As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently up at my family's cabin, a few hours away from the city. It's just a two-bedroom cabin but there were eight people staying for the weekend, so when it came time to find a place to sleep, I was relegated to a tent outside. This turned out to be a good thing for two reasons: first, it meant I got to sleep in, not waking up with the early-rising children at 6:45 AM. Second, it allowed me to sneak out to the lake in the dead of the night without bothering anyone sleeping indoors.
Moonlight reflecting off the lake. Picture Credit: cabin guest Kassandra Wu
My goal was to capture some clean recordings of the loons that call the lake home. For anyone reading this who is not from Canada, the loon is a bit of an icon in this country. It's so popular that even our one-dollar coin is unofficially but universally known as a "loonie" after the image on the 'tails' side of the coin. The weird call of the bird is actually quite haunting, but has somehow come to represent summer vacations to all the city folk. So even though the sound is a bit creepy, I feel a swell of happy summer nostalgia whenever I hear it.
The loon call is regularly used in radio and TV ads for vacation resorts and all kinds of outdoorsy programming but there are not many good recordings of the birds, and the same few recognizable clips are used over and over again. I figured this was my chance to get some fresh recordings to offer to clients in future projects.
Maybe one of the reasons there are relatively few good recordings of loons is they are not very easy to get close to. While they can fly as well as any duck or goose, they're much better divers and underwater swimmers. Just when you've sidled up close enough to one, they slip away underwater and pop up a minute or so later a few hundred yards away.
Common Loon Photo Credit: John Picken under Creative Commons
Determined to catch a loon call, I ventured out two nights in a row, only to return to my tent with nothing to show for my hours of sleeplessness. What I needed was a still night with no wind or waves on the lake at all. The loons will chirp away on and off all night but they are never very close by, so if you have waves lapping up against the shore the noise will interfere with the clarity of the loon call. The third night I found myself with the perfect conditions: all was calm and quiet. I crawled out of my tent at 2 AM. While I was grabbing the gear and setting it up on the shore of the lake, the loons were in a really talkative mood. All ready to go, I hit record... and the birds got stage fright and went completely silent. Ah, the familiar plight of the common wildlife recordist.
I sat in silence on the beach, in the darkness, with my finger on the record button. Forty-five minutes. I started to nod off. Then suddenly out of the night quiet the loons started up again. I came to and I hit the button. They treated me to their two main calls, a really haunting long howl as well as a stuttered warble. I only got one of the former but a whole bunch of the latter.
In the darkness I was never able to catch a glimpse of the birds so I'm not sure how many loons were piping up in this recording. Clearly it was more than one, calling out to each other back and forth from opposite sides of the lake. You can also hear that great slap-back echo as each call reflects from shore to shore across the open water. No point shooting any video in the middle of the night, but I think the recording speaks for itself this time.
The call of the loons will always be one of my all time favourite sounds. I hope you get a little bit of that summer feeling when you hear it too.