Voices in the Wilderness
Song of the Whipporwill
The sun had just set. The time was 8:30 on a day in late April. My wife came running excitedly through the house to roust me from my comfortable sofa. "Hurry! Outside now!" she cried as I struggled to get my bulk up and in motion to follow her. Somewhere deep inside of me I had a notion of what she was excited about but was not sure. No questions were asked as I followed her outside.
There, my inner thoughts were confirmed. The sweet song of the Whippoorwill cascaded through the evening air. Then, from another direction came a slightly different version of the same song. Wait: another? Yes, no less than three birds all serenading one another from different directions in our bottomland. I concentrated on those three songs as they blended together in sweet harmony.
Is there any sweeter song in the wilderness?
Everyone else eventually went back inside, but I remained behind. I set on one of our camp chairs strategically placed for our comfort, slumped down with my head resting on the back, eyes closed in bliss. For another few moments they cast their song out for one another to hear; who knows what they were saying to one another. Was it a male saying to the others to stay away, this is his section of the woods? Was it a mixture of male and females wooing one another? Or were they simply singing for the pure pleasure the song brought them? I don't know; but I am simply glad they sang.
Greater Canada Goose
As I sat in that chair listening to the song, I thought of other voices, other wilderness songs I had enjoyed over the years. Many and varied they are, and I would like to share a few with you the reader.
Another song which never ceases to put a smile on my face are those honkers, the Canada Goose. There are more than one variety of the Canada Goose but most look the same to the uneducated eye. One thing remains the same for all: they are monogamous. Once they take a mate they are together until death.
Every time I hear them winging overhead I close my eyes and listen closely to their voices as they speak to one another on their flight. I also make sure my mouth is closed because one never knows when they are going to uhm, "lighten" their load.
But they are beautiful and the sentiment I get when I see a family, mother and father goose herding and protecting their young until they reach maturity is heartwarming to me.
What is your favorite wilderness sound?
The Mourning Dove is a constant resident to our area and I love to listen to their soft, soothing song. Many are hunted each year and made into table fare, and I used to be one of them. Now, I prefer to listen to them rather than eat them. This is not to say I will not go afield with my Lab, Duckie and pursue them; rather that I listen far more than I pursue. Their soft cooing is so melodious and almost comforting to me that I smile with each sound.
The Pileated Woodpecker is a large bird, just short of Crow sized. Every now and again I hear one as it wings its way through our trees. Remember Woody Woodpecker and his haunting laughter? Well, this is the bird that inspired that old cartoon. Their voice is another that I treasure both for its uniqueness ans how rarely I actually hear one.
While this may not be known to most of you, nor is it one of those sounds that one normally associates with the wilderness, nonetheless this sound personifies a wild animal. Normally heard in the late spring to early summer during mating season, this scream is wild and woolly. We have heard this sound multiple times on our property. For a long time we did not know what the heck it was. My lovely wife heard it several times before I finally did. It took a while but we finally found it online one day and settled the discussion.
Personally, I think this sound is often mistaken for a mountain lion in the dead of night. The scream can sound like a woman screaming in the night, which is what I have heard described from those who have heard it and called it a cougar, or panther. Whatever it is, it is wild to hear (especially at midnight, with the windows open, no moon, within feet of your house).
Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl often inhabits our woods. I commonly can step outside in the warmer months and listen to their whoo whoo whoo in the gathering darkness, and once in a while in the daytime hours. One of my favorite things to do is to try to imitate one, thereby entering into a conversation of which I have no idea of what I am saying nor what they are, but just to hear one answer me back in the darkness is a huge thrill for me.
No, not THAT Wild Turkey! The ones that run around in the woods!! Oh, well I guess that other one can be in the woods too. Okay, maybe this will work: ones that are birds; stand about three feet tall; can fly; have feathers. Got that? Good!
Long have I pursued these crafty birds while deer hunting with my bow. Many, many hours spent "talking turkey" with them in the predawn hours, locating them and trying to entice them to come to me all for naught. Never have I taken one; not one time. I have shot just over, just under, just behind and just in front of. I am telling you: with a bow they are tough! I made my mind up after missing a couple of old toms that I wouldn't take the easy way out and get one with a shotgun. Nope, it was stick and string or nothing. Score: Turkeys 12, me zip.
In the fall, one hears mostly clucks and chirps, some cackling also. But in the spring; ah, the spring! Those big old tom turkeys let it all out with their booming gobbles, shattering the still woods with their sounds. It is a thrill and a half to hear one while fishing, or just wandering around in the deep woods. I love it!
Perhaps my all time favorite sound that can be heard in the wilderness is the Timber Wolf's howl. Only once in my fifty odd years have I heard this in the wild. Around 1990 or so, while fishing Ontario's Lake of the Woods near Nestor Falls I was out alone in the closing hours of the day trying to catch some walleye. It was around 10:00 PM, still with enough light to still see easily by. Off in the distance I heard the most memorizing sound I had ever heard. Starting low, almost below my ability to hear came this, this note that slowly escalated up to a howl unlike anything I had ever heard before. Oh, I had heard dogs howl, even my Malamute named Wolf howl. I had heard wolves on television and movies howl. Those simply do not do justice to what I heard that night. It was incredible!
I have never been fortunate enough to see one of these magnificent creaturels in the wild; I have found a long dead wolf skeleton on a lake far from civilization; I have seen a pair of Timber Wolves just killed along a highway near Duluth, Minnesota; and I have sat on a mountainside north of Yellowstone looking at wolf tracks not long after they released them back into the wild there. But only once have I heard that most haunting song of the wilderness, the howl of the Timber Wolf in the wild. It was amazing.
I am adding a scene from the film Never Cry Wolf, based on the book of the same name by the wonderful author Farley Mowat. I read the book while in college and saw the film a few years later. While not a Timber Wolf, the startling vistas where the Arctic Wolf live and the sounds of they wolves themselves make this a fabulous film, one many have neither heard of nor viewed. I highly recommend you seek it out for yourselves; you will not be disappointed.
Never Cry Wolf
Wapiti, or Elk
The North American Elk is another of those who personify the wild to me. The mating call of the male, or bull, elk is one that literally sends shivers up and down my spine. To date I have not heard one in the wild, but hope to someday. I have been to a ranch where they lived and entered into a contest of sorts one time. I had one of those straws you get with cups that are hard plastic and look like a bellows, with bendable areas along its length. A couple of young bulls were trying their hand at wooing the females with minimal success. I began to blow through my straw and while higher pitched, it still sounded somewhat like theirs. Perhaps ten minutes passed with me and those elk talking to one another when from the depths of the woods came a deeper, much deeper bugle. It was the herd bull telling us upstarts to shut up! Every elk in the herd (maybe 50 or so) stopped whatever they were doing and looked to the section of the woods that sound came from. After that, not one of those youngsters would bugle with me. They were thoroughly cowed by their lord and master, the Herd Bull!