The Listening to Birds Blog

Song Thrush by Nigel Pye //

July 30, 2009

The Waterfall Trail

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Whitehouse @ 10:12 pm

Last year I spent two wonderful months at the Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu in southeast Brazil.  While I was there I was able to make numerous recordings of birds and from these recordings I’ve put together a sound-guide to one of the most popular trails on the reserve: the Waterfall Trail.  Here are the recordings together with my commentary.  Each track covers a section of the trail and includes birds that one might hear along each.


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Track 2: Casa Pesquisa 0-350m

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Track 3: The lower forest 350-850m

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Track 4: The bamboo 850-1000m

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Track 5: The clearing 1000-1250m

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Track 6: The ascent 1250-1750m

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Track 7: The gulleys 1750-2350m

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Track 8: The waterfall 2350-2500m

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If you’ve any comments I’d be very interested to hear them, particularly if you’re a Regua visitor and have an opportunity to walk the trail. Did you find that listening to the sound guide helped you to listen to the birds along the trail and to recognise what you were hearing?

May 15, 2009

Listening to birds in Australia

Filed under: biographical,Perception — Andrew Whitehouse @ 5:01 pm

I’ve been very interested to hear about the experiences of changing bird sounds described by people moving between different parts of the world. Some of the most striking examples have come from people moving between the UK and Australia, countries with very different birds.

This very striking example is from Eugen Beer:

We have been here in Sydney, Australia for just over six months and soon discovered that, to the British ear, the Australian birdsong is really quite disruptive. We have heard of people emigrating BACK to the UK because of the ‘ugly’ birdsong here. In a nutshell I would describe the sub-conscious effect of ‘birdsong’ here as being to raise people’s tension. It is a series of screeches or other worldly sounds. In the UK you wake to the blackbird, sparrow, or if you are lucky – thrush. Gentle, harmonious songs that usher in the day to come. Here the birds literally crash into your consciousness… I honestly believe that if you hooked somebody up and exposed them to British birdsong and then Sydney birdsong you would see the latter send the pulse racing.

Gill Rice writes:

In 1968 I emigrated to Australia (I was 19 at the time). I had been brought up on a farm in Somerset, and there was an old apple orchard outside of my bedroom window. The dawn chorus was so very special to me, that when I arrived in Australia I missed the sound terribly. My mother made a tape of the chorus for me and sent it to me to play so I did not feel so home sick!

A correspondent living in Sydney comments:

I lived in the UK for my first 40 years. I now live in Sydney, Australia. I used to love the sound of English birdsong – particularly blackbirds. I still associate the sound with English Spring and Summer days. It was one of the few things I really missed when I arrived here among the larger squarkier birds of Sydney… Over the last year I have noticed that I now have a growing similar affection for the sound of Australian Magpies. Their warbling song is very distinctive and quite unlike any other bird I’ve heard. To start with it was a curiosity and, having been whacked on the back of the head by an aggressive nesting magpie (and they are BIG), I regarded them with suspicion! But now, after many sunny days spent with a sound track from the magpies I realise that they have virtually supplanted blackbirds in my affections. I now hear more in the song – it *feels* as if the magpies have become more musically inventive; in reality I think I have become more attuned to their music and the variations in their song.

Simon Eassom from Melbourne was also fascinated by Australian birds:

