Soundscape Ecology: Lake County’s Natural Symphony

As the architecture of Lake County’s woods reveals its seasonal color palette, our much-anticipated rains divulge newts, fabulous fungi, and nature’s spent foliage. Along with our county’s breathtaking vistas, bird watching opportunities, fine wines, and gastronomic delights, you can add Soundscape Ecology to our list of local wonders. Soundscape Ecology is a relatively new field of biology that studies the sounds of the landscape. Past studies tended to focus on single species sounds to learn about the health of a  particular habitat. Newer studies in Soundscape Ecology have determined that it’s the ‘concert’ of nature’s sounds, rather than a ‘soloist’, that can reveal the true picture of any given landscape’s wellbeing.  Bernie Krause knows a lot about Soundscape Ecology. He holds a Ph.D. in Creative Arts with an Internship in Bioacoustics and has one of the most complete natural sound libraries of any private library. Bernie, along with a collaborator/scientist/friend, began to put together the idea that the sounds created by the various amphibians, birds, and mammals in nature evolved and developed the different pitches and tempos they produce to be recognized by potential mates. This ‘organized cacophony’  makes it possible for the myriad animals to live and thrive without disrupting one another. In other words, they developed over time to make their unique and individual sounds while ‘allowing’ one another to be heard amongst the din.  

Wherever you are, in a park, your yard, or out on the water, you needn’t listen too long before nature’s soundscapes are revealed in innumerable ways. I pause my walk in the woods, initially perceiving the sound of my breath along with that of my swishing windbreaker. Soon I note a rustling under the oaks. It’s a buck rubbing the remaining vascular-rich velvet from his antlers, an activity that helps his antlers grow quickly. A ‘scritching’ sound above my head in a larger oak reveals a grey squirrel going ‘squirrelly’ as it runs about the tree’s circumference; claws scratching the surface of rough bark. A breeze generates the sound of taffeta as it loosens leaves to create confetti. Small sounds loom larger as I listen more intently. At the lake, small waves along Clear Lake’s shoreline create soothing, rhythmic sounds as they lap against the gravel and clamshells.  A rain-refreshed creek ‘talks’ its way around the landscape’s curves, spilling over ancient boulders on its journey. All of these sounds and more turn out to be, well, music to our ears. Scientists such as Davyd Betchkal, Alaska’s National Park Service Soundscape Specialist, collect acoustic data to document increasingly rare natural sounds. Since manufactured noise such as airplanes, machines, and motors can alter our bond with the natural world, an inventory of Nature’s sound is becoming as vital as preserving Earth’s flora and fauna. Scientists are becoming more attuned, no pun intended, to understanding that unwelcome sounds can imperil habitat, and noise may also be a human stressor as well.  

So, along with forest bathing, hiking, and bird watching, go out and enjoy another of our county’s valuable assets—the sounds of wind, birdcall, and flowing water. While you immerse yourself in Lake County’s natural sounds, you’ll become aware of the unseen life that surrounds you daily, all while reaping the benefits for wellbeing—for free!

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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