Wetlands Blogcast

DSC_0086Some have suggested the 99wetlands project should be a podcast: my essays recorded in my own voice, with included sounds from the environment. I suppose there is an assumption that busy people can listen to these essays more easily than read them? I admit the idea has merit, but I can’t imagine sharing my wanderings without photos. Also, I don’t actually enjoy hearing my recorded voice! So, blogging it shall be.

But at McCord Pond Wildlife Management Area in Guthrie County, the sound dimension made me wish for a hybrid: the “Blogcast.” In other words, this blog entry would be much better with sound! From beginning to end, my time at McCord was accompanied by ambient sounds.

Before I even reached the site…in fact, all around Iowa that day, I heard the drone of machinery (tractors, mainly): the day was perfect for planting. I believe it was mostly corn, but whatever it was, seed was going into the ground that day. The sound never left my ears. Welcome to Iowa!

Louder than the farm equipment were the calls of the Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata). I have been hearing these around Iowa in recent weeks, and here they were calling in great numbers. Standardized monitoring protocols (such as Frogwatch) specify listening to the calls at dusk/just after sundown, but I do also hear them in the middle of a sunny day like this one (admittedly, not as active as evening prime-time).



Next up for an ear-assault were Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). These birds often honk in alarm as I enter a wetland, and it takes a few minutes for them to accept my presence. Then things are much quieter. The birds were found all around the site, on land, water, and in the air. Several were nesting. As is often the case, they nested on small mounds—perhaps Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) mounds—and ignored the numerous artificial nesting structures.

The female Red-Winged Blackbird is neither black, nor has a red wing. Huh.

Two different blackbirds were making plenty of noise:  Red-Winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), and Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula). I saw and heard these birds working the trees, shrubs, and tall herbaceous plants (“reeds”) along the margin of the wetland. Active along the roadsides and fields of Iowa at this time of year, I saw them not just at McCord, but all over.

Serious “birders” know that sometimes the best way to identify species is through sound! I saw and heard two similar species here, the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) and—perhaps—the Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana). The Song Sparrow is especially common and familiar. These sparrows are really similar…small, brown, striped, flitting about and hard to photograph. The plumage is variable (patterns of stripes/streaks, reddish or not, and so on). I surely saw and heard the Song Sparrow, and have strong suspicion I saw (and significantly, heard) both. The photo is not great, and I could scarcely get a peek with the binoculars, but they did sound different to me.



Wandering around a wetland, at different times of day or seasons, one will hear insects, fish, maybe even owls! In the winter you may walk onto the ice and hear it cracking, even sounding like a gunshot. How about “The Wind in the Willows?”DSC_0081

And don’t forget the exquisite sound of your boots drawing suction as you lift them out of the mud…ahh, that’s the life! Wander out and experience the sound of wetlands. I hope you have a great time. Tell us about your adventures down in the comments 🙂

Author: Paul Weihe

Associate Professor of Biology at Central College, traditional author (Textbook of Limnology, Cole & Weihe, 5th ed.; Waveland Press), and now...blogger!

One thought on “Wetlands Blogcast”

  1. I like reading and looking at photos, so the current blog format is fine with me. And it’s nice to see a good photo of a calm resting female Red-winged Blackbird. At this time of year, I see them more often in frantic mode.

    Liked by 1 person

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