13/04/2012

Birdbrain

Glorious April sunshine has seen Spring arrive in style. The skies over the west midlands at the start of the month were clear and blue for almost five days straight. Rising temperatures and constant sunshine have encouraged nature to spring into action. I have witnessed some stunning examples of flowers in bloom, seen my first butterfly of the year (Peacock) and been teased awake by early morning bird song. 
In an attempt to kick start my days I rose early and headed for the hills of Clent, Worcestershire. The landscape here is predominantly wooded hillside (mostly deciduous) with the occasional pockets of heathland and farmland. Despite walking regularly in this area for over two years I am still finding new woodland trails which keep my forays varied and interesting.



The early starts felt even earlier due to the clocks moving forward. Obviously the natural world is unaware of this time change and continues to wake with the rising sun. At such an early hour, in springtime, the woodland is alive with bird song. Not quite the cacophonous dawn chorus of May but impressive nonetheless. The old favourites of robin, wren, blackbird and dunnock were all present plus the unexpected addition of linnet, whinchat and the early summer arrival of a chiffchaff.
Having been a keen ornithologist since childhood I have read many books on the subject and believe I have a good understanding of all things avian. Whilst listening, to the woodland melodies, I found myself asking the basic question, why do birds increase their singing during springtime? and more importantly, what factors contribute to this increased behaviour?


The official answer from Lloyd Scott of the RSPB is probably what most people already intuitively know:

"Perching birds, or 'songbirds' (passerines) account for nearly half the world’s 9,600 bird species. While singing behaviour varies among them, most takes place during the breeding season generally more in the early morning. This is when they are settled in their territory and are marking their presence to others in the area."



A common explanation and one I was already aware of but what I wanted to know was, what triggered this behaviour?  


In 2008 researchers from Scotland and Japan found that a key part of a birds brain is affected by seasonal change. When birds are exposed to more light, genes within cells on the surface of the brain get 'switched on'. The cells then release a thyroid stimulating hormone which causes the pituitary gland to secrete another hormone called gonadotrophins. This hormone causes the testes in a male bird to grow, in readiness for the breeding season and he begins to increase singing to attract a female into his territory.




Scientific research proves that the key element for a birds increased singing in spring time, is the lengthening of the days. Clearly this makes a lot of sense as most of the natural world begins to slowly emerge in spring from its winter slumber. Plants being the obvious example. Flora and fauna need only a few basic requirements to thrive; sunlight, temperature, water, air and nutrients from the earth (soil). These ingredients help plants to generate energy through the process of photosynthesis. A scientific fact that most of us learn at a very tender age. There are people who also believe that sound plays a big role in the development of plants - specifically the sound of bird song.

"More evidence of the power of sound is birdsong…have you noticed the chorus of birdsong, like a thousand elfin choirs, all day long in the spring?...There's a magical reason for this little-known phenomenon of Nature. The singing of the birds sets up a particular sound vibration that promotes the growth of the young leaves of trees, plants and flowers, so the birdsong is fairly constant all day long in the spring, while the new growth is occurring." 


As a firm believer in science I found it hard to comprehend the above statement when I read it. Linda Goodman was a writer, poet and astrologer who became prominent in the 1960's when her first book, Linda Goodman's Sun Signs (1968) was published. It was the first book written on the subject of astrology to ever make the New York Times Bestseller List. Goodman was also credited with helping to  increase awareness of new age philosophies and wrote further books outlining her theories on the natural world, reincarnation and karma. The aforementioned quotation comes from her book Star Signs: The Secret Codes of the Universe A Practical Guide for the New Age which was published in 1987. 
Although sceptical, of any theory that cannot be proven by scientific experimentation, this concept intrigued me and I wanted to know more.


Further reading led me to a man named Dan Carlson. Having witnessed starvation first hand, whilst fighting in the Korean war, Carlson vowed that he would spend the rest of his life trying to eradicate world hunger. On returning home to the States, he began to study horticulture and looked for ways to increase crop yields, specifically in areas where soil quality was very poor. Barren land produces little or no vegetation - if soil, in these areas, is not improved a plants roots system has nothing to work with. Carlson believed that if he could somehow bypass the plants root system and add nutrients in another way he might be able to increase the crop yield of plants growing in poor soil.

On the underside of a plants leaf are microscopic openings called stoma (plural stomata) which plants use to exchange gases contained within the atmosphere. The stomata also allow carbon dioxide to enter and oxygen to exit during photosynthesis. If specimens could absorb additional nutrients through their stomata, Carlson was convinced they would thrive.
Stomatal opening occurs during high humidity and high light intensity (daylight) - these are the scientific facts. There are however, a large number of individuals, including Dan Carlson, who believe sounds, of a certain frequency, can enhance the stomata's receptiveness. Carlson observed "...there is a symbiotic relationship between birds and plants." He believed the more birds were on his farm the more abundant the plant life. 


Equipped with this belief Carlson teamed up with, music teacher, Micheal Holtz and began creating sounds consonant with bird song. Holtz shared Carlson's vision and in addition believed "...that God had created the birds for more than just freely flying about and warbling. Their very singing must somehow be intimately linked to the mysteries of seed germination and plant growth."
After much testing the pair finally refined a sound that matched the exact pitch of a song birds chorus.
Recordings were made and played back to plants. During these musical interludes the leaves (stomata) were sprayed with a foliar solution containing essential nutrients. The process of 'Sonic Bloom' was born and continues to this day. Carlson still sells the product - a C.D. and foliar spray, from his headquarters in America via his website originalsonicbloom.com. He has many disciples and it would appear that his plants grow strong. I would suggest that any well tended plant, grown in the right conditions with added nutrients would thrive. The website naturalnews.com is one of a number of sites that gives 'Sonic Bloom' the thumbs up. After waxing lyrical about the benefits of 'Sonic Bloom' they offer this advice, "Doesn't work by itself. Plants still need good soil, nutrition, water and light." Surely, that's all a plant needs to grow - with additional fertiliser, in the form of a nutrient spray they would undoubtedly grow healthier. 


I like the idea that bird song somehow contributes to the growth and overall development of plants, it's the sort of theory that appeals to my sensibilities. However, science tells us that plants do not have a central nervous system, nor do they have auditory organs. 
Biological matter including living and non-living organisms are constantly interacting within our atmosphere, we know them as ecosystems or food webs. Much of what occurs, we do not see, we just get the tip of the iceberg - fragrant flowers in bloom, bird song etc. If science can one day prove unequivocally that sonic vibrations enhance plant growth I would welcome the discovery. In the meantime I am content walking through the landscape, soaking up the warm, spring sunshine and enjoying everything the natural world has to offer my senses.