Summertime Dreaming

Winter has finally arrived in northern Nevada, with colder temperatures and a few snowflakes, although not enough to get us out of a severe “snow drought.”   Last week, temperatures were pushing 70 degrees F, causing the plants to start budding, and a notable increase in singing by the local house finches and Eurasian collared-doves.  My plans to record “wintery” sounds, like ice cracking on the streams, or chickadees twittering amidst the hush of fresh snow, have been foiled so far.  So I couldn’t resist digging into my archive of sounds, and listening to recordings I made in Montana last summer.  For those of you experiencing an actual winter, I thought you might enjoy this summertime interlude.

I arrived at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in early July, tagging along with Lang Elliot on his western soundscape tour.  I had been at Red Rock Lakes just 10 months earlier, but it was cold, wet and soggy then.  This time, it was beautiful.  The wildflowers were blooming and wildlife was calling everywhere.  Ok, it could be considered a little hot and buggy (really buggy), but I’ve learned that that often correlates with good recordings.  I set up camp at the Upper Lake campground while Lang went off exploring.  After dinner, we went out to a sagebrush flat along the north side of the refuge, where Lang had discovered a nice population of Brewer’s sparrows.  Brewer’s sparrows have a wonderful buzzy trilly song, that they sing in long extended choruses.  I set up one set of my recorders to leave overnight.  Lang also set up a recorder.  Shortly after we got back to camp, the clouds rolled in and it looked like it might rain, so Lang headed back out to where the recorders were, in case he had to pull them in.   I stayed in camp, snug in my little camper.

Sagebrush: Brewer's sparrow habitat.

Sagebrush: Brewer’s sparrow habitat.

Wild Montana skies

Wild Montana skies

The rain didn’t appear, and I got a nice dawn chorus at the lake, with robins and sparrows singing, snipe sniping, and waterfowl calling on the lake.  (Recordings best listened to with headphones).

Young sandhill cranes feeding in a meadow.

Young sandhill cranes feeding in a meadow.

A little while later, Lang showed up with all the recording equipment, and we headed into Island Park for lunch.  At every opportunity, Lang would download his recordings to his computer to review them.  I was to learn the hard way how important that is.  I wouldn’t discover until I returned to Nevada that my recorder had malfunctioned.  The whole night’s recording was ruined, and hours of attempting to restore it couldn’t save it.  The sparrows performed beautifully, trilling and buzzing all around the mic; a large pack of coyotes called in the distance.  I thought I had a decent recording, so I didn’t bother trying to set out a recorder the next night, and I’m kicking myself for that.  But I picked up a few decent recordings in spite of myself (with a different recorder), including a lovely little stream running through a meadow.  As I was recording, a beaver climbed out of the water, chewed on some streamside willows, and quietly slipped back into the stream (I watched the whole thing):

Lang spent the second night out with the sparrows, while I headed up to Squaw Pass, which was a little cooler than Upper Lake, and being in a grove of fir trees, had an entirely different sound.   Unfortunately, a massive herd of cows moved in a spent the night with me and I woke up several times with them sniffing the car and bellowing.  I didn’t dare leave the mics out.  Finally, as the sun was rising, they started to move off and I was able to record the sounds of the forest:

Every trip into the field brings new lessons.

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Montana

Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Montana

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