This report was originally published June 6, 2010 in the BFRO Discussion Forums.
On the evening of May 15th of this year I had just finished deploying a parabolic mic and recorder in a new area, about a mile east of where I normally set it up and let it run unattended. As I drove back out of the area I decided to stop at a dense piney wood that overlooked two important features of my research area. In one direction it looks over the valley where I normally establish my camp. In the other direction it overlooks the valley where I deploy the parabolic. In past visits to this region I've heard vocalizations from this part of the forest, while I sat by my fire in the valley below. And my parabolic has captured hours of vocalizations from the valley where its normally deployed, and done so consistently over the last few months.
So as the sun was setting I thought it would be a good idea to park my truck along a lonely stretch of abandoned dirt road, deep in a desolate forest, and walk into one of its darkest recesses. I looked at the sky as I walked away from my vehicle and decided I had about enough light for a 30 minute sojourn, so I didn't wear a head lamp assuming I wouldn't get far from the truck.
I walked into the edge of the piney woods and then turned left to skirt along the inside of its edge, keeping to the high ground and allowing the deepest recesses of the piney woods to pass below me, on my right. I seemed to locate a vague passage through the pines (or more properly, red spruce) that had been planted by the CCC about 80 years earlier. The path looked like the remnant of an old logging railway, probably more than 100 years old, which made sense given how the terrain around me laid out.
I followed that wide, level, gently curving path for about 150 yards stopping frequently to listen, attempt an occasional soft whoop, and do a few soft wood knocks with my trusty little-league hickory baseball bat. On the way out along this path I didn't hear anything that gave me any sense that I was not alone and eventually I hit a natural turn around point where brush blocked my way, so I turned back.
I should mention that as I hike around in the woods I've taken to placing my digital recorder in a small back pack that I carry. Extending from the recorder are two sensitive microphones, omni-directional, that I can clip to the shoulder straps of the pack. They're stereo mics so naturally I clip them to the left and right to keep the sound scape properly oriented while I'm recording. I also carry a bottle of water in that pack, and on occasion, hearing an abrupt sloshing sound from directly behind, can be a bit unnerving (especially when your senses are keyed up).
So now I've reversed my direction, and the deep center of the piney woods is on my left. Occasionally I hear a squeak-like sound that I attribute to trees rubbing against each other in the slight evening breeze. I repeat the process on the way out, making soft knocks and subdued whoops, but I can't hear any response when I pause to listen quietly. As I'm closing the last 50 yards to the truck, and crunching along through the leaves of last autumn, I hear a loud and familiar vocalization from the rise of land directly ahead. It sounds like the Big Owl vocals that I've recorded in March, April and now May of this year.
This is where the audio clip below begins. I paused to listen and speaking to myself, make note of the vocal (this sounds crazy, but it helps a lot when post processing audio, the trick is not to be too chatty and avoid stepping on incoming vocals). I hold my position and within a few seconds the vocal repeats, this time it sounds softer but at least its not blocked by the sounds of my foot steps. This is when I start to suspect it is one of the vocalizers I recorded back in March.
I resumed my trek back to my truck, its not far now, and as I walk a third vocal rings out from the high ground ahead. Unfortunately my foot steps obscure it, but by now I'm looking for the relative familiarity of my vehicle. As I draw close, I decide I should do a whoop and wood knock in response to those vocals. I did a moderate whoop first, with no real effect (other than the vocalizer never vocalized again afterward). A short time later I tried a wood knock. Maybe it was the knock, or maybe the whoop and later knock, or maybe my after shave, I don't know, but this seemed to trigger a response.
As I stood quietly, downhill, to my left and deep into the piney woods, I heard something big move in the forest. My ears told me this was large, and as it moved for a few seconds I heard a stick break. The audio recorder heard this as well, and more. I held my position, listening for more movement in the rapidly gathering gloom. None came, and I hear nothing more, but my sense of unease elevated dramatically and I decided it was time to leave a gift and get out. I went straight to my truck, pulled out some Walmart apples and oranges, and left them out of sight of the road before leaving.
This is where I should have held pat, maybe open the tailgate of my truck and sit and listen for a while. But I'd had enough solo squatching for the evening and I just didn't think hanging around would be very productive. So I rode off down the road and checked out a few new locations where I thought I might get some returns to my knocks or vocals.
I've edited the entire 30 minute walk down to under 60 seconds, to focus on the key auditory events of that evening. In addition to the movement to my left, the mics also picked up a substantial grunt/growl from the same direction, and just before the end of the clip, some soft rapid stick knocking sounds, seemingly from somewhere behind me.
The clip, and the transcript are as follows:
(as always, your listening satisfaction will be best from a decent pair of headphones)
0:00-0:02 - my footsteps in the leaves
0:02 - vocalization, obscured by foot steps
0:08 - I say "that was a vocal"
0:12 - vocal repeats
0:14 - "and a second vocal"
0:17 - audio splice
0:20 - vocalization, obscured by foot steps
0:22 - "and a third vocal"
0:26 - audio splice
0:28 - my wood knock
0:45 - stick break and movement from left
0:47 - louder movement from left (slightly audible in right channel, too)
0:50 - grunt/growl from left
0:50-0:57 - light stick tapping possibly from behind (audible in both channels)