Spring could be near … by the sound of it

Northwoods Notebook

We humans, I think, tend to favor sight among our senses — “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

But in the natural world, sound so often can be more revealing of what’s out there for those who pause to listen.

This past week, trumpeter swans demonstrated why they are so named from a wetland hidden behind trees not far from where Solberg Lake Creek feeds into Six Mile Lake. The rattling bugles of sandhill cranes from the same area can be the first signal each year they’ve returned in spring.

Pileated woodpeckers announce they’re coming in for suet with what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website, https://www.allaboutbirds.org, describes as “shrill, whinnying calls.”

For me, there’s something almost jungle about how the pileated — likely North America’s largest remaining woodpecker — sounds despite being in the north.

Even in winter, days are audibly punctuated by the birds — the blue jays and crows that alert their brethren when peanuts are put out, the black-capped chickadees and American goldfinches that twitter their pleasure at having the black oil sunflower seeds, the white- and red-breasted nuthatches with their tin-horn nasal beeps.

At night, the noises in the darkness reveal more than I’d ever be able to see. The bark of red fox, the yelp of coyotes, the occasional deeper howl of wolves.

And, of course, the owls — the great horned, sounding like “hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo”; the barred with its “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”; the trills and whinnies of Eastern screech owls, as described on the All About Birds website. I’ve heard all but the screech owl, which is at the northernmost edge of its range in this region, though reader Debbie Knutson of Fence, Wis., sent me a photo of one that somehow got into her barn earlier this month; she was able to open a larger door to let it escape. So they are around.

Sound is usually the only way I know that Eastern whip-poor-wills are back in the woods in late spring.

The chorus will only grow in coming weeks as we advance into what appears to be an early spring. Once the trees leaf out, it will become increasingly difficult to see what’s singing — but in our technology-filled times, an aid is available that can help sort out the avians in the area.

All About Birds has an phone app, Merlin Bird ID, that not only can help identify a species by photo, but by sound. The user can record the bird call or song and the app runs it through eBird, a huge database of bird sightings, sounds, and photos.

The app can be downloaded for all types of smartphones at the Apple App Store or at Google Play. To learn more, go to https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.

It’ll have you ready to get outdoors and see what can be heard.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.


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