As humans, we have five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing). A lot of us tend to rely on sight the most, but this week we are going to explore a day in the field from the perspective of my ears.
I awake to the raspy call of an Eastern Phoebe at 6:30 am. He says his name over and over; “Fee-bee, Feee-beeee”. It is 8:00 now, and time to embark on our morning commute. But this is no ordinary car ride, instead, we travel by canoe. Pushing off the dock, the first plunge of the paddle breaks the stillness of the lake with a “splash”. Off to the races, we begin the rhythmic “dip and swing, dip and swing”. The water trickles off the end of my paddle with a subtle “drip” as we near our destination.
There is a commotion up ahead. We have spooked a Great Blue Heron from his resting site. We hear his beating wings as he takes off. We pull into our first site, and I take out the telemetry equipment. Our task is to find Blanding’s Turtle number 27. The transmitter on his shell will lead me to him. I turn on the receiver and raise the antenna into the air. Slowly, I stand up as the canoe rocks back and forth, making ripples on the water below. I listen intently: “beep…beep…beep”. I hear my partner let out a sigh of relief. This means 27 is close by. We hop out of the canoe and follow the direction of the beeping. They grow louder as we get closer. The moss and vegetation squishes under my feet.
Photo by Kelton Adderley-Heron
“PLOP!” I turn my head, hoping the sound is from my target, but alas I have just spooked a Green Frog. I put the receiver to my ear “beep…beep…beep”. They have gone quieter. We are heading in the wrong direction. With an exasperated sigh, I head back the way I came, retracing my steps through the marsh. It is mid-day now, and the flies have begun to swarm noisily over my head. They buzz in my ears as I try to swat them away and focus on finding this turtle.
“Conk-la-reee!” The familiar trill of the Red-winged Blackbird is constant as I trudge through the marsh. I point the antennae downwards; “BEEP… BEEP”. He is somewhere close by. “Splash!” 27 jumps from where he is basking, giving away his location. With lightning speed, my partner lunges for him. “Got him!” she exclaims. She looks at 27, “there you are, you sneaky turtle”. We check him for injuries, record some information about his habitat and behaviour on the datasheet, and let him go. He makes a “sploosh” and then silently swims away.
Juvenile Blanding’s turtle with a transmitter attached to its carapace
It is late afternoon now, and clouds roll in overhead. The “jug-a-rum” of the American Bullfrogs has ceased. The Northern Flicker stops his persistent and piercing “Kuk Kuk Kuk”. I hear a quiet drizzle on the water around me. A storm is coming. We begin the paddle back towards the cabin. The wind picks up and howls around us. The rain beats against my hood now as we paddle faster, trying to outrun the storm. Thunder rumbles in the distance as we stack the canoes by the shed. We made it! We run inside as lighting cracks across the lake.
It is dusk, and the storm has passed revealing a peaceful evening. As I prepare for bed, the Eastern Whip-poor-will calls outside the window as he chants his name. “Whip-poor-will… whip-poor-will”. I snuggle into bed. As I drift off, I hear the eerie wail of the loon.
Loon by Kelton Adderley-Heron