This summer has been a tough one for recording. With much of the mountainous west either on fire, freshly blackened from a fire, or waiting to burn, camping out in the mountains while hoping for something to record is a scary proposition. I’ve spent most of my time sequestered away from the heat working on some writing projects, but I did make a couple of trips to a nearby wildlife area – the Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area near Yerington, Nevada. Nestled among alfalfa and garlic farms, the wildlife area consists of a number of ponds and marshes created by the Walker River.
My first trip to the area was in mid-July. I spent several hours exploring the area. It was a bit breezy, and being in the middle of a hot day the birds were quite subdued, but I did find an interesting assortment of shorebirds poking around in a shallow wetland. White-faced Ibises, Black-necked Stilts, Willets, and Spotted Sandpipers were just a few of the species feeding in the wetlands.
In addition to recording the birds in the shallow puddles, I also dropped my hydrophone into a deeper pond to see what was happening under the surface. The mic recorded a nice variety of rhythms and squeaks of underwater creatures.
I returned a couple of weeks later to try some evening and morning recordings, using my dad’s pickup truck with a small camper on the back. I arrived just before sundown, and camped at the north end of the wildlife area. I was able to pull the truck up very close to the water, and set up a parabolic dish on a small sandy area right next to a large pond. The approaching evening was greeted by the voices of bullfrogs, crickets, night birds, mosquitoes (lots of mosquitoes), and fussy waterfowl.
The mosquitoes managed to find every little opening in the truck camper, and their whining and biting kept me from sleeping, in spite of the lovely rhythms of the bullfrogs and crickets. Just as the faintest light was visible in the eastern sky, I was treated to a lovely coyote sing-a-long:
Not too long after the coyote chorus faded away, the first chitters of the birds started to greet the dawn. I turned on the recorder, and monitored through earbuds. I was dozing off, when I realized there was some very close splashing sounds. I opened my eyes, and peeked out the back window of the camper. A large group of Canada geese stood right next to the parabolic dish that surrounds my microphones. It appeared to be a big family, with a couple of adults and a whole bunch of half-grown goslings. As I quietly reached for my camera, one of the adults raised its head, peering right at me inside the camper. I froze, and waited until it turned its head before continuing my reach for the camera. It picked up the motion anyway, and ushered its brood into the water before I could take a photo.
The recorder picked up some great, intimate sounds of the geese talking to each other, and the heavy sound of their wings, as various individuals flapped vigorously, perhaps stretching or preening.
As the sun rose, I was able to see some of the other wildlife spending the summer at the marsh, including pelicans, egrets, and American Avocets.
The Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area is a true oasis in the desert and a great place to see wildlife. But like much of the west, it is feeling the effects of the drought. As I drove out of the wildlife area, I noticed that the shallow wetlands I had observed a couple of weeks earlier were all dried up, and the shorebirds had moved on.
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