My family moved to Australia from a county village in England 2 years ago. We loved the native birds in our garden in the UK and thought we’d miss them. But, we’re now in a 1.5 acre bush idyll in the suburban fringes of Melbourne and marvel everyday at the bird life. We have almost resident cockatoos, rosellas, lorakeets, galahs, parrots, and kookaburras that come to us from 5.30am for breakfast and stay through to 7.30pm after supper. We spend more on bird feed than we do on our two dogs (including feeding the kookaburra with raw meat which we don’t even grant the dogs). Anyway, I find their vocalisations much more interesting than I ever found birdsong in the UK. The screeching and squarking of the cockatoos is fascinating, as is the call of the kookaburra. I can’t resist imitating them and trying to communicate. I drive my family nuts with my kookaburra recitals. However, and here’s the main point of interest I guess, the birds that fascinate me most are the magpies and butcher birds. They are nasty bullies and can be quite aggressive and vicious towards people. But, they communicate in the most fascinating sounds. They can sound like a fax machine at one moment and on old “trim” phone at another. Yet it’s clear that the changing tones and pitch are a vocabulary. Their song is almost digital in nature. It isn’t a twittering sound or the parrot-family sound of the cockatoos etc. Neither is it a whistle. It’s quite extraordinary. More than any other bird I’ve listened to or observed, the magpies make me feel like wanting to talk to them despite my general disdain for them as visitors to our garden. They are the earliest bird to begin singing in the morning and probably the most loquacious. The young have a very different pitch to the adults and the interactions make it much easier to pick the magpies out from amongst the crowd. In the UK there would be a general cacophony of bird song every morning with it being very difficult to distinguish individual species, yet alone individual birds. Here, that’s all changed and I’ve become an avid bird listener.

Here are some experiences of Australians who have moved to the UK, the first from Adam Schembri in London:

As an Australian living in London, bird song contributes strongly to my sense of place. I have recordings of some Australian birds in my iTunes collection that I listen to sometimes to remind me of home: cockatoos, whipbirds, currawongs and bellbirds are particularly evocative for me. I always say to my partner that I want to retire in a house where I can hear bellbirds. But I also have some British birds that I like in my collection, particularly the blackbird and the stonechat. I love the fact that the blackbird’s call is often in the background in many different parts of the UK, so I associate it strongly with living here, and have gotten quite disoriented in Melbourne in Australia where blackbirds also live.

This particularly evocative contribution is from Lou Horton from Devon:

Birdsong becomes so much a part of the aural environment it becomes nearly invisible – until it changes. I came to the UK as a teenager having grown up in Australia. Two things struck me straight away: both the stars and the birds were wrong. More than anything else, these two things made me feel alien.

Nearly thirty years later I came across Australian birdsong on the internet. A short burst of currawong song brought back an intense feeling of being a child again in Sydney. I could almost smell the air and feel the texture of my primary school uniform. It’s like a trigger to a sense of being, rather than a memory of doing.

May 11, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Whitehouse @ 3:47 pm

Here in Aberdeen you’re never far away from a gull and its evocative call.  Here are some thoughts about ‘seagulls’ of one sort or another.

From Sharron in Fife:

Seagulls can be a pain but I love it when there’s a fight between a gull and a crow. I’ve managed to catch this on camera a few times, always first alerted by the racket.

Rebecca Sargent comments:

I love to hear the birds, although the herring gulls (of which there are plenty of in Hastings) can be a bit tiresome sometimes!

Cate Butler writes:

Herring gulls always used to put me in mind of Cornish sea villages but now I live in Bath/Bristol they are very commonplace.

From Bob Woldie in Woking:

I have visited the coast countless times since I was a small boy (I’m 45 now) and, unlike some people, I enjoy the sound of sea gulls. Oddly though, whenever I hear a sea gull I am first reminded of the only occasion when I did not enjoy the sound. That happened about 25 years ago when I was kept awake all night by the incessant cries of the gulls around Looe in Cornwall.

Peter Soar from Cambridge writes:

Earlier this year I went deaf, so birdsong is a memory. First memory – as a boy of 5 or 6 arriving on holiday at Sidmouth, Devon where we spent most of our summer holidays. The sound of the gulls was the first sound of the holiday, after that of the steam engine which hauled our train. Very evocative; I suppose you count gulls’ cries as birdsong.

From David Macefield in Thames Ditton:

The cry of a herring gull also takes me to the seaside. Why is that they never seem to make much sound when inland?

