Featured Sounds

Featured sounds

Mutsumi Aragaki
Sanshin by Mutsumi Aragaki

Image credit: Nick Luscombe

"When we were developing ideas for the soundtrack, I thought, as well as including various sounds of the natural world recorded across the island, that it could be exciting to explore adding one of the most iconic sounds of Ryukyu, namely the sanshin. The sanshin is widely considered as the soul of Okinawan and Amami Islands folk music.

Mutsumi Aragaki is one of the world’s greatest and most innovative performers of the instrument and I was very happy that she agreed to be recorded at the OIST media studio one afternoon in late May.

She played single notes, simple melody lines and experimented by scraping the strings with her nails and by tapping on the snakeskin covered body.

The samples were then mixed with the environmental sounds - natural and processed - to add another sonic layer to the mix."

Nick Luscombe

Okinawa rail (Gallirallus okinawae)

Image credit: Kenji Takehara

The Okinawa Rail or “Yanbaru Kuina” in Japanese, is the signature bird in Okinawa. It is found only in the Yanbaru forest and is held near and dear by locals. They are flightless birds with short wings and almost no tail feathers. They can be seen running through the leafy, jungle undergrowth foraging for food. They have well-developed legs and can hit up to 40kmph for a short distance. Unfortunately, this makes them highly susceptible to being hit by cars. If you visit Yanbaru, please drive cautiously and watch out for this very special bird.

Both males and females look identical to humans. They have brown back and wings with a slight green hue, black and white banded chest, bright orange legs and beak, red eyes and a white stripe on either side of the face. Adults roost in trees at night to avoid the habu snakes that roam after dark. They can sometimes be seen in small groups but are also often seen alone or in pairs. During the chick season the parents will guide their chicks along the ground until they can climb trees themselves.

Their biggest threat used to be the mongoose, but with dedicated efforts to eradicate the mongoose in Yanbaru their population is improving. Even so, they are still facing threats from habitat loss, traffic accidents, and domestic cats.

They have two songs that can be heard in Yanbaru. The first is a long, loud, “Kek, kek, kek…” sound that can continue for several seconds. If you’re lucky enough to be close by you can hear a very low pitch drumming along with their “chucking”. As the song continues it slowly lowers in pitch until it finally stops. Their second song is much less distinct. It is a short trill that increases in pitch.

Source: Work Group for the Okinawa Rail Conservation and Growth-Promoting Project (2016) Yanbaru Kuina: The Bird That Roams The Yanbaru Forest. Yanbaru Wildlife Conservation Center, Ministry of the Environment.

Cassondra George, OKOEN

Okinawa woodpecker  (Dendrocopos noguchii)

Image credit: Kenji Takehara

The Okinawa Woodpecker or “Noguchigera” in Japanese, is a critically endangered bird that is only found in the Yanbaru forest of Okinawa’s main island. They are the larger of only two woodpecker species in Okinawa. The Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker is much smaller, and widespread throughout Japan.

Interestingly, the Okinawa Woodpecker are the only species of woodpecker known to drum both on trees and the ground. They will drum on the ground to forage for cicada larvae, ants, and spiders. Their diet is made up of both insects from the soil and insects hidden in tree bark or within the wood of the tree. Potentially, this behavior of ground foraging makes them vulnerable to invasive mongoose and feral cats.

Males and females look very similar with dark brown wings, tails, and faces, with a dark red chest and back. The males have a bright red crest whereas females have a dark brown crest. They use their specially designed beak to drill holes in trees for nesting and foraging. After their nests are abandoned, species like the Ryukyu scops owl and the Japanese Tit will use them for their own nests.

The Okinawa Woodpeckers are monogamous and form long-term pairs, that can last over a decade. They likely only change partners if they have become widowed since the previous season. Pairs tend to stay in the same territory or nearby for years and both males and females are highly territorial. Fights most often happen between same-sex individuals and it’s rare to see males and females fighting with each other.

These birds are incredibly special and rare. Their conservation status puts them in extreme risk of extinction, and we all must do our best to support these birds. In the 1880’s they were spread down to Onna Village, but now they have been pushed to only Yanbaru. In hopes to help restore their previous distribution range the prefectural government and Japan’s Ministry of Environment passed restrictions to protect these bird’s nesting sites.

Their tree drumming is the easiest way to detect their presence. It is a sharp, clear, and fast rhythmic drumming lasting less than a second at a time. In comparison, the Pygmy Woodpecker is much faster, shorter, and softer. They will make this sound when foraging or nest building.  Their second call is a very short delicate chirp, often made while flying.

Source: Kotaka, Nobuhiko (2011)ノグチゲラ. Bird Research News, Vol.8 No.4.

Cassondra George

Coral reef

Image credit: Yoko Shintani

"It's long been an ambition of mine to record the sounds of a healthy coral reef, to listen for myself to the wondrous sounds of the hustle and bustle of these beautiful and diverse underwater places full of life, movement and chatter!  

I was not disappointed when in June 2024 I was joined by the team from the Hyatt Regency hotel and Jeffrey Jolly from OIST`s Marine Climate Change Unit to take a boat out to the reef. I dropped two hydrophones gently into the ocean and listened on headphones, making sure to record the captivating watery sonic landscape.

Some years ago I attended an event in London where the audience was played the vibrant noises of a healthy coral reef and then the barren and lonely sounds of an unhealthy one. The difference between the two was striking, as was the power of sound to convey both the vibrancy and  the death and decay of life in the ocean. It was also quite an emotional experience. I realised that sound has the power to convey powerful images without any pictures, and how science could use sound as a valuable research tool.  

The sounds I recorded that day in June form part of the soundtrack, with the clicks and pops sounding almost like the surface of a dusty old LP`s run-in groove."

Nick Luscombe

Ryukyu robin (Larvivora Komadori)

Image credit: Kenji Takehara

The Ryukyu Robin is known as “Akahige” in Japanese and can be found on most islands throughout the Ryukyus. Some subspecies are migratory, but most of the robins here on Okinawa-hontou are year-round residents. They prefer the dense, natural forests that can be found in and around Yanbaru. These birds are characterized by bright orange-red wings, back, tail, and crest. Males have black feathers on the face and chest with a white belly. Females have a dusky grey chest, white belly, and a slightly duller hue to their red feathers.

Males and females work together to raise their chicks and can have up to 3 clutches in a season. Females will build the nest and incubate the eggs. After hatching both the male and female will feed the chicks and continue even after the chicks have left the nest. For the second and third clutches, the female will rebuild the nest and incubate the new eggs while the male continues to feed the previous fledglings. They mainly eat insects foraged from the soil including larvae, spiders, centipedes, and earthworms, and sometimes fruit.

The most signature call of these birds is their breeding song. It is characterized by a high pitch first note and a unique combination of lower notes. This song is performed by all subspecies of the Ryukyu Robin, but there is some variation by region and individuals. Unlike many other songbirds, males are not the only ones to sing this beautiful song. females also regularly perform this song.

Sources: Seki Shinichi (2012) アカヒゲ. Bird Research News, vol.9 No.1

Cassondra George