Category Archives: Northwest Soundscapes Project

Long Swamp Dusk, 2019-07-16

Okay, it’s true. I’ve fallen in love with the Okanogan mountains, with the wet meadows, swampy bogs, dense forests, grassy ridge tops, and more. Most of the naturally quiet locations are a little difficult to reach from Seattle, but that’s fine by me. It just means more opportunities to record with without interruption.

On the night of 2019-07-17 I camped, once again, near Long Swamp. I’d spent the previous night and Dawn at the Long Swamp Campground (https://soundcloud.com/soundeziner/long-swamp-dawn), but this night I found a location further up the drainage with more open water.

There are plenty of residents, full-time and transitory, in Long Swamp. Song Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, Swainson’s Thrushes, American Robins, Mallard Ducks and more make their homes here. There was activity all around.

The air was still as I sat down to record; the temperature a chill 60ºF/ 15.5ºC, and the moon was expected to be full. By the start of this recording at 1944, I was long settled into my tent for a nice evening of listening.

I could hear distinct non-song vocalization from Swainson’s Thrushes. The crisp clear air, chill wetland water, and hardwood reflections off nearby trees made for the perfect medium. Listen to the one-note call of a nearby Swainson’s: at 12m35s (1957) It works through fitful song-starts to buzzes and churls as it warms up 13m08s (1958). By the time he’s opened up for his full song at 15m40s (1800), he’s been joined by distant rivals on all sides. Each is as clear as he is. Only their volume betrays their distance.

If you’re wondering “churl” is, check out the series at 18m08s (1803). Most birders call it “churr”, and the phonetics are really more of a “tchik-wOow”, but I really like the descriptive appeal of “churl” a lot more. Besides, it’s fun to say, “Those thrushes sure are churlish today, aren’t they?”

The local Thrushes wander off by 20m50s (2005), and we’re left with a period of distant mingling song before our first Song Sparrow shows up around 24m16s (2009). Song Sparrows are fun to listen to for their spritely personalities the range of songs each bird goes through. Individual pulls from a variety of distinct phrases to develop its own repertoire. It can be easy to be fooled into believing you’re surrounded by multiple sparrows, when it’s really just one. Check it out:

1h01m12s (2046) —  over the next 50 seconds this one individual pulls out four slight variations of the same theme.

Again at 1h06m24s (2051)

And again at 1h11m50s (2057) — he does it again over two minutes.

Take a listen to this ten minute stretch from 0623 the following morning It’s not necessarily the same bird from evening, but this is clearly one individual going through at least five distinct variations and many subtle permutations in one long sitting. So. Much. Fun.

Sun set this evening at 2047 or 1h02m31s, signaling the start of Dusk. It’s a common misconception that Dusk is the period before sunset. Just as Dawn ends with the sun’s rise over the horizon, so does Dusk start when it dips below. Dusk ends with Last Light and Civil Twilight makes way to Nautical Twilight at the same time. This occurs when the sun is about 6 degrees below the horizon. On clear days there’s just enough light for most outdoor activities that don’t require reading. Tonight that Changeover is 2127 at 1h42m31s.

This evening comes to a quiet close with what has long been one of my favorite mystery sounds at 1h49m45s (2124) This noisy insect — one of the few we have here in Washington — is a frequent, loud voice throughout the inland forests of the Pacific Northwest. I have yet to find a reliable identification of it. It often goes unnoticed due to its high pitch. The bulk of its acoustic energy is between 12.6kHz and 14.5kHz, out of range for many adults, especially males over 45. If you have a name for it, please message me!

As always, happy listening. Remember to keep your ears and heart open to nature.

Long Swamp

Just a few miles away and a little farther up the mountains from Thirtymile Meadows can be found Long Swamp, a very large, highly biodiverse wetland complex.
Like the wet meadows, swamps in this area form through the collection of meltwater of the preceding winter. Unlike the shallow bowls of the meadows, though, the swamps form in the shallow creased valleys between rising prominences. Sometimes the water drains away into a creek at the end of the of the valley, but they are just as likely to simply seep slowly into the topsoil to re-appear elsewhere as a natural spring. Long Swamp does both.