Jack Matthias from Nainamo, British Columbia writes:

The sound of glaucous-winged seagulls resident on the west coast of Canada (in British Columbia) is a sound I grew up with near the shore in Vancouver. Hearing it now brings a peace to my soul, knowing I have finally returned to this part of the world. The sound was particularly associated with travel on the British Columbia ferries in earlier days when garbage was dumped overboard. The gulls, being scavengers, would set up a great hue and cry as they fought over the spoils.

A writer from Exeter comments:

I love the sound of herring gulls. I grew up in a seaside town on the south Devon coast so was used to the sound of hundreds of noisy squawking herring gulls, especially during the summer months when they are nesting and scavenging for food. I moved up north for a good few years far away from the coast and used to get terribly homesick. During my trips back to my home town to visit family, the sound of the herring gulls always struck me and filled me with joy because I new I was back home!

From a writer in Glasgow:

I suspect lots of people may, like me, smell a phantom whiff of seaweed and a memory of a childhood holiday when they hear a gull cry, even if they’re in the heart of the city miles from the shore.

From George McCissock in North Queensferry:

I used to associate the herring gull’s cry with summer holidays, as we always went to the coast for our holidays, and this was before the time that gulls started to forage far inland for food. I remember the glorious feeling of waking to seagulls and realising I really was on holiday, and then my parents grumbling over breakfast about how early the gulls had woken them!

From Lynda Read:

Memories from my childhood of annual holidays in Devon and Cornwall, they seemed so audacious and big. I used to get scared when my mother used to hold up sandwich crusts to the swirling mewing gulls when they used to swoop in and snatch from her outstretched arm. For the last 27 years living in Sandwich, seagulls are now different creatures. They are an intermittent part of the day. Annoying me by waking me up by bickering as they fly down the road just above roof height on their way to the landfill site outside Sandwich at Richborough for breakfast. In nearby towns such as Dover, Deal, Margate etc. gulls are pests and rip open bin bags left out for collection and strew rubbish everywhere and can be very aggressive during nesting time. So they are no longer the romantic, nostalgic reminders of lovely childhood holidays. Occasionally, only occasionally a gull will call and I am taken back to Porthcurno or St Ives.

From Dee Coulson in Ellon:

Bird sounds and songs have been part of my life since a small child. I remember arriving at my Grandma’s seaside Devon town on the train, with the sound of the seagulls mixed with steam trains hissing across the platform on arrival. We had arrived to the sound of the seagulls, smell of steam trains and sea air which I had impatiently anticipated since leaving our home in the suburbs. This is my earliest recollection of how interwoven bird sound can be with experience, emotion and memory. Today when I hear the sound of gulls I still remember the whole experience of being at my Grandmother’s house for summer holidays.

Daniel Eames from Northampton writes:

As a child from Northampton we only used to visit the coast once a year and even though Gulls can often be aggressive pests, they still remind me of fond childhood memories.

And from Gordon Smith in Aberdeen:

A Common Gull, just this moment, cried outside my room window. My instant response to that is clear pictures of massed trawlers at Point Law (Pint La) where I spent school holidays, 1948 to 1952, with my grandfather and uncle who were ships riggers at HE Stroud Trawel Owners, Market Street. Also pictured is the fish market with hundreds of huge halibut and thousands of boxes of fish, and scavenging gulls, in their hundreds if not thousands.

May 8, 2009

Clever birds

Filed under: Research — Tags: — Andrew Whitehouse @ 4:01 pm

I’m interested in avian intelligence and how our ideas about it influence how we relate to them.  Yesterday I found this article on the BBC News website on the subject.  In the past scientists thought birds were stupid because they tried to compare their brains to those of mammals.  I wonder if another part of the problem with assessing their intelligence is that this is always measured in relation to human mental capacities.  Maybe if we tried to measure human intelligence in terms of what birds can do, then we might not seem so clever.


