A Story Told Through Sound

I have never before experimenting with using audio clips in a blog post, but the story of last night can only be told with the assistance of sound. Around sunset, my roommate and I left our apartment to go for a walk with the goal of hearing a very specific spring sound. As we started down the path, the woods were filled with the calls of spring peepers.

Finally the trail came out at the edge of a low, boggy area, thick with tamaracks. We couldn’t go any farther, but from within the bog issued the sound we’d been hoping for – the peent, peent, peent of woodcocks.

If you listen closely to the recording, after the peenting stops you can hear the high twittering of a woodcock’s display flight – that sound is actually made by air rushing through the bird’s primary feathers – followed by his chirps as he tumbles to the ground, and then the peents start up again. The woodcocks circled in the air above us, silhouetted against the sky, where a tiny new crescent moon was joined by Jupiter and Venus. There is no surer sign of spring than displaying woodcocks.

At one point while we were watching this show, a Barred Owl called in the distance. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” (The Barred Owl starts calling about ten seconds into this clip.)

Hearing any owl in the woods at night is great, but I commented to my roommate that what I’d really like to see or hear more than anything else was a saw-whet owl. I’d never had an encounter with one of the captivating, tiny soda-can-sized owls, and I know they breed here.

As we were walking back along the driveway to our house, talking quietly, I gradually registered another sound in the distance mixed in with the ubiquitous peepers: a soft “toot, toot, toot, toot…” I stopped short, gaping at my roommate. “Do you hear that?! That’s a saw-whet owl calling, isn’t it? Oh my God! It is!”

So, yup, lifer Northern Saw-whet, a bird I’ve been dying to add to my life list for years. I was still bouncing around the apartment half an hour later. I really like living on the edge of almost 20,000 acres of pristine Northwoods wilderness. I know that someday I’ll probably have to live in a town like a normal person, so I’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

Edit: To be clear, I did not make the recordings used in this post. They are all from

6 replies on “A Story Told Through Sound”

lol, I was going to comment at what an amazing job you did recording those! Hey, isn’t it nice to know what we think you’re capable of?

Before my parents sold the big country farmhouse where I grew up, I recorded the peepers and crickets one spring evening as a souvenir of the place. I spent every summer falling asleep to that sound, and nothing could make me feel more cozy and secure than that soundtrack. (It was when they stopped making noise that I might tense up!)

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