Tag Archives: Wildlife

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

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.

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