Filed under: Interpretations — Tags: — Andrew Whitehouse @ 3:50 pm

The song of the nightingale is perhaps the most illustrious of any British bird.  Not too many people wrote to me about them, perhaps because they’re rather rare these days, but here are the contributions of some of those who did.  In some cases these might not have been ‘real nightingales’ but maybe that depends on what you think a ‘real nightingale’ is.

Stephen Munnion from London writes:

In the early 90s during the recession I was a struggling musician/designer living in Islington and it was a particularly bleak time for me – not enough to eat and not really a lot to cheer me up. Each night I would go for a long walk around Islington and even in January of 92/93 I could hear nightingale’s singing their beautiful songs. There are not many things on a bleak January night to cheer you up but I always noticed this. I am not a bird freak and I know very little about birds but I knew what the bird was – what other bird sings at night and, at the time, I guess I didn’t know that it was unusual to hear nightingales in January.

Sheila Ferguson from Maidstone writes:

I grew up in terraced housing in London and as a child my vivid memory is of a blackbird singing in the poplar tree next door. I have never forgotten its song. When I moved to Maidstone in Kent I was convinced for many years there were nightingales in the trees near the river until my daughter enlightened me about night-singing robins. A wonderful song and one which I will never fail to recognise now.

A respondent from Germany:

My most amazing experience was listening to a nightingale in Germany at night. I could not believe how beautiful and clear it was.

Richard Wild from Southampton writes:

As a native of Suffolk, my earliest recollection of recognisng bird song is of hearing a nightingale singing in the garden of the country house opposite my parents’ house in East Bergholt, situated between Colchester and Ipswich. I was probably in my early teens, and used to lie awake, listening for its clear song in the still, late evening, before falling into a deep sleep. It is a sound I have not heard since moving away from the area in 1971, and it is a great sadness to me.

A writer from Dudley:

I like birdsong generally, and can manage to recognize a number; some, such as skylark song, associated with holidays or country walks. My parents taught me to identify most birdsong I know. But most memorable was a ‘nightingale experience’. I learned to recognize its song from a sound effect used for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at school in the 1960s. I regretted that I’d never consciously heard the bird ‘live’ – until we went to Venice about 10 years ago. Walking on the island of Torcello, in the middle of the day, I suddenly realized I could hear a nightingale, which surprised me because its singing is associated with darkness. Completely unexpected, completely captivating.

A writer from New Mexico:

Where I live now in Albuquerque, New Mexico I rarely hear any bird song. Without it, everything feels a tad empty, dead, and eeriely quiet at times. I have noticed its lack and silently lamented. When I go home to England, I find the song of birds to be a big part of the homecoming. I love waking up hearing the chirps, chatters, and trills of the birds outside. I can literally feel my shoulders descend and my brain smile. One particular memory is of a bird that sings in a tree right outside of my parents house as dusk falls. The song is beautiful and mesmerising, so lyrical and virtuosic. In my head I have always thought of it as a nightingale but I don’t know if it really is.

From Ann Waddingham in Kent:

Outside our house, on late winter nights, a robin belts out a territorial number under the light of a street lamp – people often mistake them for nightingales but there’s no mistaking the real thing. I was absolutely thrilled to venture into the garden one still, June night and hear in the distance the real McCoy, singing by the river. It was a heart-stopping moment of pure joy. For three consecutive years they visited but sadly I haven’t heard them for three years since.

From Rosy Jones in Epsom:

A few years ago we were walking in a Sussex wood, and decided to have our sandwich lunch in a clearing beside some quite dense scrub. Just for a laugh I suggested to my partner that I’d call up a nightingale, not really thinking anything would happen. Still, I started whistling the repeated whistle call that the birds do in between their amazing song. Imagine our surprise when out of the thicket came the sound of a beautiful nightingale’s song. It continued to entertain us throughout our lunch – delightful!

