Superb Lyrebird

Mimics the sounds of the rainforest, from Kookaburra to chain saw.

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The male superb lyrebird attracts females by probably the most extravagant animal call in the world. The male mimics all the sounds from the forest, includeing the calls of other birds. Ones brought up around manmade sounds impersonate the roar of a chainsaw, the screech of a car alarm and the click of camera shutters. Lyrebirds display this vocal virtuosity not just during the breeding season, implying the calls are not just about finding a mate but also used to defend territory. During the breeding season they use a display mound to sing from for hours, with the calls travelling up to a kilometre through the forest. The BBC video of the Lyrebird is very funny and was voted by viewers as their favourite Attenborough moment.

Location

The map shows the location of Healesville Sanctuary but the Lyrebird can be seen elsewhere in south-eastern Australia.

Coloured Canyon

A place to hear nothing. Although you might be surprised to find out when you get there, that your body isn’t as quiet as you think.

We’re not used to hearing complete silence. Normally there’s sound around us: the distant drone of traffic noise, leaves rustling in the wind, the hum of insects, etc. To find complete silence in nature, you need to travel to places which have little vegetation (so there are no other animals about) and you need to find a spot which is sheltered from the wind, or travel on a windless day. A good spot to hear absolutely nothing is the depths of the Coloured Canyon in Sinai. And according to Adam Lawrence who suggested this place “Oh, it looks pretty good too.”

Location

Tours are available from hotels on the nearby red sea coast (Gulf of Aqaba side of Sinai). Getting there involves a long jeep ride and a hike. Leave early in the morning to avoid the heat and to get there before too many people ruin the quiet.

Credits

Photo by Tanya Dedyukhina, CC BY 3.0

Sea organ

The organ buried in the promenade makes a haunting but harmonious sound through the motion of the sea.

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Driven by waves this organ creates notes at random. Despite the unpredictability of the sounds, overall what is heard is surprisingly harmonious. This happens because the different organ pipes have been carefully tuned to only produce certain musical notes that sound good together [1].

The sculpture is seventy meters long and has thirty-five organ pipes built under the concrete; as you move along the promenade the sounds and harmonies change. The movement of the waves push air in and out of the organ pipes to create the notes. It was designed by architect Nikola Bašić.

Location

Visit Zadar website.

There is a wave organ in San Francisco and also a high tide organ in Blackpool. But the Zadar organ is the most tuneful and effective.

Credits

Ear of Dionysius, Sicily

Legend has it that the funnel shape of this cavern allowed the whispers of prisioners be overheard.

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This large limestone cave has a great sound legend attached to it. The story goes that the tyrant Dionysius (ca. 432–367 BC) used this place as a prison. The wedge shape of the cavern caused peoples’ conversations to be focussed and amplified at the roof of the cave, 22m above the floor. Supposedly this enabled guards to spy on prisoners by listening to the amplified sound through a small hidden opening at the top of the cave: even when the prisoners spoke in whispers.

“The tearing of a piece of paper makes a noise not unlike that occasioned by knocking a heavy stick against a stone” Conrad Malte-Brun, 1829.

Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to hear the effect because of safety fears; in the past travellers were hosted up by rope and pulley to the opening. Consequently, a modern listener is just left to enjoy the reverberance at ground level, marvel at the legend and take in the cavern’s ear-like shape.

Gino Iannace and collaborators [1] have made measurements and test whether the spying myth is true. Rather disappointing, they found that any whispered conversations were unintelligible and lost in a blur of reverberation. The sound sample at the top of the page was reconstructed from their measurements. Even with carefully enunciated speech, it is hard to understand what is being said.

This video has good sound, but for some reason has been shot on its side.

Logistics

The Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, which includes the cavern, also has a Greek amphitheatre which sound tourists can admire.

Credits

  • Site suggested by Nick Antonio
  • [1] G. Iannace, L. Marletta, F. Sicurella and E. Ianniello, “Acoustic measurements in the Ear of Dionysius at Syracuse (Italy)” Internoise 2010.
  • Photo: Michael Wilson (c) some rights reserved

Booming Sand Dunes

Singing sand dunes can create loud drones during avalanches.

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(Your tablet ot computer loudspeakers may fail to reproduce this low frequency sound).

Some sand dunes make a strange low frequency humming sound a bit like the drone of a distant propeller aircraft. The sound can be surprisingly loud: in some cases it can be heard many kilometres away. This is something that has been known about for centuries: Marco Polo, the Emporer Baber and Charles Darwin all wrote about it [1]. For instance, Marco Polo wrote about his encounter in the Gobi Desert “[the singing sands] at times fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, and also of drums and the clash of arms.”

