Last fall I moved from southeastern Arizona to northern Nevada. As part of the move, I incorporated a recording excursion that included southern Arizona, western New Mexico, southern Colorado, southern Utah and eastern Nevada. Part of the reason I chose that path was to stop by Quemado Lake in western New Mexico. This is a nice little reservoir with a couple of campgrounds on it’s northern shore. It’s not spectacular to look at, but it’s surrounded by the Gila National Forest and is a great place to record wildlife. I’ve successfully recorded elk there in the past, catching them at the end of the rut in late September. It’s also a great spot for coyotes, with the sounds of both coyotes and elk reverberating off of the lake. And It’s not far from Mexican wolf country, but I have yet to hear any wolves in the area.
I pulled in to Quemado Lake in the middle of a stormy afternoon. I’d dodged showers all the way from Arizona, but I was hoping that it would clear by nightfall. No such luck, but I took advantage of intermittent thunderstorms to catch up on some badly needed sleep.
I was surprised at how low the lake was compared to past years. The campground, which was normally right above the lake, was now above a grassy field with a small stream running through it. As soon as it got dark, the elk started bugling as if on cue. Roaring and screaming throughout the lake basin, but the reverb that I’d heard in years past was not there – I guess the water levels in the lake were too low. The coyotes also cued up, and this year I had a new treat – elf owls! Listen with headphones for the best spatial effect.
The campground was nearly empty, so I was able to find a campsite at the far east end. With no other campers around, I didn’t bother putting up the curtains in my little car/camper, so I had a great view of an approaching thunderstorm. It lit up the entire western sky as it slowly marched in my direction. I was hoping it would skirt to the north, which would allow me to record the thunder without worrying about the mics getting wet. As the storm approached, the critters went very quiet. The only elk bugles were far, far off in the woods. As the storm got closer and closer, I listened carefully for the sounds of raindrops. Although I had set my mics up under the picnic table in the campsite, I didn’t trust the table to keep them dry if it really started to rain. The size of the storm and the quietness of the animals concerned me, so as soon as the first few drops hit, I shut off the recorder and retrieved the mics.
It was a good thing I did. The sky opened up and it poured for the next half-hour. It rained so hard I worried that the roads might be washed out and I might have trouble getting back to the highway. But the next morning the roads were fine, although camp was very quiet and soggy. I would run into bits and pieces of the storm for the next several days, though southern Colorado (with fresh snow in the southern Rockies), southern Utah (where the skies were actually black above Moab), and eastern Nevada (where the high country received it’s first snow of the winter). I didn’t lose the storm until I arrived in western Nevada.
I’ve been recording for almost 6 years now. My equipment and techniques have improved, but so much of nature recording is still about luck.
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