And from Ruth Arundell in Barcelona:

On a camping holiday near the Pyrenees recently my husband and I had a nightingale singing in a small tree very close to our tent for the whole night. We’d never heard or seen one before, but there are so few birds which sing at night that we followed the sound in order to see and identify it. Later we recorded part of the song on an MP3 device so that we could compare it with recordings on the internet to be sure. As with the blackbirds, hearing the lovely melodious song coming from one small bird in the quiet of the night made me feel very peaceful and somehow privileged, as if it was singing just for us.

April 24, 2009


Filed under: biographical — Tags: — Andrew Whitehouse @ 9:20 am

Many people love to hear skylarks singing. Lee Cole from Ruislip writes:

I love to be out in the countryside and hear less familiar birds or even new birdsong and try and spot the owner. But the most amazing call of all has to be the skylark. To be walking a bleak moor or coastal path and to hear such an incredibly complex call. It’s almost as though it has to sing every known note in head in as short a time as possible before it falls from the sky.

From Maggie Lewis in Marlborough:

Growing up in suburban Essex one of the things I remember is hearing skylarks, I can’t remember where, but the area around my parents’ house was much less built up than it is now so it’s possible I heard them in the back garden. I would always try to pick out the tiny dot high in the sky – can’t do it now though. I still love to hear their song.

Alana Michael from Malvern writes:

There’s a particular place high up on the hills in mid Wales which I have loved for along time, and I associate it with skylarks. I have often heard skylarks there, and for me their song is one of the very best sounds, for the association with freedom, summer, and wild open countryside. I was there once with my mother, and when she died in 2004 I choose “Skylark” by Hoagie Carmichael, played by Stephan Grapelli and Yehudi Menuin, as the music that the funeral service ended with. This is not only a beautiful piece of music, but I wanted to suggest that her spirit was now free to soar after a long illness. It was exactly right for the occasion, and in my mind I now associate skylarks with the memory of my mother.

A correspondent from Turriff:

When I was at secondary school I had to catch the bus at the end of our farm road, which in the summer had fields of oats or barley on either side. And on those bright summer mornings, more often than not me and my brothers would hear the rising and falling twittering of skylarks, and see them fluttering above the crops. It’s such a happy sound, and unlike any other bird song I’ve heard, it was a great way to start the day. Skylarks always remind me of standing waiting for the school bus on a sunny morning, in my t-shirt with my rucksack on my back.

From Lynda Read in Sandwich:

Skylark: Reminds me of balmy summer evenings when I used to rush home from work, change clothes to join my twin sons on the golf course. They were both caddies at Royal St. George’s Golf Club, Sandwich in Kent. They had “artisan” passes so that when members of the club had finished, they could play on the course. It is a links course (sand dunes by the sea shore) and skylarks were always there singing in the background. Sometimes we might disturb them if a stray ball went into the rough and we would see a brown bird take off. More often than not though we could not see the birds only hear them singing high above us. You might see a dot in the sky that may or may not have been the source of this amazing sound. It seemed multi-directional, just coming out of the sky. Absolute magic.

From Marian Reid in Boness:

When I was a child I hoidayed at my great-uncle’s in Portgordon, by Buckie in Morayshire. He had a very peaceful house by the sea. One of my abiding memories of this time was lying on the grass outside the house under the wonderful hazy blue skies with the sound of skylarks singing high overhead and feeling my heart soar with their call. I never ever could see any of them though, no matter how hard I looked. Today I live at the edge of town in Boness with lots of fields close by. I hear the skylarks in summer and always remember those happy days and feel my heart free again.

April 23, 2009

Some thoughts on connecting with bird song

Filed under: biographical — Andrew Whitehouse @ 3:36 pm

Here are some thoughts from a correspondent in Wales:

I would describe myself as a ‘birder’ in that I go out regularly to look for birds and like to identify the birds I see (by sound and sight). However, there is also an emotional element to it. Bird song is a wonderful way to connect directly and easily with nature. Listening for birds is a form of meditation, in that it directs attention away from all the other clutter that fills our lives, and fully immerses me in the nature around me.

