Sound and vision blog

173 posts categorized "Wildlife sounds"

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.

12 April 2021

Recording of the week: how to avoid being puked on by a fulmar

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

It’s always advisable to keep your distance from wild birds, particularly during the breeding season. The main reason, of course, is to avoid causing any distress to the birds. Chicks are being born, predators are lurking and emotions are running high. So the last thing they need is to worry about pesky humans getting in the way.

Staying away from nesting birds is also a good idea from a self-preservation point of view. Now you may be thinking, ‘But what could they do to me? Start making those annoying alarm calls? Maybe try to fly at me? I can cope with that.’ These responses are true for many birds. But if you happen upon a pair of Northern Fulmars, you can expect something much worse. They will puke on you.

I’m happy to report that no puke was involved in the making of the following recording. Our recordist, Ian Christopher Todd, respectfully kept his distance and was rewarded with this tranquil scene. The cackling calls of nesting fulmars are joined by the gentle lapping of the North Sea and the gruff barks from a nearby Great Black-backed Gull.

Northern Fulmars in a Shetland cove recorded by Ian Christopher Todd on the Shetland Islands Scotland 11 June 2004 [BL REF 201315]

Northern Fulmar

Fulmars nest on steep cliff edges and so you probably won’t need to worry. But do keep this is mind when you next visit the British coastline. For if you get puked on by a fulmar it will be oily and smelly and nobody will want to sit next to you on the journey home.

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

15 February 2021

Recording of the week: the swimming songbird

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

The White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) is a bird that just loves water. Normally found alongside fast flowing rivers and streams, this little songbird has evolved to dive, swim and even walk underwater. Though it’s almost impossible to believe that a bird not much larger than a sparrow could survive in such precarious conditions, the dipper has a number of special adaptations that allow it to thrive. Strong legs help individuals brace themselves against the current while their feet are able to firmly grip slippery rocks and pebbles both above and below the surface. They also possess powerful, rounded wings that act much like flippers when swimming underwater.

Colour illustration of a White-throated DipperHand coloured woodblock print of a Dipper, produced by Alexander Francis Lydon for Volume 3 of A history of British Birds.

A lovely description of the Dipper's song can be found in A History of British Birds, a multi volume collection written by the parson-naturalist Reverend F. O. Morris and published by Groombridge & Sons between 1850-1857. Morris wrote:

‘The song of this interesting bird is melodious and lively, though short. It is to be heard in sunny weather at all seasons of the year – a sweet accompaniment to the murmuring music of the rippling trout-stream, which soothes the ear and the heart of the solitary fly-fisher, as he quietly wends his way along, at peace with all the world.’

This close proximity to water makes recording dippers notoriously difficult; all too often its song and calls are drowned out by the rapid current. Despite the challenges, the sound archive does have almost 100 recordings of the White-throated Dipper in its collection.

The following example was recorded near the River Vrynwy in Wales by wildlife sound recordist Richard Margoschis. A breeding pair used rocks in the middle of the fast-flowing river as their songposts and it’s from one of these that the male in this recording was captured delivering his song. Though certainly melodious and lively, the song appears to be much longer than described by Morris.

Dipper song, recorded in Powys, Wales on 16 March 1980 by Richard Margoschis (BL ref 10563)

This recording was digitised as part of the Library’s Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. Now in its fourth year, this UK-wide project aims to digitally preserve and provide public access to some of the nation’s most unique and at risk sound recordings. Thousands of wildlife recordings from all over the world have been digitised so far and you can keep up-to-date with the project’s progress by following @BLSoundHeritage.

UOSH logo

18 January 2021

Recording of the week: Dawn in a Gondwana Rainforest

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

The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia are renowned for their lush landscapes and rich biodiversity. Stretching from Queensland to New South Wales, this collection of rainforests represents 180 million years of our planet’s natural history. It’s here that both ancient and more recently evolved species coexist, each having carved out their own special niche in this World Heritage Area.

Lamington National Park is just one of the Gondwana Rainforests. Running along the Lamington Plateau, an elevated range of valleys and uplands with volcanic origins, this natural wonder is known for its stunning waterfalls, prehistoric terrain and high proportion of rare species.

