Sound recordings

Apr

27

2018

Here’s the buzz on recording bees!

by Vicki Powys

I knew about buzz pollination from watching David Attenborough’s Life of Insects on TV a few years ago. Some bees could buzz at a certain pitch to release pollen from certain flowers. “Middle C…”, said David Attenborough, “…the pitch has to be Middle C”. I was intrigued as I’d never heard about this before.

Then one spring morning in 2016, on my woodland property in Capertee Valley, New South Wales, yellow guinea flowers began to bloom and I could hear the conspicuous flight hum of a very large and shiny black bee. It buzzed loudly as it settled on each flower, before zooming off to the next one. This was a female Australian carpenter bee Xylocopa aeratus, and I was keen to get a photo and to record its buzz.

Female carpenter bee Xylocopa aeratus buzzing a guinea flower Hibbertia obtusifolia, Capertee Valley NSW, 8 November 2016.

I waited amidst the low-growing guinea flower shrubs, seated on a folding stool, camera and recorder at the ready. It became a daily ritual – at dawn each day I’d go off to watch bees buzzing. As well as the big, black carpenter bees there were also smaller native bees, all buzzing the guinea flowers and collecting pollen. I took photos and made videos with my Lumix pocket camera, and recorded the buzzing sounds on my Olympus LS10, using its built-in mics or a Sennheiser ME66 gun microphone.

My bee recording kit – folding stool, Lumix DCM-TZ60 camera, Olympus LS10 audio recorder and Sennheiser ME66 supercardoid microphone in pistol grip.

Of course I was keen to know if all my bees buzzed at Middle C, so I analyzed the recordings to find the fundamental pitch of the pollination buzz for each bee species. For this I downloaded free Praat software, and learned how to use it from a YouTube video.

My findings were exciting! These Capertee Valley bees buzzed at a wide range of frequencies – up to one octave either side of Middle C! The pitch of the buzz did not relate to the size of the bee, nor to the size of the flower.

Audio: Female carpenter bee, Xylocopa aeratus. The higher-pitched pollination buzz alternates with the flight hum.
30 October 2016, 7.19 am EST, ME66 gun mic to Olympus LS10.

Click here to read more about this project on my website

Mar

13

2018

Is birdsong music?

Birdsong is often exquisitely beautiful, yet many people argue that it is purely functional. It certainly enables birds to attract mates, declare their territories and communicate with individuals of their own species. Musicologist and composer, Hollis Taylor, has spent many years closely studying the songs of pied butcherbirds.

Hollis Taylor

In this hour long episode of the Science Show broadcast recently on ABC Radio National, Hollis outlines the case for birdsong as music.

Jan

18

2018

Huon Peninsula Soundscape, Papua New Guinea Rainforest

The Perspectives on Listening Symposium in Brisbane this last December gave me the incentive to edit up a soundscape from our recent trip to the Huon Peninsula in Papua New Guinea.

Leah Barclay invited myself (Andrew), Tony Baylis, David Stewart, Rod Thorn and Sue Gould to form a panel to discuss the trip and how we approached our sound recording. David, Rod and Sue were unable to attend, but Tony Baylis and I showed images and contrasted our individual field techniques and results. My impression of our one hour session was that many in the audience were particularly fascinated to hear of Tony’s bioacoustic field work.

Meanwhile, I edited this soundscape as an installation on multiple headphones so participants could immerse themselves in the rainforest during breaks in the symposium program.

The edit is compiled from seven sources, each about five minutes in duration, and representing aspects of the various altitude ranges to which we trekked and recorded.

Location sources are:
A – Hill forest (~1100m)
B – Mountain forest (Camp Astrapia) (~2000m)
C – Mountain forest (Midway Camp) (~2150m)
D – Cloudforest (Camp 13) (~2800m)
Timings are for approximate transitions.

0:00     1. Predawn insect chorus with Sooty Owl, Feline Owlet Nightjar and Papuan Boobook (B)
4:20     2. Dawn chorus with Regent Whistler, Lesser Melampitta and Ornate Fruit Doves (C)
10:10    3. Regent Whistler song (B)
16:40    4. Greater Ground Robin song (D)
21:30    5. Huon Bowerbird by its bower (D)
27:10    6. Emperor Bird of Paradise, with Cicadabird and Growling Riflebird (A)
33:40    7. Dusk cicada chorus, with Papuan Woodcock dusk flight calls (D)

I’ll be publishing extended recordings for free listening on our Listening Earth website in the near future, and will post specific links here.