With this post I’d like to take you through our new recording ‘Safari’ track by track – sharing how we made the recording and give you an insight into what you’re hearing.
Track 1: Preparing for Safari at Dawn, with Jackal, Hyena, Elephant and Morning Birdsong
Each morning safari begins with an early start, so our album does too. This actual recording was made on one of our first mornings of field work – our initiation to wild Africa.
I was standing in the darkness of predawn in the bush near Tarangire National Park. I had no idea of how safe it was for me to be doing this, considering the unknown wild animals that could be lurking in the dark. By my side however, was a Masai man, dressed in traditional red shawl, and leaning casually on a spear. He was my ‘escort’, and seemed pretty relaxed. Thus emboldened, I stood quietly, noticing the familiarity of the southern cross low in the southern sky, and the unfamiliarity of the sounds of this new continent.
The microphones were 20 meters away, recording the first birdsong of the day. Prominent were Spotted Morning Thrushes with their sweet and strong songs, a characteristic sound of the dry African bush.
Suddenly there was an animal call, the skittish cry of a zebra, and a few moments later the loud trumpeting and deep rumbling of an elephant. It was an electrifying moment. I remember thinking; Wow! This Really is Africa!
My escort leaned toward me, smiled and whispered: “Simba”. Swahili for lion. That’s what the animals were probably reacting to. I suddenly wasn’t feeling quite so bold! But we kept recording, and a few minutes later both a jackal and hyena began calling.
Of course this magical occasion has to open the album. If you listen closely, you can just discern the far distant roars of a lion in the opening minute.
Track 2: Herd of Wildebeest
Tarangire National Park is based around the Tarangire River, which threads its way through the savannah landscape, seasonally attracting staggering amounts of wildlife. We were fortunate to be there during the ‘Small Migration’ (the ‘Big Migration’ being at Serengeti). Massive herds of wildebeest and zebra were grazing out on the grasslands, and daily coming down to the river. Elephant were in abundance too, often seen in family groups – there must have been hundreds of these pachyderm clans in the park. And with the herbivores came the predators: lion, cheetah, hyena and jackal.
On this track you can hear the grunts of wildebeest; males defending their harem mostly, but there is also the mournful bleating of a calf among them.
By the time we made this recording, we’d realised the challenges of making good sound recordings in Africa. Getting microphones close to wildlife was problematic. Most of the time one couldn’t just stand there. Even getting out of a vehicle was not allowable in most National Parks.
This recording was made from our vehicle, with us all being extra still and quiet. On this occasion, it captured the sounds well, but as a recording strategy it had obvious limitations. We eventually developed a way of carefully placing the microphones out in the landscape as being the most productive way of recording in Africa (read more here).
Tracks 3-5: African Woodland with Impala Grazing > Vervet Monkeys on Alert > The Lion Pride
The recording that makes up these 3 tracks shows how our ‘leave and see what happens’ approach could work wonderfully.
The microphones were placed on a tripod under a bush in a grove of acacia woodland. These woodlands were favoured habitat for herds of impala, and you can hear them rustling the grasses as the walk right by the microphones. Occasionally they give sharp alarm calls, or the males gruffly snort as they engage in fights for dominance with rivals.
The birdsong is rather beautiful, the mics being in a fortuitous sweet spot. Many of the calls are unknown to me, but a woodpecker is drumming noisily overhead, and there are boubous, bulbuls, lovebirds, doves, hornbills, spurfowl and a lot of very noisy dusky starlings.
A troupe of vervet monkeys were also moving around, and at one point an individual starts giving loud alarm calls close nearby. Soon the reason is revealed. A pride of lions begin calling nearby. Rather close nearby!
Lions usually rest during the day, but in the early morning, prides can occasionally be heard roaring like this. We had the privilege of experiencing them do this at close range. Adults make sounds with their whole body, their breath condensing in the morning air. It is a huge sound, intimidating, and the first time we heard them roaring up close, it took our breath away!
Track 6: Grassland with Flocks of Social Weavers
There are areas in the African savannah where, for kilometres around, every bush is decorated with the nests of grey-capped social weavers. The number of birds in a single colony may number many thousands.
