putting themselves into the shoes of futuristic travellers and having a conversation with the oral history parts was important as it reflected the same relationships the instruments and music samples were having.

The final addition were sound effects from the archive which I used to accentuate certain songs and transitions. These included wildlife recordings of birds and lions, the launching of a ship into the harbour, a boat in the ocean and real sounds of tanks and bombs from World War II. I feel these grounded the piece, bringing it back to Earth due to the inclusion of natural sounds that would stand out in such a futuristic narrative.

AWATE 5Above: A screenshot of the final arrangement window featuring the 8 tracks, voice over, children audio and sound effects.

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

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25 September 2020

The sounds of Autumn

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colour and there starts to be a definite chill in the air. These changes all point to one thing - the glorious season of Autumn.

Tree in AutumnCountryside in Autumn (Image by Hans Braxmeier on Pixabay)

The familiar sounds of the British summer have almost disappeared for another year as birds such as swifts, swallows, martins, warblers and many others begin to embark on long haul flights to warmer wintering grounds. Crickets and grasshoppers are falling silent and squirrels have begun to power up their nut radars.

Despite these changes there’s still plenty to look forward to as we move further into Autumn. Before long a host of new species will arrive on our shores and add their voices to the soundscape of our natural spaces. Here are just some of the visitors that we can expect to see and hear in the next few months.

Swans and geese:

In a few weeks time our estuaries and wetlands will begin to see the arrival of large flocks of swans and geese. Travelling from breeding grounds in Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and Siberia, these highly vocal birds often congregate together in mixed flocks and, though not as pretty as the dawn chorus, create a seasonal soundscape that will continue throughout winter.

Barnacle Geese flock calls, recorded by Richard Beard in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland on 27 November 2005 (ref 146749)

Whooper Swan flock calls, recorded by Ian Christopher Todd on the Solway Firth, Scotland on 3rd December 2011 (ref 216057)

Whooper Swans in flightWhooper Swans in flight (Image by Rihaij on Pixabay)

Ducks and waders:

The British coastline offers a safe haven for many ducks and waders who decide to spend the chillier months with us. From swirling flocks of Knot to bobbing groups of excitable Wigeon, these spectacles are another great excuse to visit the coast after the summer has faded away. 

Mass take-off and circling of a flock of Knot, recorded by Nigel Tucker in Norfolk, England during November 1995 (ref 124981)  

Eurasian Wigeon male whistles and female growls, recorded by Simon Elliott in Northumberland, England on 6 November 1994 (ref 43466)

Male Eurasian Wigeon on the waterA male Eurasian Wigeon on the water (Image by Mabel Amber on Pixabay)

Thrushes:

The UK has four resident species of the thrush family - the Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Ring Ouzel. As we move into Autumn, these birds are joined by two more relatives, namely the Fieldfare and Redwing. Often seen together, these birds are a classic sound and sight of the British countryside in Autumn and Winter.

Fieldfare contact calls, recorded by Richard Margoschis in Warwickshire, England on 16 April 1967 (ref 06770)

Redwing calls, recorded by Richard Margoschis in Staffordshire, England on 15 October 1972 (ref 07433)

RedwingRedwing (Image by Ingi Finnsson on Pixabay)

The sounds of Autumn are not produced by birds alone though. The annual deer rut is another seasonal highlight and two of our most abundant species are gearing up for some serious vocal duelling. Red Deer stags will spend the next couple of months bellowing and strutting in an attempt to keep hold of their harem and ward off potential rivals. For Fallow Deer bucks, the mating season lasts for only a few weeks, however the spectacle is no less impressive. Constantly on high alert and calling both day and night, the males of both species are shadows of their former selves by the end of the mating season. It’s an exhausting process. The following excerpts give you some idea of the effort required.

