I didn’t realise until watching a programme about China that the gibbon has such an extraordinary song – a range of songs, in fact, because sometimes it likes to duet or sing threats to a predator. You can read all about their sounds here, or listen to some examples.
Since quite a few people seem to end up here after searching for ‘the world’s most beautiful birds’, here are a couple who live up to their names:
On a rainy afternoon visit the Micropolitan Museum to find revealed the most amazing things:
Waterfleas and ghost shrimps
Forams – small marine creatures that build houses from chalk
Radiolaria – protozoa that create miniscule skeletons of glass
Very art deco diatoms
and ectoprots, which look as good as they sound:
Did you know that glowworms glow green and fireflies glow yellow? And both are beetles. Radio 4 has a fascinating little documentary about bioluminenscence and nature’s “lamp of love” – part of a series called Nature’s Magic, which also covers glowing jellyfish, electric rays and flies’ eyes. Listen again here. Thanks to Speechification for pointing the way to the BBC nature department’s impressive archive.
In Birds as Individuals, which I’ve written about before here, Len Howard has made a careful study of the songs composed by the birds in her garden. In particular she hails the blackbird as an ‘imaginative genius’ for its compositions, and makes notations of the tunes:
Bullfinches are also talented composers:
And she even includes a diagram of the wood warbler’s song:
It seems you can still buy Birds as Individuals, here.
This starling seems too articulate to be genuine, but apparently starlings can be big talkers: here is a website devoted to starling chat. Theirs sound a bit frightening to me, whispering endearments in a sinister way. Not sure I could live with that. The starlings outside our house just make a lot of electronic squeaks and squawks, possibly from being forced to listen to far too much bleepy music.
On the edge of Romney Marsh is Rye, which might seem like a twee tourist trap but is actually the epicentre of English eccentricity. It was fictionalised as Tilling in the Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson when he was its mayor, and these days it’s piled high with bric a brac – mainly bowler hats and croquet sets and other discarded trappings of Englishness – and populated with odd and garrulous characters. This book was found in a Rye bookshop, whose owner was full of information on inbreeding in the marsh and although she’d never been to nearby Dungeness, was very much looking forward to a trip round the nuclear power station one day soon.
It’s an account of how the author befriended the birds around her Sussex cottage, and made a study of their psychology and individual characters. Her accounts of how blue tits and robins would fly up and communicate with her sound a bit mad, until you see the photos:
She describes an electrician coming to the cottage, and seeing the birds coming down to perch on her:
“His whole countenance seemed to alter, his face glowed, his eyes shone and he kept murmuring: ‘How wonderful!’ Then he said: ‘But why shouldn’t it be like that? It ought to be like that.’”
So it should. I plan to adjust my working methods to look more like this:
Actually it’s a lemurine night monkey. They have 100 different calls and see in black and white. You can read more about their calls here, from the resonant whoop to the sneeze-grunt.
From Voyage autour du monde sur la fregate la Venus of 1840, at the NYPL, which is full of lovely pictures of more familiar creatures: