Prompted initially by our travels in Africa and a desire to capture its natural soundscapes and tribal music, I have been carrying a small sound recording outfit along with my photographic gear. Recording natural sounds is a specialized field that is surprisingly little-practiced, particularly in comparison to the countless people who pursue nature and landscape photography. However, I have found it to be strangely addictive. Heard through a sensitive microphone and headphones, soft natural sounds take on an expressive sort of hyper-reality.

I am certainly no expert in this field, and I don’t have any intended purpose for these recordings except personal enjoyment, perhaps to accompany slideshows of photographs and the like, and to share a few examples here.

The more subtle dimensions of these recordings will not be audible on built-in computer speakers, so it is worth using external speakers or headphones if you have them available.

Male Lions Roaring, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania August 2011

The four recordings that follow are a small sampler of the sounds of the African night. They were made in Tanzania over the course of two weeks in late August and early September, at various locations but using a similar recording technique: Each evening at dusk, I clamped my stereo microphone outside our tent, aimed in a likely direction and positioned as far out from the tent as possible without putting it at too much risk from Hyaena (who will chew anything they find), Elephant, and other animals that pass through camp in the dark. The microphone was cabled back to the recorder inside the tent, so I could start and stop recording while lying in bed listening to the night sounds.

In the first clip, two Lions—large black-maned pride males and brothers—roar together in Tarangire National Park, advertising their presence to pride members and potential rival males. These Lions were at very close range within the camp boundary, and you can hear the detail of the guttural rasp in the calls.

Small-eared Galagos, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania August 2011

Galagos (small nocturnal primates also known as Bushbabies) were abundant in the woods around our camp in Lake Manyara National Park, even calling from the branches above as we used our open-air shower in the evenings. In this clip are two exchanges of calls from trees close to the microphone. (Keep the volume on your headphones turned down, because the sudden calls are quite loud!). In the interlude between the Galago calls, Hippopotamus make their characteristic grunts in the distance.

This is Small-eared Greater Galago(Otolemur garnettii), also called Garnett’s Greater Galago, Northern Greater Galago, and other common names by different sources.

Elephant Browsing at Night, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania September 2011

Most small safari camps in Africa are unfenced, and it is not uncommon to awake to the sound of Elephant browsing near the tent at night (or indeed during the day as the photograph shows). In this recording, made after midnight in Ruaha National Park, our visitor is tearing branches from a small Candelabra tree just a few yards from the tent. Amid the crashing of vegetation, you can hear the grinding of the Elephant chewing, and some other unexpected sounds I have annotated on the timeline. The musical note in the background, repeated at regular short intervals, is African Scops-Owl.

Lion Echoes and Bats, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania September 2011

Here we have Lion again, this time in Ruaha National Park, with the sound echoing in the walls of the dry riverbed in front of our tent. In the foreground, are the wingbeats of insect-hunting bats.

With identification help from the camp manager, these are probably Hairy Slit-faced Bat (Nycteris hispida). We could see their size in the dim light before dawn as they passed in front of and through the open areas of our tent, and N. hispida is the common insect-eating bat of this size in the area.

Cope’s Gray Treefrogs, Monroe County, Indiana, USA July 2011

The following three recordings were made at the same small pond in southern Indiana over the course of a hot and humid week in July 2011. This is the same location as the April ‘Frog Chorus’ clip at the bottom of the page, but by July the Spring Peepers and Southern Leopard Frogs are quiet, replaced by Cope’s Gray Treefrogs, Green Frogs and Bullfrogs.

On the day of the first recording it had reached 105°, and I’m sure it was still well over 90° at midnight when this was captured. Cope’s Gray Treefrog is the main caller. These are abundant in the surrounding woodland, and they descend to ponds at night to breed. I don’t know if it was due to the weather or other factors, but their chorus was especially loud on this particular evening.

The ‘plucked banjo string’ of Green Frogs can be heard periodically. I am not an expert on frog vocalizations, but I believe the occasional ‘weep-weep’ is again Cope’s Gray Treefrog. Distinct from the constant ‘advertisement’ call, this is an aggressive call between rival males.

Toward the end something makes a loud splash which silences the frogs for several minutes.

Green Frogs, Monroe County, Indiana, USA July 2011

Green Frogs were regular callers, but this was the only time I heard such a concentration of calls from multiple individuals. Each frog seems to be calling on a different beat, creating a strange syncopated chorus. Twice Bullfrogs add their bass voice to the mix.

Barred Owl, Monroe County, Indiana, USA July 2011

After midnight, sitting in the darkness listening to the frogs, I had no idea a Barred Owl was close by until its slow trembling call came through the headphones.

Dawn Chorus, Surrey Hills, UK May 2011

This recording of the dawn chorus of birdsong was made in our home garden in the Surrey Hills south of London. In the background is a continuous calling of Woodpigeon, mixed with the sounds of corvids passing overhead and the regular call and wingbeat of Pheasant. Multiple other birds are heard through the recording, all common garden and countryside species in this part of the UK. I have annotated just the more prominent sounds on the timeline.

Only 30 miles south of London and equidistant between Heathrow and Gatwick airports, periods of quiet without human sounds are rare. Still, by May the best of the dawn chorus occurs before the airports open, and early on weekend mornings when this was recorded there are longer stretches without car traffic on the country lanes. There are still some brief moments of faint mechanical sound, but they don't intrude and are soft enough that you may not even pick them out.

Bees in Cotoneaster Bush, Surrey Hills, UK May 2011

The blossoms of Cotoneaster horizontalis are tiny, but they still attract swarms of bees to the small bush in our front garden during the peak of its flowering period. On this day in mid-May the swarm was mostly Honeybees, with a few Red-tailed Bumblebees mixed in. I placed the microphone next to the bush, and waited for a traffic-free minute on our country road.

Frog Chorus, Monroe County, Indiana, USA April 2011

This is a section from one of the first few recordings I ever made. When I ordered my microphone and recorder, they were delivered to my sister’s and her husband’s home in southern Indiana in the USA. This frog chorus was captured after dark at a pond on their property as I was learning how to make the outfit work.

The loud background is Spring Peepers, and the ‘chuckling’ call interspersed through the recording is Southern Leopard Frog. In the latter stage, light rain starts to fall and this seems to slightly mute the chorus.