The sound is rather unusual and eerie – reminiscent of a bass musical instrument. The drone is caused by a synchronised avalanche of the sand grains. The pitch of the note produced depends on the size of the grains – and so each singing sand dune has its own distinctive voice pitch. But the exact reason for the grain synchronisation is still being argued about among scientists.

Logistics

Consider safety as you’ll be visiting a desert in the height of summer. About thirty dunes around the World boom. The large dunes most reliably sing in the summer when the grains are dry. Small dunes tend not to sing. As the videos show, you can start the avalanche yourself: once the sound has started it can continue for sometime after you stop pushing the sand. Do this on the leeward face of the dune (the side sheltered from the wind). The dune needs to be steeper than about 30 degrees.

Below is a list of locations gleaned from the Internet – it would be wise to check with locals about the exact locations.

  • Atlantic Sahara desert around Laayoune, Ghord Lahmar dune near Foum Agoutir, Morocco [2]. (Also Erg Ezzahar or screaming dunes)
  • Kelso Dunes near California’s Mojave Desert, off the Kelbaker Rd, north of Highway 40 between Barstow and Needles, Ca, USA [3]
  • Kelso, Sand Mountain (20-21 miles east of Fallon, Nevada on Highway 50, USA [3]
  • Crescent Dunes (about 15 miles west of Tonopah, Nevada, USA [3]
  • Dumont Dunes (60 miles north of Kelso, Ca, USA [3]
  • Big Dune (Amaragosa Valley, south of Beatty, Nevada, USA [3]
  • Eureka Dunes (Hanging Rock Rd, out of Bishop, Ca, USA [3]
  • 40 km southwest of Doha, Qatar
  • La Mar de Dunas and El Cerro Bramador, Copiapo, Chile
  • The Dune of Altynemel (“The Singing Dune”) in the valley of Ili River near Kapchagay, Kazakhstan
  • Near Liwa, South of the United Arab Emirates. In area known as the Empty Quarter
  • Dunes of Badain Jarin, Inner Mongolia, China
  • Dune Ming Sha Shan, The Mount of Singing Sand, DunHuang, Gansu, China

Credits

  1. http://www.its.caltech.edu/~nmvriend/research/
  2. http://www.pmmh.espci.fr/fr/morphodynamique/SongOfDunes.html
  3. Wild soundscapes: discovering the voice of the natural world, Bernard L. Krause, Wilderness Press
  4. Sound (c) Nathalie Vriend

Squeakings Sands

A beautiful beach, the wind in the hair, the waves lapping on the shore, the soothing sound of squeaking underfoot!

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The beach at Porthor is known as the Whistling Sands, which in many ways is an odd name because squeaking sands would be more appropriate. As you walk along the beach the sand squeaks underfoot. I experienced a similar phenomena on Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Australia beach and it’s distinctly odd.

One suggestion is that the sound is caused by friction as the grains rub against each other, but this isn’t proven. What is known is that you need the right sort of sand grains: ones that are near spherical with no sharp edges. This is probably why the effect is only heard on some beaches. The squeaking is most audible when the sand has been recently washed, and so it’s rarely heard far from the shoreline. On the beech, the sand needs to be dry (although submerged sand can also sometimes squeak) [2] so check the weather before travelling!

Logistics and some suggested locations

Whistling Sands – Porth Oer, Wales

Owned by the National Trust

Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Australia

Can be reached via ferries and other boats.

Other reported sites

Australia

  1. Pilots beach in Laurieton, NSW
  2. Thistle Cove, Cape Le Grand National Park
  3. Neck Beach, Bruny Island, Tasmania
  4. Moreton Island, Australia
  5. Surfer’s Paradise, Australia
  6. Bondi beach, Australia
  7. Squeaky Beach, 5607, Australia
  8. Wilson’s Prom., Victoria, Australia

USA

  1. Cocoa beach, Florida
  2. Treasure island, Florida
  3. Henderson Beach Destin, Florida
  4. Tybee Island, GA, USA

Cources

  1. Sound Benboncan (c) some rights reserved
  2. Sholtz, P., Bretz, M., and Nori, F. (1997). “Sound-producing sand avalanches,” Contemporary Physics 38, 329-342.
  3. Eifion (c) some rights reserved
  4. map thumbnail.Storm (c) some rights reserved