Bellows from a Red Deer stag, recorded by Alan Burbidge in Leicestershire, England on 22 October 2000 (ref 146241)

Fallow Deer rutting calls from two rival males, recorded by Phil Riddett in Kent, England on 23 October 2013 (ref 250012)

Fallow Deer buckA Fallow Deer buck (Image by Hans Benn from Pixabay)

You’d be wrong in thinking that birdsong is well and truly over for another year. Though some of our favourite songsters won’t start up again until early next year, there is one little songbird who can be relied upon to bring us some cheer over the coming months. Robins are determined little characters who use their voice in Autumn and Winter as a kind of avian alarm system. Behind those pretty melodies is a fierce warning advising other birds to think twice before coming into their territory. Both male and female robins sing during this period of year, which is unusual for British birds, and though the Autumn song lacks the exuberance of the Springtime version, it is still a very welcome sound.

European Robin song, recorded by Kyle Turner in Dorset, England on 15 October 2000 (ref 143171)

European Robin singing from a fence postEuropean Robin (Image by Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay)

The natural world has been an absolute lifeline for many of us during the past few months and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t continue to be so. So grab a jacket and a good pair of boots and get out there.

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

19 August 2020

Walking in the archive

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

As you might expect, our wildlife collection is brimming with the sounds of animals communicating with each other. From songs and calls to bill snaps and tail quivers, this assortment of messages provides a rich overview of the types of conversations taking place in the natural world.

What may come as a surprise is that we don’t just collect vocalisations. Though this is a core aspect of the collection, we’re not just interested in what animals are saying. We’re also interested in what they’re doing.

A small subsection of the collection is dedicated to the sounds of animals moving through their environment. From African Buffalo wading through a river in search of food to stampeding Blue Wildebeest on migration, these recordings make you feel as if you’re part of the journey. Below are just a few examples of animals walking in the archive:

African Elephant walking through dry grass. Recorded in the Imire Safari Ranch, Zimbabwe during September 1998 by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125581)

African Elephant walking through dry grass

Blue Wildebeest migration flow. Recorded in the Maasai Mara, Kenya on 18 August 1988 by Claude Chappuis (BL ref cc23811) 

Group of Blue Wildebeest on migration

Domestic Horse trotting on tarmac. Recorded in Yorkshire, England on 31 December 1985 by Simon T.Elliott (BL ref 29170)

Horse hooves

Semi-domestic Reindeer herd on migration. Recorded in Finnmark, Norway on 10 May 1980 by Ray Goodwin (BL ref 12509) 

Close up shot of a Reindeer

African Buffalo feeding on and walking through reeds in a muddy, shallow river. Recorded in the Imire Safari Ranch during September 1998 by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125626)

Close up shot of an African Buffalo

It's a bit of a professional prerequisite, but wildlife sound recordists are usually absent from their recordings. Occasionally though, recordists turn the microphone on themselves, offering us a tiny sonic glimpse of their own journeys through the landscape.

Walking on shingle. Recorded in East Sussex, England on 11 August 2013 by Phil Riddett (BL ref 212343)

Small pebbles on a shingle beach

Footsteps in snow. Recorded in Kent, England on 2 February 2009 by Phil Riddett (BL ref 111375)

Footsteps in snow

For those of you interested in learning more about the sonic aspects of walking, next month's Sound Walk September is definitely something to investigate. For four weeks this global celebration of sound walks will present a varied programme of events designed to inspire and educate. More information can be found on the walk.listen.create website.

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

04 August 2020

In celebration of owls

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Today marks International Owl Awareness Day, an annual celebration created to raise awareness and spread knowledge about these fascinating birds of prey. 

There are around 200 species of owl living today. Some, such as the Elf Owl, can fit into the palm of your hand while others, such as Blakiston's Fish Owl are the size of a small child. Some birds, such as the aptly-named Snowy Owl, are adapted to life in the frozen Arctic tundra while others, such as the Burrowing Owl, prefer the heat of the desert.

