Animal, air acoustics


Record nature’s noises with Glen Helen’s Trailside Museum

By Matt Clevenger

Photo: Listen to sounds like the creek on Glen Helen’s Acoustic Ecology hike Feb. 4 starting at the Trailside Museum; photo: Scott Stolsenberg

Looking for a new way to experience the Glen Helen Nature Preserve? Grab a digital audio recorder and hit the trails to help document the sounds of nature on Saturday, Feb. 4, during the preserve’s upcoming Acoustic Ecology Hike.

Guide Madeline Fix will lead the hike, from 2 p.m. to around 4 p.m., depending on the weather. Hikers will meet at the Trailside Museum in Yellow Springs.

“We take a walk through Glen Helen, quietly listening for the sounds of the Glen and the sounds of the environment,” Fix says. “We listen for the sounds of nature, the sounds of man, which would be machines, and the sounds of animals.”

“We give the recordings to Glen Helen, as documentation of the sounds that we collect on any given day,” she says. “Basically, we follow a model that Bernie Krause, who’s known as the inventor of acoustic ecology, set up.”

The preserve’s website defines Acoustic Ecology, also known as Ecoacoustics or Soundscape Studies, as the study of a relationship, mediated through sound, between human beings and their environment.

“It requires you to kind of slow down and take a few minutes, take time to consider your environment and listen to it,” Fix says. “We often walk around not listening to the things around us, and starting to become mindful of the sounds in our environment is a very interesting exercise. It also makes you more aware of your surroundings—and of yourself.”

“It’s relatively quiet, but it’s louder than you’d think it would be,” she says of Glen Helen. “Surprisingly louder. You can still hear cars from Yellow Springs, depending on the amount of traffic, and then there are quite a few animals making noises. We walk over to the springs, and do a lot of listening to the springs themselves.”

Hikers will depart from the Trailside Museum at 2 p.m. Tickets are available on the preserve’s website.And because Glen Helen is a nonprofit, the purchase price is tax-deductible. Participants are encouraged to bring a digital recording device and a good set of headphones.

“I will bring a digital recorder and a pair of headphones,” Fix says. “When you listen through the headphones, everything is amplified, so you can really start to hear the layers of sound that are in the environment.”

“If you have a recorder, you can bring it,” she explains. “You don’t really need to have anything incredibly special. It’s more important to kind of just get out there and try it out. Of course, the better the recorder, the more pristine and high-quality the recordings will be. But this can be done with consumer products, for a walk like this.”

“Any kind of iPhone or a smartphone, anything that has a headphone jack will work,” she says. “I would say bring the best headphones you have. Don’t bring earbuds; bring something external that covers your ear entirely.”

The preserve schedules two or three Acoustic Ecology hikes each year, in different seasons. Fix started guiding the hikes about two years ago, taking over for Brooke Bryan, who originally started the program.

“This is going to be my first winter hike,” Fix says. “I am anticipating that it’s going to be crisper and quieter. There will definitely be fewer birds. I think that probably the sound of the water will be louder, or perceived as being louder, unless the springs are completely frozen.”

Participants are asked to bring appropriate clothing for weather conditions. “If it’s cold, definitely be climate-aware. Bring water, and be ready to just kind of walk and listen. Plan for two hours, but it may be a little less than that, depending on the weather.”

The Glen’s soundscape changes with the seasons, so it can be hard to predict what sounds might be heard or recorded on the hike. Fix says some of the strangest sounds she has recorded at Glen Helen have turned out to be bird calls. “Some of the funny birds that are around in the summer time have very interesting bird calls,” she says.

“There won’t be any bugs. In the summer there are many, many bugs. We’ll probably hear the traffic more, or any other sounds that are adjacent to the Glen. Maybe there are trains that we’ve never heard before, or other kinds of human sounds.”

Give your mouth a break, and listen for nature, animals, and humans this Saturday at the Glen Helen Nature Preserve.

The Acoustic Ecology hike will depart 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4 from the Trailside Museum, 505 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Pre-registration is required; admission is $5 or $3 for Glen Helen members. For tickets and more information, please visit 

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