Till the cows go home

With some writing projects behind me (or at least on someone else’s desk for a while), I finally have some time to get out and do some recording.  In mid May, I headed south to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, which is a lovely swatch of rolling grassland and riparian areas, only about 25 miles from where I live.

My plan was to make a quick night of it, just recording the evening sounds and the dawn chorus and do a short hike.  I arrived around 6:30 pm, drove past several pronghorn and was greeted at my campsite by a tom Gould’s turkey.  The turkey was apparently quite lonely, and I could hear his gobbles in a large circle around my camp for the entire time I was there.  I set up camp and the microphones just as darkness fell.  Shortly after I crawled in my sleeping bag, I could hear the distant mooing of cows, slowly getting closer.  Las Cienegas is a working cattle ranch, with much of the land leased for grazing by several local ranchers.  I’m not sure why the cows were making so much noise, but I suspect they had just been moved into a new pasture.

My camp was among some large cottonwood trees, mixed with mesquite and hackberry.  I’ve recorded in this area often, and it usually has a lot of different species of birds.   I was hoping to hear an owl or two, but I was ecstatic to hear pairs of Great Horned Owls, Elf Owls, and Western Screech Owls all calling at the same time (listen at the very end for the distant screech owls):

It felt good to sleep under the full moon, away from sounds of helicopters and the hum of the refrigerator and swamp cooler.   With the owls, coyotes, cows and critters scurrying through the leaf litter, I wouldn’t call it a quiet night, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.  My alarm clock at first light was a Summer Tanager calling right overhead.   As the calls of the owls faded away, the tanager was soon joined by a large variety of warblers and vireos and many species I can’t identify by sound.  And the poor, lonely turkey still hoping someone will respond to his call.

Recording nature sounds, and the attentive listening it requires, has given me a whole new appreciation for the singing of breeding birds, and how much “color” they add to our sonic world.

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