Dawn in Lamington National Park  Queensland
Dawn in Lamington National Park, Queensland (Photo credit: JohnGGM, CC BY-SA)

Lamington is not just a feast for the eyes however; its soundscape is just as lush as its landscape. In September 1986, wildlife sound recordist David Lumsdaine visited the park and recorded what many consider to be the sonic highlight of the day – the dawn chorus.

Lamington Plateau dawn atmosphere

Recorded in Queensland, Australia on 11 September 1986 by David Lumsdaine (BL ref 151390)

This 4 minute excerpt is a vibrant mix of songs and calls from a wide variety of early morning songsters. From the whip-crack song of Eastern Whipbirds and the yodelling of Pied Currawongs to the hurried rhythms of White-browed Scrubwrens, this recording is just bursting with life.

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

30 October 2020

Going batty for Halloween

Bats have a long association with Halloween. The most obvious reason for this emerges when we look at another classic character for this time of year, the vampire. As with vampires, bats are creatures of the night, only leaving their roosts after the last rays of sunlight have faded for the day. The majority of bats are also hunters and a few species even drink the blood of other animals.

Illustration of a Vampire bat

Bats also have a lot to thank Bram Stoker for. Though earlier authors and artists had already begun drawing parallels between vampires and bats, it was Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror novel, Dracula, which cemented this association in popular culture. At several points during the novel a bat is seen flapping against a closed window, however we have to wait until Chapter 18 before Van Helsing confirms the link between animal and vampire:

'He can be as bat, as Madam Mina saw him on the window at Whitby, and as friend John saw him fly from this so house, and as my friend Quincey saw him at the window of Miss Lucy.'

A much more ancient relationship between bats and Halloween can be found within the rituals of Samhain, the Celtic pagan festival celebrated from 31 October to 1 November. Huge bonfires with cleansing and protective properties were lit to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. The glow of the fire would attract nearby insects and these would be followed closely by bats looking for an easy meal. Given that the invisible boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead was believed to be at its thinnest during Samhain, it’s easy to understand how the silent, black silhouettes of bats darting around the flames could be construed as having supernatural meaning.

Selection of bat illustrations selected from the British Library's Flickr collection

Though Halloween is full of many ghoulish and spine-tingling sounds, the calls of bats aren't one of them. The answer to this may seem obvious enough - most bats communicate and echolocate at frequencies above the human hearing range - but that doesn't mean we can't spend a little bit of time enjoying the many weird and wonderful, yet normally hidden bat sounds that still fill the night sky at this time of year. 

Common Pipistrelle echolocation & social calls. Recorded in West Sussex, England on 11 September 2014 by Phil Riddett (ref 222208) 

Greater Horseshoe Bat echolocation. Recorded in Wiltshire, England on 14 July 1985 by William Seale (ref 17018)

Noctule echolocation. Recorded in Kent, England on 26 June 1986 by Richard Ranft (ref 18530) 

Though these recordings are actually kind of cute, there are many other legitimately spooky sounds within the sound archive's wildlife collection. Screaming foxes, howling wolves, cawing crows, rumbling thunder, lashing rain and lots of other examples can be found. A number of these recordings were compiled for the 2014 Off the Map videogame competition which challenged higher education students to create videogames inspired by some of the British Library’s gothic-related collection items. Students were encouraged to incorporate these sounds into their games and this was done to great effect, particularly when it came to the second place winning entry ‘Whitby’.

All recordings are still available on the British Library’s Soundcloud account under Creative Commons licenses so do check out the Off the Map Gothic playlist. Be sure to also visit the Digital Scholarship blog to find out more about other gothic-themed events held at the library over the past few years. And if that wasn't enough, there's also an excellent album of free to reuse ghostly and macabre images available through our Flickr collection.

Over the past few weeks the UK Web Archive has been busy researching the changing popularity of terms such as Halloween and Bonfire Night. Head on over to their blog to read more about these changes and, while you’re there, why not try out some searches of your own using the big data Shine tool. Their website also has a dedicated Festivals section and now would be the perfect time to nominate some of your favourite Halloween-related UK sites.

Throughout today we’ll be sharing some special video animations, images and sounds that have a distinctly creepy vibe. So follow our Wildlife, Digital Scholarship and Web Archive Twitter accounts to see all of these. And however you choose to spend your Halloween, we hope you have a fang-tastic time!

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