Some birdsong in particular does evoke emotion, particularly the robin. From about mid-august the song becomes melancholic, and somehow reminds me of the coming winter, and makes me feel slightly melancholic too! In January/ Feb, an increase in the amount of birdsong is uplifting, as it reminds me of the coming spring. The birds themselves all sound cheery and happy about the changing seasons, and I do too.

I have a musical ear, and my automatic response when identifying a bird song is to listen for a unique tune in the song. This makes it very difficult to identify birds which do a continuous mixture of notes with no obvious (to me) tune e.g. blackcap, reed warbler, sedge warbler, whereas I can ‘sing’ along with a great tit or blackbird.

And some from Canada:

Birdsong re-connects me to the natural world I sometimes forget I am a part of. As well as providing a natural guide to the time of day, the sound itself can be spiritually rewarding. I grew up an avid birdwatcher as a kid and have always been fascinated by birds. I often find myself stopping what I’m doing for a few moments in private on the way out of the house or in the street, close my eyes for a moment and feel like I’m actually taking part in the morning (or evening) as an actual event. I can feel totally connected to the world via the sounds/songs of birds. Songs/ calls of eagles/ hawks in particular have a very spiritual aspect and can make the hairs on my neck stand up in a second – a reccuring dream I sometimes have is of a lone hawk high above me circling and calling. I remember being at university and every morning it was like somebody ‘switched the birds on’ outside, like it was through a huge speaker next to my window – it was a bizarre experience. Birdsong is the unheard sountrack of our lives.

And from Sweden:

There is something truly magical about bird song. No matter how stressed or tired I feel, upon hearing birds singing, I always feel uplifted and less anxious. It’s like having a reality check, like nature is saying to you that it’s ok – the world keeps spinning and mother nature remains a constant in a world of fast-paced change.
I always try to spot the singer in it’s tree and I am astonished at the power of such a small creature – the power to sing and the power to move and calm my senses. I know it’s a cliche’ but bird song really makes me remember what I am – just a fellow species on this planet. And it makes me feel safe and connected to nature.

April 16, 2009

Crows and rooks

Filed under: Interpretations — Andrew Whitehouse @ 12:00 pm

From Giovanna Dunbar, Croyden, England

If I hear crows crowing on a cold and frosty morning then it always reminds me of walking to school, many years ago.

From Jane Baxendale, Warrington, England

My favourite experience of birdsong is of being on holiday in Cornwall, Rose Hill Campsite at Porthtowan, over the last 8 years. The site is surrounded with many old high trees and each night the Rooks would return to their nests, making such a curfuffle (is there such a word?). A few would arrive first, then the body of the flock, then finally a few stragglers. They were very noisy and would flap in and out of the trees, flitting from tree to tree, branch to branch, for about an hour before settling down for the night. I imagined that they were visiting relatives and making plans for the next day. It was a privelege to witness it.

From Richard Wild, Southampton, England

Rooks are the birds I will always associate with my wife’s dislike of mornings. In Essex and Suffolk, when I was a boy, the farmers used to go out in the early mornings and late evenings, when the birds were still roosting, and shoot their shotguns through the bottom of the nests of these birds, in order to keep their number under control. Of course, nowadays, farmers are not allowed to continue this practice, and town Rooks are free to rampage at will. Their early morning call in our oak trees manages to penetrate our double glazing, particularly in Spring, much to my wife’s annoyance.

From James Dignan, Dunedin, New Zealand

I moved from Croughton, Northamptonshire to New Zealand when I was eleven. There were many things I expected to miss when I came to New Zealand – friends, winter Christmases, familiar television programmes, and the like – but one of the most evocative single thing I have missed in the years since is the cawing of crows at twilight. The birds here in New Zealand have their own sounds – even species I know from Britain, like blackbirds, sound different here (a different “accent” or “dialect”, I suppose) – and I’ve no doubt I would miss the trilling of bellbirds and tui and the “peep, peep” of fantails if I were to move back to the UK. But there are no crows here, and the sound of crows still makes me homesick. There’s one particular song – “Senses Working Overtime”, by the band XTC – which ends in the sound of crows cawing. It always remind me of childhood in a south Midlands village in the 1970s.

