Whilst watching a wildlife documentary on the TV the other night I was struck by just how I missed the sounds of the African bushveld. Living in a city, miles away from my beloved Africa it struck me how emotive those sounds were and it created a real longing in me; a longing to be sitting outside on a warm summer evening, Savannah cider in hand, listening to the sounds of the crickets and cicades. Or to be woken up by the call of the Fish Eagle or even, dare I say it, the ‘irritating’ 4am Hadeda alarm clock. It inspired me to survey the Mahlatini staff for their favourite sounds of the African bushveld. Below are our Top 10 favourites.
1. African Thunderstorm – Those of you who have ever spent any time in Africa know that there is nothing quite like the sound of an African thunderstorm. Sudden, dramatic, powerful, deafeningly loud, and gone before you know it.
2. Crickets – The ‘soundtrack’ of the bushveld at night providing the background music for your BBQ or braai. The sound emitted by male crickets is commonly referred to as chirping. Interestingly crickets chirp at different rates depending on their species and the temperature of their environment. Most species chirp at higher rates the higher the temperature is (approximately 62 chirps a minute at 13°C in one common species; each species has its own rate). What an interesting way to gauge the temperature if there is no thermometer to hand!
3. Cicadas – Another distinctive night sound of the bush. Many people who have tried to hold conversations around a campfire will attest to the fact that the African cicada produces the loudest insect sound in the world, regularly producing sounds at 106.7 dB at a distance of 50 cm (this is about as loud as a power saw).
4. Fish Eagle – The distinctive and haunting call of the African Fish-Eagle is, for many, evocative of the spirit or essence of Africa. The call, shriller when uttered by males, is a weee-ah, hyo-hyo or a heee-ah, heeah-heeah. These eagles perch on branches overlooking the water, swooping down to catch fish which are then carried back to the perch or dragged to shore if too big to carry. African fish eagles also eat birds, monkeys and
even crocodile hatchlings.
5. Lion – How could we not include the lion’s roar! Anyone kept awake by a lion’s roar at night will be in no doubt that it is the loudest roar of any big cat, a sound which can evoke shivers of fear and excitement at the same time. Lions tend to roar in a very characteristic manner, starting with a few deep, long roars that trail off into a series of shorter ones. They most often roar at night; the sound, which can be heard from a distance of 8
kilometres (5.0 mi), is used to advertise the animal’s presence and to communicate with other lions and lionesses.
6. Spotted Hyena – This is a personal favourite. The spotted hyena is also known as the laughing hyena because the famous chatter actually sounds like a human laughing hysterically. Hyenas have very distinctive vocalizations, with over 11 different sounds recorded. This “laugh” is used during times of nervous excitement or submission to a dominant hyena. The “whoop” is a call that can be heard from far away and is used to find cubs, claim territory, or bring the clan together. Groans and squeals are used to greet each other. Other sounds include grunting, growling, and yelling. Besides communicating with each other, hyenas will use their calls and scent marks to mark their territory.
7. Hippopotamus – Hippos produce a loud hiss, snort, or distinctive grunt that sounds like a blast from a tuba. Hippopotamuses appear to communicate verbally, through grunts and bellows, and it is thought that they may practice echolocation, but the purpose of these vocalizations is currently unknown. Hippos have the unique ability to hold their head partially above the water and send out a cry that travels through both water and air; hippos above and under water will respond.
8. Fiery necked night jar – These nocturnal birds drum out a distinctive and characteristic call described by birders as “good Lord deliver us”. The call is particularly audible through the full moon phase, less so on darker nights. Many of you will have encountered the Fiery-necked Nightjar on your evening game drives. It is very often found sitting on road surfaces being blinded by oncoming vehicle headlights, “sitting tight” until the very last second, before flying off in a disorientated manner.
9. Hadeda Ibis – The Hadeda Ibis has a distinctively loud, penetrating and recognisable haa-haa-haa-de-dah call that is often heard when the birds are flying or when startled, hence the name, Hadeda. Those living in Africa describe the sound as very irritating; particularly at 4am in the morning! If you have been away, however, upon your return to Africa you will find it is a sound that you have missed terribly.
10. Black Backed Jackal – Although the sound of a jackal may not be one you can immediately call to mind, the memories of it will return as soon as your ear is again tuned into the African bushveld. The sounds include yelling, yelping, woofing, whining, growling and cackling. When calling to other jackals, they emit an abrupt yelp followed by a succession of shorter yelps. Those in the same family will answer each other’s calls, while ignoring those of strangers. When threatened by predators, they yell loudly.