Owls of North AmericaPlate featuring illustrations of 8 owl species. Taken from The Birds of North America by Jacob H. Studer (1903)

The sound archive has over 2,500 recordings of owls from all over the world. Though by no means exhaustive, this constantly growing collection has served researchers, educators and creators for over 50 years. Below are just a few examples of our favourite recordings:

Eurasian Scops Owl (Otus scops), recorded by Alan Burbidge in the Bükk Hills range of Hungary on 10 May 2003 (BL ref 145594)

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco), recorded by Richard Margoschis in Gloucestershire, England on 16 October 1979 (BL ref 09647)

Madagascar Scops Owls (Otus rutilus),  recorded by Tony Baylis in Montagne d'Ambre National Park on 30 September 1990  (BL ref 66410)

Barking Owls (Ninox connivens), recorded by David Lumsdaine in Queensland, Australia on 24 November 1997 (BL ref 152426)

If you're interested in visuals then the British Library's Flickr collection is your new best friend. Here you will find a fantastic assortment of freely available images taken from the pages of some of our 17th-19th century digitised books. There's even an entire album dedicated to owls. So head on over to the Digital Scholarship blog to read more about this collection and the different ways in which you can use these images to make some art of your own.Selection of owl images from the British Library's Flickr accountA selection of owl images from the British Library's Flickr collection 

The UK Web Archive is another excellent resource for owl-related information. The Web Archive team have been doing some domain digging and have found that the Barn Owl was consistently the most talked about British owl between 1996-2013. Visit the team's blog to find out more about this and learn how you can nominate your own favourite websites for inclusion in the UK Web Archive.

Today is a great day to learn more about owls. As well as checking out our blog posts, make sure to follow #InternationalOwlAwarenessDay on Twitter to see what else is going on around the world. We'll also be sharing some special owl GIFs which feature both sounds and images taken from our collections. These were created by our Assistant Web Archivist and will be popping up on the Wildlife, Web Archive and Digital Scholarship Twitter accounts. So do check these out too. It'll be a hoot.

03 August 2020

Recording of the week: Evening by Lake Siemianówka

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

Lakeside at dusk

Lake Siemianówka is one of the largest artificial lakes in Poland. Created by human hands in the upper stream of the Narew River, this body of water is now home to a wealth of wildlife that live on, under and around the lake.

The following recording was made at dusk during May 2001 by Ian Christopher Todd. The rapid chattering of European Tree Frogs (Hyla arborea) and the haunting calls of Fire-bellied Toads (Bombina bombina) dominate this lakeside ambience. Amphibians aren’t the only voices drifting over the water though; the ‘dripping tap’ call of a Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana) and the faint booming from a distant Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) can also be heard.

Evening by Lake Siemianówka (BL ref 90986)

This recording is part of a much larger collection of wildlife and environmental field recordings that have been preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

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

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27 July 2020

Recording of the week: The secret song of the skylark

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

Birds are much like people when it comes to using sound to express themselves. Some are measured and mellow while others go at it hammer and tongs.

The Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) is a songster that firmly believes in sonic bombardment. Not that this is a bad thing; its complex song is an almost continuous stream of beauty that has been enjoyed by humans throughout the ages. Though pleasing to our ears, the skylark’s sweet song is actually a lucky byproduct of evolution.

19th Century Colour Illustration of the Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark colour plate from Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands, Vol 4, issued by Lord Lilford, London 1885-1897 (via the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

During the breeding season, males use their songs to attract potential mates. Speed, stamina and complexity act as indicators of fitness and help females decide who to settle down with. Sadly our ears are not designed to fully process the vast amount of information contained within these aerial serenades but, thanks to technology, we can get a little closer to the detail. How do we do this? By slowing things down.

The following clip contains both the normal song of a skylark and a slowed down version. The original was recorded by Alan Burbidge on the Hebridean island of North Uist during May 1997 (BL ref 145065).

Slowing down a skylark's song

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

22 July 2020

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage preserves 200,000 endangered sounds

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Article written by: Nina Webb-Bourne

Thanks to the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) team's dedication to sound conservation, 200,000 of the nation’s most endangered recordings are now preserved for generations to come.

This major milestone has arrived at a significant moment. Along with our ten hub partners, we are now over half-way through a National Lottery Heritage Funded five-year project to restore and catalogue half a million rare and at-risk sounds. However, the vital work of curators, cataloguers and audio engineers around the nation was recently impeded by the challenges of lockdown life.

