4. Notes and Calls: A Taste for Diversity
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84 C H A P T E R 4 Notes and Calls A Taste for Diversity Yungaburra, North Queensland, 8 June 2005: Now-extinct volcanoes shaped the Atherton Tablelands. These wet tropics are as far north as I intend to travel on my first recording trip. I head out just before 4:00 am, listeningforanythingthatmightbeapiedbutcherbird.I’vestillonlyheard a few, so I am hoping I will recognize their voice. The morning is far from stellar. Finally, at 6:50 am a trio of birds flies out of a tree one by one. They announcethemselveswiththesamethree-noteflourishandthen. . .nothing . I follow them for an hour—not a sound. A total waste of a day, or so I think. We shall return to this Yungaburra trio. I finish out the morning with more amenable creatures. The Tablelands are home to over a hundred mammal species, including thirteen endemic to the region, like Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus lumholtzi )—yes,tree!Primarilyfolivores(leaf-eaters),theyareextremelyhard to spot. They cannot curl their long, pendulous tail around branches, so the instructions suggest that you look way, way up and pin the tail on the . . . well, tree-kangaroos are actually heavy-bodied (the largest rainforest marsupials), but by the time they have reached the heights, you just look for a grey basketball with a tail. I was lucky to glimpse one in the shadows during her brief foray on the ground. The unifying theme in the primatology done by women has been their high likelihood of being skeptical of generalizations and their strong preference for explanations full of specificity, diversity, complexity , and contextuality. —Donna Haraway, Primate Visions Notes and Calls 85 Another iconic species here is that oddest of creatures, the platypus. This semiaquatic mammal lays leathery eggs in a nesting burrow on the bank of a creek. Their fur coat is waterproof, and their wide, flat tail is multipurpose. They have webbed feet with sharp claws, and the male has a toxic spur on his hind leg. More than forty thousand electrosensors in their soft, tubular bills aid these agile swimmers in finding and feeding on aquatic insects, fish, frogs, crustaceans, and worms. After peering into Peterson’sCreekforagoodlengthoftime,Inoticeslowconcentricripples in the water. Then a platypus surfaces. Improbably constructed and impossibly cute—small wonder that the platypus is featured on the reverse of our twenty-cent coin and is the animal emblem of the state of New South Wales. However, my thrill is short-lived; I’m brooding about pied butcherbirds, who are barely singing right now. I’ve come at the wrong time. I begin to doubt my entire trip, my project even. There are just too many things I don’t know. When I began later to analyze my eventual recordings, no how-to field manual in zoömusicology awaited me. In fact, my field looked more like a vacant lot. I began nudging things along, conscious I was operating on guesswork—although hopefully the inspired guess. Rather than beginning on the level of songs, I began with a detailed look at the most basic kinds of sounds pied butcherbirds make. Basic Note Structure Imaginingeachspecieswithitsownrepertoireofcharacteristicsounds— thoseavailabletotheiranatomy,suitabletotheirpurposes,andpleasingto them—Italliedbasicpiedbutcherbirdnotetypes,alevelofanalysisfacilitated by the graphic illustration of a sonogram. A note is a discrete sound unit, whether modulated or not, represented by a continuous trace on the sonogram. (Since sound must be heard to be truly understood, throughout the text a m indicates an audio track, often paired with a sonogram and/or notation, that is available online; see www.piedbutcherbird.net.) 86 is birdsong music? As in Western music notation, time in a sonogram is represented horizontally , and frequency vertically. Although the relative intensity of the sound (its amplitude) is indicated by depth of shading, waveform analysis can better isolate this component. The sonogram displays the entire acoustic basket as it unravels. In the case of a pied butcherbird phrase in figure 4.1 (m AUDIO 1), the bird is competing with a small airplane in the low register, wind in the trees in the midrange, and boisterous rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus moluccanus) in the mid- to high frequencies. Figure 4.1. A pied butcherbird competing with a busy acoustic basket. Figure 4.2. (facing) A representative series of basic note types of the pied butcherbird. Line 1: #1: a very short note (about 0.02 sec) with stable frequency; #2: a longer note with stable frequency; #3: an ascending note; #4: a descending note; #5: a note that descends, then ascends; #6: a note that ascends, then...

Subject Headings

  • Birdsongs -- Australia.
  • Butcherbirds -- Behavior -- Australia.
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