From Kee Hoo, Forest Hills, New York

During my adolescence, I would regularly watch a local murder of crows that inhabited my parents’ neighborhood and one day, I decided to mimic a crow call of one of them as it sat on a branch above. It looked at me curiously, I remember so I continued the call, and my young nephew joined me in the kawing. Within the space of 5 to 7 minutes, several other crows flew in and perched themselves in the other trees above us and all started in with various kaws, surrounding us. At this point, I felt that it would be a wise decision to move my nephew and I back into the safety of our house, we were beginning to feel a slightly malevolent air coming off the birds. I’m not sure what I was saying but I guess it wasn’t appreciated.

April 15, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Whitehouse @ 12:54 pm

Blackbirds are singing a lot in Britain now, and they seem to sound especially good on a warm, still evening. Caroline Brown from Bedford writes:

When I was in my first year of university I lived in student halls next to a building site. The builders worked from 8 o’clock in the morning until 5 in the evening, and for the majority of that time all I could hear in my room was machinery. But in the middle of the night when I was lying in bed I used to leave my window open to listen to the sound of the blackbirds singing. It seemed like they were as joyful as me to appreciate the all-too-brief peace, and reminded me of childhood summers spent playing cricket until it was too dark to see the ball. I can honestly say that few sounds will ever make me feel so utterly content.

From a respondent in London:

I am lucky enough to live overlooking Bunhill Fields in The City of London. William Blake, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan were buried there. A virtuoso blackbird – Murphy – inhabits Bunhill Fields and has entertained my family and neighbours for several years. He and Mrs Murphy are imprinted on our block of flats, usually trying to nest in one or other of the balconies, on top of a security camera, and last year on a pipe in our basement garage. Murphy’s singing is so gloriously over the top that you sometimes have to laugh from the sheer exuberance of it. Also, Murphy’s territory includes a primary school, and I think he may have picked up some intonations from the children. Murphy is a “shared value” linking a pretty sophisticated but loose-knit group of people together.

From Elizabeth Soulie:

In May 1999, my sister and I were at my mother’s bedside in Somerset. She was dying, peacefully, after many frustrating years of immobilisation following a series of strokes. During the week before her death, we were sharing a bedroom in a nearby bed and breakfast. She died one morning at 4am when we were sleeping. At the same time, we were woken by the clear, loud, full-throated song of a blackbird, even though it was still dark. We both wondered why it was singing in the night and listened to it for some time.

When we were informed of my mother’s death a little later that morning, I immediately thought that it was as if she had come to sing her great happiness at being free from her handicap at last and it was a very comforting thought. Since then the dawn or dusk song of the blackbird has always brought back memories of my mother. It is the most musical and soul-lifting sound.

A belated update

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andrew Whitehouse @ 10:23 am

The blog has been very quiet for a long time now, but this is more a reflection of how much has been happening with the project than how little. After a terrific time at REGUA in southeast Brazil, I was fortunate enough to visit New Zealand for the Association of Social Anthropologists’ conference in December. I’d received quite a lot of interesting contributions to the project from New Zealand, so it was great to be able to listen to birds there myself. The fascinating, and sometimes tragic, thing about New Zealand is how the birdlife closely reflects the country’s human history, both in terms of what you hear and what you don’t hear. Last week I headed to this year’s ASA conference in Bristol, where I gave a paper about interactions between people and birds through sound and convened a wonderful panel on imitation together with my colleague Petra Kalshoven.

In a bid to keep the blog going, I thought I would regularly post some of the many hundreds of contributions to the project that I’ve been sent. I don’t intend to comment too much on these but instead hope that they speak for themselves. Contributions to the project are still very much welcomed.

The University of Aberdeen