Tag Archives: Long Swamp

Wildfires

Large wildfires are once again uncontrollably threatening much of the intermountain west in North America. Just 5 miles/ 8 km from the oncoming edge of the Cub Creek fire here in Washington is one of my most favorite places to record anywhere. Thirtymile Meadows is one of the very few places I know of in the continuous 48 United States that is neither rainforest nor remote island where I can set up my microphones, press record, and expect a soundscape free of human-generated noise for at least 4 hours to be the result. Sometimes it can be up to nearly a day. There are plenty of places I can get away from ground-based vehicles, but Thirtymile has the magic of not being under continually active flight paths. No vehicles. No aircraft. Nothing but birds, coyotes, and me.

This was a little more than a month ago, the morning of Summer Solstice. It’s merely an excerpt.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to record there again, at least not a soundscape such as this, filled with birdsong. It’s highly likely my next trip with be filled with the whistling winds that wind around burned snags, the creaking of swaying barren trunks, perhaps the snapping and falling of dead wood.

Stands up on soapbox:

These forests depend upon fire for their very survival, but the rejuvenating fire that feeds their growth is low-level, fuel-consuming, and under-story burning. It cracks open seeds for hardy conifers. It clears room for new seedlings. It brings down larger diseased trees, returning their nutrients to the soil.

The fires we see raging now are not those fires.

For decades we have managed these forests by preventing fire without clearing the accumulating fuels. In the effort to keep “timber stock” available for logging and to protect the encroaching human settlements, all fire is suppressed. Weakened and dried by the advancement of climate change, trees age without replacement while dense, dry growth builds up beneath.

A simple spark (a lightning strike, an untended campfire, the hot under-carriage of a vehicle, a cigarette butt) is all that is needed to start a conflagration that does not clear and rejuvenate, but destroys.

With both the understory and tree cover gone, the ground becomes loose and rocky. The Autumn rains, Winter snows, and Spring melts wash away the fertile soils that nurse future growth.

We lose forest, and it doesn’t grow back. Not all of it. The interiors are safe for now, and can slowly re-grow over the ensuing decades if left un-molested. The edges are gone, however, and each successive fire and monsoon season scales them back farther.
Thirtymile Meadows is at a unique interface of interior, edge, and wet meadow. The meadow will survive, as should the deep forest to its Northeast. The Southwest edge, though, will disappear if the Cub Creek Fire reaches it. Already scarred by human-caused fires nearly twenty years ago, the Southern edge of Thirtymile Meadows is dry, fuel-filled, and loose.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have a plan. I just want to make people aware.

I also want to share the beauty of soundscapes that are in danger of disappearing, whether from noise pollution or ecosystem loss.

Some more tastes of Thirtymile Meadows:

A lone coyote walks across the midnight meadow

Another Dawn

The whole of the Okanogan Country is a beautiful trip for the ears.

Just a few miles up the road is Long Swamp

Just due East is Skull and Crossbones Ridge

Keep going East and you’ll come upon Sinlahekin Valley at the edge of Okanogan Country. Sinlahekin had its own brush with fire last year when the Palmer Fire made it near to the northern access

 

Long Swamp Dawn, 2019-07-17

This is my last Long Swamp post. I promise. My last Long Swamp post from 2019-07.

As I mentioned in last night’s Dusk post, I’ve fallen in love with the mountains of the Okanogan. The wet meadows, swampy bogs, dense forests, deep riparian zones, grassy ridge tops, and more are perfect for finding sonically rich, naturally quiet locations. Most of the special places are difficult to reach from Seattle, but that’s fine by me. It means more opportunities to record with without interruption.

The morning starts crisp, clear, and early, with the first local voice an early-rising Song Sparrow at 0m21s (0428). He’s soon joined by a Swainson’s Thrush who works through a minute of one-note calls, then buzzes and churls, before finally breaking into full, beautiful song at 2m17s (0430). His dense, spiraling, ethereal notes spin away like fluted wisps in the morning. I listen in awe.

A fellow thrush and close cousin of the Swainson’s, an American Robin, finally wakes up enough to join full-throated at 4m23s (0432). I usually expect to hear Robins before anyone else, but everyone’s out-and-about early in this still dark twilight.

There isn’t much of a wait for light, though. The 0434 Dawn begins at 5m58s with First Light, when the sun is just 6 degrees below the horizon and the first fingers of sunlight creep across the hills. Nautical Twilight is over, with Civil Twilight not far behind.

At 8m43s (0436) a Lincoln’s Sparrow joins the chorus. Like Song Sparrows, they have a wide individual repertoire. I’d not heard this variation before camping at Long Swamp, and it delights me every time I hear it now.

As if to show off how well song carries in this place, an Olive-Sided Flycatcher sings “Quick! THREE beers!” in the deep background. You can hear it well at 17m43s (0445) while everyone else rests. Birders have a reputation as boring or stodgy older folks. That the common phonetics for these little birds is “Quick! THREE beers!” leads me to think it’s a cover. We’re partying folk at heart. Pull up to the pub. Quick! Three beers! Not two. Not just one, but THREE beers!

This isn’t just a place for songbirds. A Mallard rants on about the difficult life of a duck while wading around the swamp, being particularly petulant at 34m37s (0503).

The 0515 sunrise at 46m58s brings an end to Dawn and a start to daylight hours. That doesn’t bring an end to the chorus, though, which carries on as if time is just a construct of the mind. Soon, however, the chipmunks wake up and start their constant territorial squabbling and chittering. From 55m54s (0524) onward the birds have heavy sonic competition. Perhaps this encourages them to begin foraging. Perhaps it’s just a useful time to pack it in. In any case, I’m quickly reminded that chipmunks are skittish can be alarmed by anything, such as discovering a set of microphones near their home at 59m59s (0528). This powerful blast represents the one “edit” I’ve made to this recording, dropping the volume of the chitters by more than 12 decibels. You’re welcome for your speakers not being overloaded, by the way.

By 1h11m42s (0540) the Dawn chorus is largely over, and all the actors have dispersed for a day of foraging, living, and territorial squabbling. Locally, from 1h19m30s (0548) to 1h45m0s (0614), the soundscape is a mix of wandering chipmunks and nearby waterfowl activity, most likely a Mallard family browsing about. I love hearing scuttling and fluttering, but feathered splashing nearby always stands out as something a little more special to my ears. It may just be that its a sound I don’t hear around the house from pets, so I’m drawn to its subtle familiarity-yet-alien-ness.

Speaking of fluttering, soft chatter of Tree Swallows darts around a long-winded Song Sparrow from 2h02m55s (0632) on. Both flutter and skip around the microphones as they carry on.

I sit and listen, a silent, smiling guest.

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.