Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Things that go bump in the night! (1)

Things that go bump in the night, is the penultimate line in a traditional Scottish poem and a bedtime prayer that I remember from my childhood.  Strange children s rituals, like good night, sleep tight, hope the bed bugs don't bite!

From ghoulies and ghosties;
And long-leggedy beasties;
And things that go bump in the night;
Good Lord, deliver us! 

Yet, it is also a good description of how it can be living on board a boat. On a boat you will hear sounds that you would not hear in a home. Sounds certainly carry well through still air and carry even better through water. Sounds also vary at different times of the day. At night we hear one set of sounds. In the day its another. Distinct sounds that also vary through the different locations.

In the countryside by day, there are birds of all kinds singing, wind in the trees and even the rustling of grass. Distant voices and traffic noise, which all combine together to give a certain background noise that's hard to describe - you only notice its there when its not! Fractured logic I agree but I am sure you understand what I mean.  In the countryside, by night there are birds such as owls which can sound very eerie.  If you are very lucky you might be serenaded by a Nightingale. There are other less pleasant sounds such as the screech bark of a Fox that can carry for long distances. the sound of a distant railway or a distant motorway can carry. But there are also the animals in the fields such as cattle and sheep that can be surprisingly noisy. 

In towns by day there is the ever present sound of traffic noise. Those everyday sounds that people make as they go about their lives. Music through an open window, people passing by and snatches of conversation. Runners, joggers, dog walkers and passing boats. The sound is muffled but surprisingly loud. In town by night, the drone of traffic continues, but now the sound has changed from muffled to one where certain sound become much more distinct. the later it gets the more the emphsis of a sound has upon our concious. Some sounds which are common in the day, become unusual at night.

Its the same with the dog. In the day she tends to ignore most sounds. However at night her super sensitive hearing is attuned to her surroundings. She is aware of things that we are not. If someone walks past, she hears their footfalls coming and leaving and she gives a low quiet growl. However, if those footsteps should pause for a moment, it becomes a louder more threatening growl. Which after a few seconds if the footsteps do not continue to walk away, will turn to a single warning bark.

As we travel on the boat, especially when travelling through the countryside I like to listen to the birds. Today as we travelled up the River Severn, we heard the sound of an old sheep calling. It was not the usual sound of a sheep. It had a more plaintive sound. One which alerted us to a lamb that was trapped in the riverside mud.  The river levels were low and much to shallow for us to manoeuvre the boat in close and effect a rescue.  We had to continue up stream to a mooring point where we could organise getting word to the farmer whose field bordered the river at that point. In the country everything revolves around the local pub. In this case the landlord spoke to a farmer in another room who then alerted others into organising a rescue party. 

In the countryside I like to listen to the sounds at night. I take great pleasure from trying to identify what bird is making the sounds. Nightingale, Nightjar, Reed and Sedge warblers sing during the night. Robin, Song Thrush and Dunnock are also well known to sing in the evening and to continue into the night. However, by comparison the wonderful woodland calls of the Tawny Owl could hardly be called singing. 

In towns because of street lighting, some daytime birds start the dawn chorus early! In the countryside, dawn is best. The 'dawn chorus' is normally started by the Robin and Redstart, with the other birds joining in later. Robins keep territories all year round and so they also sing, all through the year. The Robin is a real singer, the equal of the thrush and blackbird. The song of the Robin has resulted in reports of Nightingales singing in the middle of a winters night. The robin is the most common night time singer in our towns and in the countryside. 

Continued in - Things that go bump in the night! (2)

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