HISTORIANS MAKE UNUSUAL DISCOVERIES
grandson Parker and I were sitting on the back porch of our cabin across
the blackwater stream bordering a sphagnum swamp. A half-mile-wide canopy
of trees creates a dark, some might say gloomy, habitat of small pools
and rivulets where coons, cottonmouths and bobcats thrive. We were listening
to the night sounds of summer, mainly katydids and tree crickets with
an occasional raucous dispute between barred owls. Then we heard a sound
from deep in the swamp that made us both perk up. A soft, plaintive
woohoo lasted about a second. Spooky. We looked at each
other and raised an index finger, the universal sign for listen.
and a minute later heard it again. And again. At approximately 1-minute
intervals the mystery sound was repeated for more than an hour. It clearly
was not an insect or frog, so we concluded it must be a bird or mammal.
It was no call I had ever heard before that night. Earlier that week
I had heard the snort of what I thought was a nearby deer while I was
standing alone in the swamp with my flashlight off, waiting to see lightning
bugs. A moment later a musky smell pervaded the area and I heard rustling
vegetation. Disconcerting, to be sure. But the sound we heard from the
porch was far different. Fortunately, I was able to record both sounds
with my phone. Friends familiar with deer had later confirmed the snort.
I was confident that the new sound would be readily recognized by someone
as well, so I set about sending the recording to colleagues who are
wildlife biologists or ornithologists. What was that call of the wild?
my playing the sound for a dozen colleagues familiar with bird calls
and mammal sounds, no one could do more than guess. A mourning dove?
But they do not typically call late at night. And why would one want
to attract a predator? A chuck-wills-widow or whippoorwill? We all knew
what they sound like, so, no. A fox or coyote? Aside from a barking
dog, no regional mammal was known to call continually as a single individual
in such a systematic manner.
history observations of sights, smells and sounds are endless, and wild
animals do many things that humans have not observed. Nor do you have
to be a professional research ecologist to make an observation that
few people have made before. If you are lucky, youll eventually
run across someone who can explain to you what you saw, smelled or heard.
later I got the answer to my mystery. I had kept the recording and would
play it when I was with someone who had lots of experience with natural
phenomena. So when two members of the South Carolina Association of
Naturalists were visiting, I gave it another try. We were sitting on
the same porch where Parker and I had been when I pulled out my phone
to see if they recognized the sound. Their collective response was startling.
Simultaneously they said, Baby barred owl calling its mother!
They looked at each other in surprise. Neither had ever discussed having
heard the sound, yet they had given the exact same answer.
my SCAN visitors how they were able to recognize the sound. Gordon Murphy
said, Many years ago I was sitting in the woods, waiting for the
sun to come up to do some early morning birding and heard this noise
I couldn't identify. I finally got a good look and saw it was a juvenile
barred owl. Greg Ross had a similar experience when he had the
opportunity to observe a family of barred owls in front of his house.
He watched the juveniles interacting with their parents until
they matured. Gordon and Greg agreed that they would never forget
the sound of a young barred owl calling its mother. Neither will Parker
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