Sound and vision blog

162 posts categorized "Wildlife sounds"

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.


 [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.


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

25 June 2020

From Dick-dick-the-devil to Pan-pan-boolala: onomatopoeic identities of the Crested Bellbird

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A few months ago the onomatopoeic call of the Eastern Whip-poor-will was featured in the sound archive’s Recording of the week series. Listen to the voice of this North American nightjar and it’s easy to see how the standard common name, at least in its English form, is a direct reflection of the Whip-poor-will’s call.

Things aren’t always this obvious though. Sometimes, to get to the best names, you need to look past contemporary naming conventions and spread the net further afield.

This is where the Crested Bellbird comes in. Usually found in the drier habitats of the Australian mainland, this familiar songbird has both a look and a voice that is instantly recognisable.

Colour illustration of a male and female Crested BellbirdIllustration of the Crested Bellbird (Oreoica gutturalis), published in The Birds of Australia, John Gould, London, 1848.

The song of the male Crested Bellbird consists of 5 notes that are repeated several times in quick succession before a pause. It begins with two slow notes which are then followed by three faster notes. The ‘bellbird’ aspect of its widely used common name refers to the bell-like nature of these notes, but doesn’t offer any real help when it comes to trying to memorise the song. For this we have to turn to the past.

A name that was commonly used amongst European settlers who travelled to Australia was Dick-dick-the-devil. Looking back even further, most of the colloquial names given to this species by Aboriginal communities are onomatopoeic. Kanpanparlala, Pan-pan-boolala and Barn-barn-bu-lala are just a few examples.

The following recording is a classic example of the Crested Bellbird’s song. It was made by Vicki Powys in Finke Gorge National Park in Australia's Northern Territory. Though the general song pattern remains the same, the singing male varies the speed, loudness and key as he goes along. 

Crested Bellbird song recorded by Vicki Powys on 4 September 1993, Finke Gorge National Park, Australia (BL ref 134764)

Though ‘Dick-dick-the devil’ is a personal favourite, it’s interesting to note just how effective and indeed accurate all of these names are in representing the Crested Bellbird’s song. They all work, despite their differences. So why not have a go at coming up with your own onomatopoeic name for this little songbird. You never know, it might just stick.

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

22 June 2020

Recording of the week: Underwater sounds from Cromer Pier

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This week's recording of the week comes from Emma Burman, Learning and Engagement Coordinator.

Having spent many a childhood holiday on Cromer Pier in Norfolk, you’d think I would know the sounds of the area well. However, having never been adventurous enough to fully submerge myself in the freezing East Coast waters, I was unaware of the beauty of its underwater sounds until now.

Cromer Pier
Courtesy of BurlyBullet via Pixabay

This Underwater recording from Cromer Pier captures the entrancing rhythm of the waves as they flow between the pillars of the pier. The sound of the swirling water moving weathered stones is almost orchestral, like a delicate percussion section, with tinkling xylophones.

Underwater recording from Cromer Pier

The ability to capture these underwater sounds is possible thanks to a device called a hydrophone. The modern hydrophone’s development can be traced back to the First World War, as scientists were developing methods to sense and reveal the bearing of enemy submarines. By the end of the war, Britain had thirty eight hydrophone officers and 200 qualified listeners. The hydrophone continued to be the sole method for submarines to detect targets while submerged until the introduction of the active sonar in the early 1920s.

Modern day recordists still use hydrophones to document and learn more about the underwater world. Sadly, through this research, they have identified that recordings are often ‘polluted’ by the sounds of human noise, which has now become a recognised global problem. Shipping noise has been shown to cause chronic stress in certain species of whales, construction noise has forced porpoises to leave feeding grounds and naval sonar can cause mass stranding of beaked whales.

One of the parts that stands out so much about this recording is the clash between the calm swirl of the natural waters and the metallic creaking of the Cromer Pier. To my ears, the pier didn’t seem like a ‘polluting’ sound in this musical underwater rendition. Nonetheless, this recording does highlight the question of how much our human lives impact upon the watery world below.

This recording was made by Peter Toll in 2012 and forms part of the British Library's wildlife and environmental sounds collection.

Discover more sounds from beneath the waves on the British Library’s Coast website.


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

04 June 2020

Sea sounds

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Many of us find comfort in the sounds of the sea, particularly when we're feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed. Though it's not as easy as it was to just pack up and head to the coast, there are still always in which you can bring the sea to you.

The British Library has almost 400 recordings of waves in its sound archive. More if you count those recordings where they are just one element of a larger soundscape. Recorded on beaches and along coastal areas all over the world, these recordings demonstrate the sheer variety of sounds that the sea can produce. So many factors come into play here; the weather, type of coast, time of day, season etc. No two recordings of the sea will ever sound the same.

Below is a selection of some of our favourite recordings. So put on your sunglasses, grab an ice cream and let us transport you to the coast.

Gentle waves, Isles of Scilly, September 2009, Richard Beard (BL ref  163300)

Waves breaking on sand

Waves bubbling through rocks, Australia, November 2007, Richard Beard (BL ref 148677) 

Rocky coast

Waves flowing over seaweed, Republic of Ireland, August 1996, Nigel Tucker (BL ref 124878)


Lapping waves on Pak Bia Island, Thailand, March 2009, Richard Beard (BL ref 149165)

Small waves on a sandy beach

Waves breaking on rocks and shingle, New Zealand, February 2005, Richard Beard (BL ref 148299)

Waves breaking on a sandy beach with rocks

Some of these recordings were digitised as part of the Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. The project has also created a new web space dedicated to the sounds and stories of Britain's shores. Visit Coast to discover more.

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