This recording comes from one such area, with the mics placed in their midst as the birds feed, call and flit past the microphones. The sense of movement is exhilarating.
Track 7: The Elephant’s Bathtime
Elephants love water. And mud. It was such a delight to see them each day enjoying both.
Family groups would take turns at the waterhole; walking in from the surrounding grasslands, splashing into the water, sloshing the muddy mix over themselves, and then moving to a favoured and obviously oft-used tree for a good, all-body rub and scratch.
Here you can listen to them indulging in all of the above!
Track 8: Zebras at the River
It is a surprise to many visitors to Africa to find not only that zebras are so vocal, but that they sound so much like… donkeys! We’ve been told that zebra in swahili literally means ‘striped donkey’.
In this track you hear a group coming to water. They seemed especially wary of predators, and we got a sense that their calling reflected a nervous temperament when they felt exposed.
In the foreground are the wheezy, tinkling calls of white-headed buffalo weavers.
Track 9: Wildebeest Migration
Wildebeest en masse and on the move. Here a huge herd come down to the river, drinking, and crossing to the other side.
Track 10: The Hippo Pool
This recording seems to be everyone’s favourite. We have played it to numerous friends and always enjoy witnessing their surprise, delight and amusement at the sounds of these creatures. Hippos sound amazing, and we got a good close recording.
However it was made with significant apprehension. Hippos are regarded by many as the most dangerous animal in Africa. They are unpredictable, aggressive when threatened, and move with surprising speed when they want to.
So when we set up camp on the banks of the Katavi River in far western Tanzania, we were a little alarmed to find we were sharing it with around 200 hippos who spent their day only 100 meters away, lazing in the fetid water. During the heat of the day, they are rather placid, but as the afternoon cools down they become more active, eventually emerging from the river after dark to graze on surrounding grasslands and river banks.
We had a wooden fence around our camp, but it had been trampled in a few places, and wasn’t going to stop anything the size of a hippo. So each evening, with our flimsy nylon tents clustered protectively around our vehicle, we would lie listening to the sound of heavy footfalls and grass being chomped around us, all accompanied by the bellowing and roaring of these cantankerous animals. We didn’t get much sleep for a week!
But we did get this recording. It was made later in the afternoon, with the microphones placed on the riverbank overlooking the water and its huge, wallowing inhabitants. You can hear them calling in chorus, snorting, and the cute sounds of them twitching their ears. At one point you can even hear one defecating, a distinctive sound as they flick their tiny tails side to side, thus desiccating and spreading their fibrous excreta.
Track 11: Nightfall, with Bush Babies, Baboons and Leopard.
Just when we thought that we were crazy enough sleeping by the Katavi River, we heard something else. Our driver, Roger, alerted us to it the first night: “Andrew, did you hear that? Leopard.” It was a low, huffing series of growls and it came from a small gully running into the main river. The following night I saw the animal, or at least its eyes shining in my torchlight. It was coming down to drink each evening.
Leopards are notorious stealth hunters. Oh great. Another reason to be especially alert and not stray far after dark.
This recording captures some of the night sounds of the African bush. In particular the cries of bush babies as they move around the tree canopy, and loud alarm calls from a troupe of baboons. You can hear the leopard on this recording (0.14 & 3.09, actually two of them, one further away; 1.39). Oh, and a gruff, single growl from a lion (2.37). No wonder the baboons were also getting a sleepless night!
If you listen closely to the final minute of the recording, you can hear a flight of large birds mysteriously winging their way high overhead (5.17-6.15); water birds? ibis maybe?
Africa was a truly amazing experience of us. Our best field trip ever. We hope you enjoy taking your ears on safari as much as we did!
Established in 1993 by nature sound recordist Andrew Skeoch and photographer Sarah Koschak, Listening Earth offers a range of beautiful nature sound recordings from around the world.
"Our albums feature only the sounds of nature as you would hear in the wild - no music or other distractions. Recorded in often remote and pristine locations, they bring you the relaxing and beautiful sounds of our living planet. Listen, and let our recordings take you there."