THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

148 posts categorized "Wildlife sounds"

09 December 2019

Recording of the week: sheep gathering in Wales

Add comment Comments (0)

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

Add comment

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.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

16 September 2019

Recording of the week: Whooper Swans take flight

Add comment

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.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

02 September 2019

Recording of the week: rain over the Iron Range

Add comment

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

Add comment

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.

16 May 2019

Mother Carey's Chickens

Add comment

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

In 19th century coastal folklore, the harsh and unforgiving nature of the sea was often personified by the cruel sea witch Mother Carey.

Carey was said to wreak havoc on the ocean waves, conjuring up devastating storms that would destroy any vessel unlucky enough to be caught in her sights. The ship’s crew would be sent to their deaths so that Carey and her partner, Davy Jones, could feast upon their rotting bodies.

She’s the mother o’ the wrecks, ‘n’ the mother
Of all big winds as blows;
She’s up to some deviltry or other
When it storms, or sleets or snows;
The noise of the wind’s her screamin’
‘I’m arter a plump, young, fine,
Brass-buttoned, beefy-ribbed yound seam’n
So as me ‘n’ my mate kin dine.’

(Extract from John Masefield's poem 'Mother Carey (as told me by the bo'sun)' published in 1902)

Mother Carey didn’t travel the open ocean alone though. Like any villain worth their salt, Carey was accompanied by her very own entourage, which, in this case, happened to be a flock of Storm Petrels (Hydrobates pelagicus). Dubbed Mother Carey's Chickens, these little seabirds were thought to signal the imminent arrival of the dreaded sea witch. 

Mother Carey and her chickens, painted by J. G. Keulemans in 1877Mother Carey and her chickens by J. G. Keulemans, 1877 (Biodiversity Heritage Library via Wikipedia)

As far as accuracy goes, Storm Petrels are a pretty good choice. Not because there's anything sinister about them, but because they're most at home on the open sea and can easily cope with the severest of weather conditions. While many other birds would be caught short in the middle of a tempest, Storm Petrels just take it all in their stride.

What you wouldn’t hear was their voice. For Storm Petrels are generally silent at sea (not a great trait for heralds of doom, but there you go). The complete opposite can be found at their breeding colonies however. Here individuals engage in sustained vocal activity, producing far-carrying purring calls from their burrows. The following extract, taken from a longer recording made by Alan Burbidge on Skokholm Island in 1998, is a great example of this.

Storm Petrel purring calls from burrow (BL ref 145176)

Harbingers of death should, at least in my mind, be loud. Very loud. Terrifying too. But our Storm Petrels are anything but that. Rather selfishly, they save their spine-chilling voices for when they're off duty. So if I was Mother Carey, I'd feel a little short-changed.

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

22 April 2019

Recording of the week: a lesson in bird song duets and trios

Add comment

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

With hundreds of recordings of birds from around East Africa, Myles E. W. North is a name that constantly crops up within the enormous collection of wildlife species reels here at the library. During his time with the Colonial Administrative Service in Kenya, Myles developed a keen interest in ornithology and, combined with his interest in music, this turned into a passion for recording and studying bird song. He had an excellent ear and was able to transcribe and mimic bird song very accurately. He released two highly praised records: ‘Voices of African Birds’ and ‘More Voices of African Birds’.

In this recording of Tropical Boubous - one of many outtakes from his commercial releases - Myles presents a selection of duets from the birds with announcements in between explaining how the duet works. He accurately whistles the part of each bird, and even uses a recorder (an end blown flute, not his EMI reel-to-reel machine) to demonstrate the lower notes that he cannot whistle.

Photograph of a pair of Tropical Boubous in Hwange National Park, ZimbabweTropical Boubous in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (Photo credit: Derek Keats on Visual Hunt / CC BY)

Tropical Boubou duets & trios (BL ref WS2882 C3)

This excerpt features what Myles believes is a trio of boubous all adding their own part to the melody and, without his input, you would be forgiven for believing it was all one bird. Myles’ personality really shines through in this recording, demonstrating his knowledge and experience as he breaks down a complicated ensemble of birdsong with some brilliant mimicry.

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

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

04 March 2019

Recording of the week: spontaneous mimicry on a yorkshire moor

Add comment

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

Though many songbirds are capable of mimicry, it’s fair to say that some are more talented than others. The European Blackbird is one such example.  From the songs of other birds to the sounds of car alarms, the blackbird is not afraid of stepping up to the mark and having a go.

But why bother wasting time mimicking other sounds when you’ve got a perfectly good song of your own? If you’ve ever listened to a singing blackbird, you’ll know that its voice is a wonderful thing, full of passion and flair. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. As male birds use their songs to attract a mate and ward off potential rivals, it never hurts to have a few tricks under your wing. Being able to mimic other sounds and incorporate them into your song could mean the difference between a successful breeding season and a frustrating few months.

Vintage illustration of a male Blackbird by Wilhelm von WrightMale Blackbird by Wilhelm von Wright (Finnish National Gallery, CCO via Europeana)

The following recording of a blackbird, made by Richard Margoschis in 1992, is a special one, not just because the male is able to accurately mimic the call of a nearby bird, but that he appears to do so spontaneously. While singing from a hawthorn bush on the edge of a yorkshire moor, our blackbird is accompanied by the mournful 'pu-we' whistles of a nearby Golden Plover. As the plover continues, our male stops, listens and then gives his own rendition of the call.

Blackbird spontaneous mimicry of a Golden Plover (BL ref 33668)

Was this just a one-off? Or was our blackbird so chuffed with his efforts that he decided to make this imitation a permanent feature of his song? Unfortunately we'll never know. But what we can say is that this little bird gets ten out of ten for effort.

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

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

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)