TrackATree week 4 – I feel like a very efficient citizen scientist by combining soundscape harvest with leafwatching

On the morning of my census day, Twitter brought me a present:)

Thanks for sharing that, Enthusiasm Girrrl:) Here is the brief interview with the rainforest soundscaper, Dr Bryan Pijanowski, who is at the helm of this Global Soundscape project.

This recent project media campaign was aimed at recruiting citizen scientists to harvest as many sounds from nature as possible on Earth Day, 22 April – and, intriguingly, combine each sound with the participant’s perception of it (makes me happy, stressed, interested…).

I thought it was perfect – I have already been recording woodland sounds on my mobile anyway so it would take very little effort to share them with Global Soundscape. So I hit the project web page and then Google Play to download the mobile app.

The website had a modern, simple and slick design with some nice videos calling for participation, a map displaying submitted sounds and means to filter them by date and type, plus collections of sounds from exotic places. I was mildly intrigued with the submission progress bar towards the target of 2,000 as well as the details of the most recent submission made, both displayed at the bottom of the page.

And sure – the app was easy to download and operate (although Google Play reviews indicate that it has real problems with some operating systems!) – and I easily made my recording and submission from Craighall Den. Terms and conditions doubled as a volunteer consent form, which I though was a nice touch (although, as usual, I skipped reading them and went for the single tick box to speed things along, so not sure how informed that consent was).

All seemingly smooth, pleasant and participatory and yet…it made me feel rather like an extension of my mobile device. A sensor, rather than a citizen scientist…

I can think of several reasons for this:

  • I still cannot see my submission on the Soundscape map despite it being marked as submitted within the app. Could it be because I had my GPS turned off so the app could not find my location? There is no way of knowing as I do not have access to my submitted records in the database and there was no warning of missing location data during the submission.
  • Website does not contain any links to in depth explanations of the research, research group, or its products such as papers or conference presentations (or even in depth media features). Is it an oversight or deliberate simplification? Incredibly frustrating for somebody like me, whose motivation comes from learning more about the research they are contributing to and how it can be applied.
  • Cannot submit data outside the mobile app either via a web interface or, very frustratingly for me, from my previous recordings via the mobile phone app. Nor could I share the recording via any other means from within the Soundscape Recorder app. I understand that this simplifies the process and minimises support requirements. But the signal here is very clear to me – the project is only interested in the participant as the hand that operates the big red REC button. Oh – and a test subject recording their feelings in response to the sounds. Lack of control and agency is unsettling.
  • Not only there is no way of accessing my own data on the project database, there is no community space where volunteers and researchers could exchange ideas. We are provided with several brief answers to FAQs and an impersonal contact email (still waiting for a reply to a query about submitting previously recorded sounds…). At least the scientists are afforded a broadcast presence through recruitment videos, while the participants are merely represented via disembodied data-points…

You may say that this is just the nature of the project – it does not require continued commitment from the participants, unlike the TrackATree which needs to keep our attention over at least one spring season. OK – this justifies the approach from the point of view of the researcher wanting to efficiently harvest some useful data but it still does not make me feel better as the participant. And perhaps the efficiency is misguided – I certainly do not feel much motivation to continue sharing my sounds with the project.

Perhaps it was the Global Soundscape disappointment, or maybe the ‘healthy country aroma’ coming off the fields and the roar of the Leuchars fighter planes in the gloomy skies, which made for a rather grumpy and hurried trip this time. On the plus side – it was exceedingly efficient:)

Predictably, there were more leaves everywhere, with sycamore showing its first full ones and hazel revealing a sequence of expanding leaves from each bud, with only few still resisting. Magus Muir birch also continued on its merry way. Only the Craighall Den oak remained stoical about all of the spring fuss around it, while the bluebells were finally succumbing with the few reluctant open flowers.

Spotted in the evening’s rush were black slugs and, I would swear to it, a hurried flash of a white-chested ring ouzel. 

I leave you with some of my rushed sounds from Magus Muir…

And perhaps to lift the mood a little – a woodpecker recorded on an altogether sunnier day over the Easter Weekend:):

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