This morning Long Swamp was playing host to Lincoln’s Sparrows, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Warblers, woodpeckers, Willow Flycatchers, Olive-Sided Flycatchers,Western Tanagers, White-crowned Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, American Robins, Ravens, Cedar Waxwings, Warbling Vireos, Northern Flickers, a large mammal that wandered through around the 2h46m mark, and another around 4h47m.

I’d like to say that this was a true long, unbroken soundscape, but I did find the need to remove thee aircraft that buzzed through over the course of five hours. Other than that, there was very little done to clean this recording. Bordering the Pasayten Wilderness to the West, Long Swamp is a nearly pristine environment.

Beginning around twenty minutes before first light in the last few minutes of Nautical Twilight, it’s easy to see that some birds are early risers. Wilson’s Snipe are are crepuscular, so we can expect to hear the swoop winnowing of their tails, but I was surprised to hear the high fluting of Hermit Thrushes and buzzy “zip-pew!” of Willow Flycatchers already filling the air. Barely nine minutes into the recording and a White-crowned Sparrow practices the first part of his song to our left. Fifteen minutes later and we hear the morning tuk-tuk laughter of an American Robin. By First Light at 0434 we’re able to hear the “Quick! Three beers!” of Olive-Sided Flycatchers and the distant trilling of Lincoln’s Sparrows. Through this period chipmunks have been scattering about, already signaling their territory with rapid fire chitters.

Around 0459 (25 minutes) a Western Tanager begins to come into focus. Sounding like lazy Robins, they are easily confused. The easiest way to hear the difference is to learn the general cadence. Tanagers pause after every 5-10 “lines”. Robins, however, sing in blocks of 4-6 “lines”, but barely pause before plowing through.

With so much activity already occurring around us, the 0513 sunrise goes by barely noticed.

What I truly love about listening to a place like Long Swamp is the ebb and flow of life. Whether it’s woodpeckers hunting too the fluted tunes of Hermit Thrushes at 3h54m or the chipmunk taking over just a minute later at 3h56m, the frustrated “kyew” of a Northern Flicker at 4h37m or the fast zoom of a large insect or hummingbird at 4h25m, there’s always activity, the literal humming and buzzing of life. It goes on all around us every day wherever we are. Tucked inside our dense, noisy urban and suburban homes it’s easy to forget and to believe that humanity is life. Far from those urban centers, though, stripped of noisy cars and cellphones and H/VAC systems and airplanes are places like Long Swamp, where natural life continues unabated or stressed by the rigors of anthropogenic sounds.

A little Ear Candy

Hey all! I’ve been busy working on the next couple of releases. In the meantime, I thought I’d offer a little something for y’all to listen to.

I feel fortunate to have been able to record over an hour of unbroken natural sound in the Olympic National Forest at the Snider-Jackson trail head. Starting during Civil Twilight, sun rises in this recording around the 30 minute mark, although the Thrushes were awake and active long before then. Robins, Varied Thrushes, Flycatchers, woodpeckers, squirrels, Pacific Wrens, and more fill these moss-covered woods to the background wash of the Calawah River.

Sunrise was at 5:42 on this morning, with the first almost-audible human-related sounds of very distant vehicles starting nearly an hour after that. It’s difficult to comprehend the sound of the wilderness we are losing. Even here, deep in the mountainous, moss-covered trees of the Olympic National Forest on the border of the Olympic National Park, it’s only by creeping out in the early hours of the morning that we can hear long stretches of natural sound unbroken by human-created noises. With the ever-encroaching settlements of humankind, how much longer will it be before even that is lost?

I had driven out to the Snider-Jackson Trailhead with a friend during the wee-hours of the night. Our original destination was the Quinalt Rainforest, but when we got to the trailheads there were dozens of vehicles already lined up with even more sleeping hikers ready to set out by dawn. We ducked around to the Hoh Rainforest, but with the same result. A little stressed and a little tired we made our way out in the direction of the Bogachiel Valley. Along the way we realized that trail lined up neatly with one of the loudest rivers on the peninsula. While that would make for a neat recording opportunity, we also wanted to sleep and maybe hear birds during the day. We finally ended up driving up to the Snider-Jackson trail, a trail that starts out in the National Forest, but crosses into the National Park about one mile in. It’s a stark contrast… from the “young” (less than one hundred-years-old) trees of the Forest into the giant, ancient woods of the Park. But! Before wee could hike up the trail we to make sure we caught the dawn recording.

