Aural Unknowns: What’s That Sound?

Click image to hear morning birds and creek songs via SoundCloud

I just noticed last night- -though it had probably been ramping up for a week or more–that the insect noises out our back door were deafening after dark. I came back in for my iPhone to record a snippet but got distracted and never finished the task. But I will.

And I’ll post it here to share yet another vignette of life as it happens in my particular time and place. Not many readers click links like that, but I’ll do it anyway because some day I will come back to listen–maybe in a time of life where these were the good ol’ days, and the sounds can help bring it back to memory.

The bird song in the recording here were taken last summer from back up the valley when the creeks were low and did not drown out all other sounds, as is typically the case when the creeks are full.

It’s never been easier to communicate what we see and hear instantly across the globe.

Problem is, often we don’t know what we’re hearing in the natural world anymore. We’ve retreated indoors where the electrical outlets live and the sounds we hear are electronic strangers or familiar family voices. Night sounds from the natural world are too often drowned out by the hum of traffic or blocked intentionally by earbuds that filter out everything but the drone of our current playlist.

I am lately taking stock of all the “goods” in my life–not the material possessions but the value-added benefits of living where and when and how we do.  Our relative quietude is one of those blessings. Other than our own scurry and hurry around the place, we are alone with the sound of the creeks, the wind in the  trees on the ridge, and the sounds that nature provides–like the raven calls I posted a while back.

But what if you hear a sound you don’t recognize? Doesn’t that perplex you until you figure out what creature is making that sound? It does me. So I’m happy to have  solutions for aural unknowns.

One is the iPhone app from Cornell Ornithology called Merlin. It’s free but a whopping .7gb download. You can pretty well ID any bird you can see. And if you already know the bird you’re hearing, playing its own call back to it can make for some interesting male territorial behaviors.

And if it’s not a bird you can see or any other insect or animal sounds, just record it on your phone and send it in to nprcrowdsource (a collusion between National Public Radio and Cornell University) to have it identified. Read more…

Then you will never NOT know that one small voice in your world by name. It will become a familiar known comfort, not an unknown and unsettling thing that goes bump (or hoot or coo or whirr) in the night.



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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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