Mar. 16, 2009–If you can find the elusive Gunnison sage grouse while hiking through isolated pockets of remote southeastern Utah, you might be able to hear one. But now, thanks to nature recording specialists (http://westernsoundscape.org/video.html) and a grant from a prestigious library institute, you can listen to its distinctive gurgling calls at your desk with a click of a computer mouse.
The sounds of the grouse in the wild is now one of 1,000 calls of different bird species, coyotes, frogs and other creatures to be catalogued and made available through the Western Soundscape Archive, a free, comprehensive, online archive dedicated entirely to the natural sounds of the western United States. The archive is part of the collection of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah.
The recordings currently available at http://westernsoundscape.org range from rare birds to the endangered Wyoming toad. From your desktop, you can travel to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to hear the calls of an arctic fox, or follow a biologist into an abandoned mine to record bats. The unique natural environments of the west are available through sounds and stories.
Through freely available streaming audio files and downloadable podcasts, scientists, scholars, educators, students and nature enthusiasts will be able to identify animals and hear ambient recordings of natural environments throughout the eleven contiguous western United States and parts of Alaska.
“Our premise is that the sounds of the west are unique and that they deserve a closer listen,” says research librarian Jeff Rice. “As our lives become more urbanized, we are losing our connection to the natural world and its rich sounds. There are whole generations of kids growing up that have never heard coyotes, or even frogs, in the wild. This is our heritage and we want to help restore some of that connection.”
By focusing on the sounds of the western U.S., the archive emphasizes the connection between sound and place-something that is not only culturally valuable, but also biologically crucial, say scientists. Scientists recognize that even the same species of animals can sound different based on their geography. Birds, especially, can sing in dialects unique to their areas.
“Frequent recordings in many areas help create a database that will give insight into how the ‘singing culture’ of birds changes over time and space,” says Dr. Franz Goller, a biologist at the University of Utah. “Efforts like the Western Soundscape Archive are therefore very important in documenting acoustic behavior.”
So why does a library take the time and energy to build such archives?
“We build archives like Western Soundscape because the content is valuable to scholars, but we can also make it broadly accessible,” explains Joyce Ogburn, University librarian and director of the J. Willard Marriott Library, “With digital technology, we are taking advantage of incredible opportunities to share new kinds of research expansively, both within the scholarly community and outside higher education.”
The project is made possible by a prestigious National Leadership Grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services that was awarded to the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah. Ongoing partners include the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, as well as some of the nation’s finest nature recordists. Among the project’s contributors are internationally known bioacoustician Dr. Bernie Krause and Dr. Kevin J. Colver, co-author of the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Western Region. Other collaborators also include OCLC, the Utah Museum of Natural History and the Mountain West Digital Library.
To view a full video on the Western Soundscape Archive, visit: http://westernsoundscape.org/videoFull.html. For more information on Western Soundscape Archive news and events, visit http://www.westernsoundscape.org/news.php.