Listening with 'deer' ears

, 06 November 2023
Listening with 'deer' ears
Autumn Beechwood © Roger Wilmshurst

Emma Chaplin

Communications Officer

I used to run a project working with young people with disabilities, in various open air settings. One activity we'd do regularly was to stop and listen with 'deer' ears (we might cup our hands behind our ears, but the most important thing was to stop what we were doing, focus and pay attention to the sounds around us, that otherwise we might not notice).   

Since discovering that I've now got to the age where I can no longer hear crickets (due to aged-related, high-frequency hearing loss), this led to me thinking about sounds in nature. I'm obsessed with Swifts, so hearing groups of them screaming joyfully over my High Street roof in early summer makes me incredibly happy. In the winter, I love the muffled change of sound quality that comes from everything being covered in snow. Plus the haunted house creak you get when you tread on the ice of a frozen puddle. I also noticed recently that Wood Pigeons can be quite whistly when flying overhead and colleague Charlotte tells me they often 'clap' as well. Collared Doves have quite a distinctive wing sound, and Swans have a really good wing whistle. 

I asked my Sussex Wildlife Trust colleagues to share their favourite sounds, or ones that they find most interesting. Do please share your favourite or unusual sounds of nature in the comments section below.

Senior Ecologist, Alex Worsley

The squelch of walking over blanket bog. Echolocation through a bat detector. Field Cricket chirps. Massive Welsh waterfalls in spate. The very cute, if slightly pathetic, buzz of a Shrill Carder-bee. 

Rye Harbour Volunteer, Barry Yates

It has to be the peewit (Lapwing), so evocative of Sussex countryside. It was widespread but is now restricted to a very few places. Even more interesting when slowed down

Lapwing © Barry Yates
Lapwing © Barry Yates

But I also like the Water Bat AKA Daubenton's Bat, but a bat detector is needed.

Communities and Wildlife Officer, Katie Parker

We do a listening activity with the children, called the magic listening jewels, at Woods Mill, on the boardwalk, in the reeds of the lake. The children sit in a circle and hold a coloured stone and close their eyes to listen to nature for one minute. 

I love hearing the wind in the Poplar trees and the reeds, and sometimes, when the tree trunks rub together it sounds like they are kissing. The children often hear ants walking past.

Grants and Major Donors Officer, Georgie Nash

One of my favourites is the sound of the Wool Carder Bee as it scrapes up all the furry tufts on a Lamb’s-ear leaf to make little 'snow balls' for lining their nests. We grew some in our planter bench in the garden, and I was baffled by the bizarre noise I could hear as I was sipping my tea one morning. Had no idea about that species of bee and what they did until I heard that funny noise and took a sneaky peak under the leaf.

Also, I didn’t know you could actually hear slugs and snails eating my plants until I went out one evening with a head torch in a bid to rescue some lupins that were being decimated. Standing in the still night, I could hear this very slow munching. Bit creepy, but it did help me locate them and then I moved them to our front garden meadow where I’m not so fussed about what they gobble!

Digital Communications Officer, Richard Cobden

I love the comforting communal sounds of a flock of House Sparrows, cheeping and chirping as they gather to roost for the night, usually out of sight from deep within a hedge.

Communications Officer, Sam Roberts

Gorse seeds popping on a hot summer's day - their seedpods dry out when ripe, and when it's hot enough they crack, dispersing the seeds. That's the popping you can hear.

Wilder Landscapes Advisor, Fran Southgate

Psithurism, a rustling or whispering sound, such as the noise made by rustling leaves. I also love the sound of water bubbling over rocks and stones.

Living Seas Officer, Sarah Ward

Thinking about Jacques Cousteau’s Silent World, a film about early days of scuba diving – so called due to the beautiful silence of the underwater world. Or so it was at the time, nowadays the underwater environment is full of noise and lots of technology around to detect it.

Common Bottle-nose Dolphin © Caroline Weir
Common Bottle-nose Dolphins © Caroline Weir

Conservation Officer, Charlotte Owen

The fluttery thrum of a small bird’s wings. Love that sound.

Community Organising Officer, Sarah Watson

I don't think most people realise how noisy Grey Squirrels are, and what weird noises they make! Sara Cox played a clip of one on the radio once from her walk and was convinced it was a small raptor. 