I’ll be heading up into the Quinalt in October for a 10 day trip and a long hike. It’ll be the high-time for the Elk rut, and I want to be sure to catch their bugles with as little human noise intrusion as possible.

Happy listening!

-andy

 

Talkeetna, AK, May 31-2, 2017

A NWS Sidetrip: Talkeetna, AK, May 31-2, 2017

This didn’t set out as a Northwest Soundscapes Project trip. I joined my wife in Anchorage for a few days at the start of a summer camp she was helping with and was offered the chance by the camp director to borrow a yurt in Talkeetna for a few days, most likely that I wouldn’t be underfoot for the rest of the camp. Actually just outside of Talkeetna, and a couple miles into the boreal taiga, the yurt was a short hike from Long Lake, a beautiful clear lake that I spent two happy days canoeing on, bringing along my recorder & microphones. Continue reading Talkeetna, AK, May 31-2, 2017

Sinlahekin Valley, May 20-22, 2017

NWS10: Sinlahekin Valley, May 20-22, 2017

IMG_7116.JPGSinlahekin Valley is the heart of the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, a large unit managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. A mixture of ranch land, managed big-game area, protected wildlife refuge, and dedicated recreation area, Sinlahekin is a beautiful, bio-diverse and extremely habitat diverse region protected from human over-run more from remoteness than anything else.

Continue reading Sinlahekin Valley, May 20-22, 2017

Colockum Wildlife Area, July 05-09, 2016

Infrequent Updates

Okay, we’re now at mid-March, 2017. A year ago this month we were in the midst of Kickstartingthis project. How have we done? What are the hits and misses, successes and failures we’ve had along the way?

NWS03: Colockum Wildlife Area, July 05-09, 2016

I hadn’t originally intended to stop in the Colockum Wildlife Area. In fact, it was a last minute decision made at a pit stop for gas. My original destination had been the Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge before continuing on to pick up my daughter from a camp in Central Oregon. I’m glad I stopped and made the decision to stay instead of continuing as it turns out the main accessible areas of Toppenish are flooded with anthropogenic noise, mainly from the the busy highway that connects to the main entrance. While it would have helped illustrate the problems with the invasion of human-caused noise pollution, it would have been a miserable and likely wasted trip.

Continue reading Colockum Wildlife Area, July 05-09, 2016

Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, June 09-12, 2016

Half-way report, part 2 of 5

Here we are, at the beginning of November, 2016, at the half-way mark for The Northwest Soundscapes Project. How have we done? What are the hits and misses, successes and failures we’ve had along the way?

NWS02: Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, June 09-12, 2016

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Channeled Scablands

The second trip of this project was to the Columbia Wildlife Refuge from June 9-12. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was certainly not prepared for the stunning natural beauty of this location. Located in the the Channeled Scablands of the Northwest, the land around this area was carved out dramatically and violently during a series of ice age deluges. The Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed up the Glacial Lake Missoula, which periodically broke free and scoured the land here free of soil and most life. Giant pot-hole-like formations called coulees show testimony to the power of the drainage, and to this day provide quiet refuge to animals such as birds, rabbits, and coyotes, as well as providing a rainwater collection point for marshy reeds to grow.

Continue reading Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, June 09-12, 2016

Mt Adams area, May 12-14, 2016

Half-way report, part 1 of 5

Here we are, at the beginning of November, 2016, at the half-way mark for The Northwest Soundscapes Project. How have we done? What are the hits and misses, successes and failures we’ve had along the way?

NWS01: Mt Adams area, May 12-14, 2016

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This was a dry run for recording in Double Mid-Side, to see if this was indeed the path I wanted to go down for recording these ambiences. Fortunately it was!

This trip took us to the Trout Creek Campground near Mt. Adams, Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and back up into the Mt. Adams Wilderness. I’ll be returning here next Spring, not just because I love the area, but also to revisit some of the earlier locations I recorded after having had the long practice throughout the year.

Continue reading Mt Adams area, May 12-14, 2016