Despite these obstacles, or perhaps in spite of them, the UOSH team was spurred on to find that extra momentum and make this impressive breakthrough. Each and every hub across the nation played a part and contributed a substantial 20,000 recordings to the total. The audio heritage safeguarded and digitised by the project now includes recordings as varied as a survey of traditional Irish dialects by the National Museums Northern Ireland, and the British Library’s Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection.

To celebrate this achievement, we are sharing with you the striking sound of the Ecuadorian Yellow-billed Jacamar, the 200,000th recording to be catalogued and preserved in our archive. This recording was originally archived on audio CD and is one of over 5000 Ecuadorian bird sounds recorded by Niels Krabbe.

Listen to the Yellow-billed Jacamar

Yellow-billed Jacamar, Ecuador, 1994. Held in the Ecuador birds WA 2003/003 collection.

Illustration-of-Yellow-bill

 [Image: The Biodiversity Heritage Library]

Niels Krabbe is an ornithologist, bird conservationist, and skilled recordist. He has worked extensively in the Andes and has a developed a keen interest in the biodiversity of Ecuador, where he became the first person in 80 years to scientifically record an observation of endangered Yellow-eared Parrots. The collection held by the British Library also includes the calls of endangered and endemic species, such as the El Oro and White-necked Parakeets.

As a result of Niels Krabbe’s prolific and sustained work in the region, we have obtained a valuable treasure trove of recorded history, rich in breadth and depth, and one that showcases much of Ecuador’s bird life and natural environment. These sounds are also an authentic representation of that habitat. Krabbe prides himself on ‘preferring to get a good tape recording of a bird rather than a good look at it’.

A similar dedication to conservation has ensured the UOSH team's recent success in cataloguing its 200,000th sound. As we emerge from lockdown, there is a renewed focused on the task ahead as there are many more recordings at risk, and thousands more to digitise before the project is complete.

Follow project updates at @BLSoundHeritage on Twitter and Instagram.

20 July 2020

Recording of the week: Barnacle geese at Mersehead Reserve

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This week's selection comes from Harriet Roden, Digital Learning Content Developer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Human imagination has often shaped colourful tales. Superstitions are born from the indescribable and the unexplained. Even the call of seals has been woven into legend and folklore, transforming into sightings of mermaids, sirens and selkies.

Birds, similarly, have not escaped this fate.

For instance, consider the Barnacle Goose, a medium-sized goose with a white face, black neck and striped back. Strangely, it shares its namesake with the Goose Barnacle, an organism with which it seems to share barely anything else. How did this come to be?

Barnacle geese at Mersehead Reserve

Due to their appearance, it was once believed that these geese were born from the barnacle. The shells, discarded from the rocks after a storm, were taken as a sure sign that a goose had hatched.

Much of this myth was believed as fact – documented in studies of nature – and stemmed from confusion over what a Barnacle actually was.

For instance, rather than nests on driftwood and rocks, John Gerard’s Great Herball from the 16th Century illustrates a barnacle tree that bore geese. Gerald of Wales also described in his Bestiary how barnacle geese develop in the water and hang from trees, enclosed in their shells, until they could grow feathers and fly.

Illustration of goose barnacles
The Barnacle tree that bore Geese. From Gerald of Wales’ Bestiary (Harley MS 4751, f.36r)

Later Edward Heron-Allen’s book, Barnacles in Nature and in Myth, describes how this legend was used to the advantage of meat lovers. On fast days, meat is not usually allowed to be consumed. However, some claimed that because the goose was not born from an egg it was perfectly acceptable to be eaten during times of fasting. Many were dubious of this claim.

The real secret of the barnacle was eventually revealed by Dr. J. Vaughan Thompson through his research in the 1830s, which showed what barnacles actually were and how they develop. However it doesn’t stop this white and black striped goose from sharing its name with the barnacle.

This recording was made by Richard Beard, at Mersehead Reserve, in 2005. Discover more superstitions around the sounds from our shores on the British Library’s Coast website.

UOSH

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