I love to hear Swallows twittering, squeaking and whirring. It's such a friendly sound, and reminds me of my childhood in rural East Sussex, when I saw them every year, swooping for insects over the paddocks, and perched on telephone wires, chattering to each other. Sadly I don't see them so often any more.

As it's nearly Halloween, Foxes squealing, and female Tawny Owls screeching kee-wick, in the middle of the night, can sound so eerie, even when you know what they are.

Another loud, and not so welcome, noise I hear every spring and summer now in East Sussex wetlands is the cackling sound of the male Marsh Frog, inflating the vocal sacs on each side of their head. The mating call really carries for hundreds of metres. They're not native to the UK and their presence might be harmful to our native species, although they're also prey for Herons and Grass Snakes.

Wild Coast Sussex Project Officer, Sophie Atkinson

Got to be the waves, particularly when the sea comes in and pulls some pebbles out with it, and it sounds like marbles rolling across the beach.

Legacy and In Memory Gifts Officer, Gemma Pratt

The clumsy bumbling sound of Stag Beetles in flight, especially the males as I guess they’re weighed down by their giant mandibles. Long-tailed Tits, cute chattering calls. Shield Bugs buzzing then the ‘doff’ when they land. Wasps munching on fences.

Director of Conservation, Henri Brocklebank 

Lying down in late June on chalk grassland and closing my eyes and listening to the insects.

Southerham chalk downland © Nigel Symington
Southerham chalk downland © Nigel Symington

As a partially deaf person, bird song is a tough one for me – I can hear it, but with no directional hearing I can't tell where it is coming from, and it's hard to unravel one song when it is intertwined with another – so I love the Merlin app. Far better than any hearing aid I have ever had.

Communities Intern, Mya Bambrick

The strange churring and other vocalisations of the Nightjar.

Nightjar at Iping © Neil Fletcher
Nightjar at Iping © Neil Fletcher

Ranger, Steve Webster

The season's firsts - first Cuckoo and first Nightingale definitely do it for me. Distant rumbling thunder and woodpeckers drumming as well.

Senior Communities and Wildlife Officer, RHNR, Lucy Bowyer

The water draining through the pebbles on the backwash of the tides. Very soothing!

Membership Officer, Heather Salisbury

The sound of the sea. I have just come back from two weeks in the Isles of Scilly and the sound of the sea and gentle breeze is wonderful – no light pollution there either, so at night hearing the sea is even more intense.

Rye Harbour Communications Officer, Laura Ross

Growing up, my parents had a very healthy pond and I used to love hearing the frogs calling to each other. Somewhere between a snore and a purr.

Acting Head of Community Action for Wildlife, Polly Kitson

Immediately bees came to mind. In particular, when you walk past a plant or bush and can hear the collective hum of their buzzing as they collect nectar. Sometimes you cannot immediately see them - the humming stops you and as you look closer, you realise that the plant is covered in busy bees.

Director of Change Management, Maria Jonsson

The Cuckoo is by far my favourite, it signals spring has arrived. 

Head of Communications, Amanda Reeves

I love to hear, in the dead of night, my back garden fence rattle – I know that’s because our local Fox is making his way through my garden.

Corporate and Community Fundraising Officer, Louise Colbran

Being an avid camper I love falling asleep under canvas to the sounds of owls calling and snuffling of small mammals near my tent, and waking up to the sound of the dawn chorus – the perfect alarm clock. Woodpeckers drumming will also bring a smile to my face and make me stop and take notice on a woodland walk. 

Leave a comment


  • Pam Kelly:

    The snoring of a hedgehog in the compost pile!

    09 Nov 2023 12:01:00

  • Diane Biston:

    I recently changed my hearing aids and I was able to hear the high frequency buzz of insect wings for the first time in about 30 years. Magic!

    09 Nov 2023 16:52:00

  • Jules:

    Has to be the sound of the sky lark – the sound of my rural youth and associated with sunny, happy days and a feeling of joy!

    09 Nov 2023 20:03:00

  • Patsy Kehela:

    The rasping sound of a hornet eating its way through the inside of a bamboo cane.

    10 Nov 2023 20:22:00