This lively dawn chorus was recorded in a small pothole coulee in Eastern Washington, one of the numerous Seep Lakes of the Channeled Scablands.
This is the Columbia Plateau, a large basalt flow cut through by the Columbia River. During the last ice age, 10-20 thousand years ago, the ice dam blocking Glacial Lake Missoula collapsed, unleashing one of the largest known ancient mega-floods. This flood, and dozens of smaller floods swept through Washington to the Columbia River. It washed the topsoil off much of the plateau, ripping out chunks of basalt and eroding great channels we call coulees. The best known of these is the Grand Coulee, known both for its size and for the dam that filled it with water. Early white settlers in the area called this land "scablands" because nothing could grow on it.
In the 1900s the Columbia Basin Project, the largest water reclamation project in the US, saw the creation of a network of dams and reservoirs including the Grand Coulee. Responsible for the upheaval and forced relocation of thousands of indigenous peoples, eliminating their access to the migratory Salmon their lives relied upon, decimated fish stocks above the dams, and rendering numerous towns and settlements uninhabitable, the CBP worthy of a longer history lesson another day. The expansion of agriculture production has been proven beneficial, turning North Central Washington into one of the largest and most productive tree fruit producing areas on the planet.
One unintended consequence that is either beneficial or disastrous depending your outlook has been the hydrological seepage from the reservoirs into the many downstream coulees and potholes, resulting in the creation of hundreds of lakes of varying sizes. These brand new wetland ecosystems quickly became popular with migratory and resident wetland birds who now call them home. They are also regularly stocked and prove popular fishing destinations.
The pothole coulee this recording is from is one of those new wetlands.
One final history/ ecological history lesson: the American Bullfrog is indigenous to the eastern portion of North America. It's historical range just barely reached what is now the Oklahoma. During the Gold Rush period of the 1800s they were imported to the West to meet the "sophisticated tastes" of wealthy East Coasters. Frog farms were set up throughout California, Oregon, and Washington to meet demand. When demand died and the farms closed, farmers released their stock in wetlands, creating one of the most voracious invasive pests in the West. Read more about it here: https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2004/aug/15/bad-news-bullfrogs/
I have mixed feelings when I hear bullfrogs in the soundscape. They're an invasive, dangerous pest. But can we, WILL we be able to restrain them back to their original range? It's doubtful. Just as Pigeons, European Starlings, Chukar, and Pheasants among other species have become an indelible part of our wild spaces, should bullfrogs just be accepted? I'm mixed. I love the sound of a bullfrog chorus. It's pretty spectacular. It's also a sign of a wetland zone. If I hear bullfrogs, I go looking.
So to the recording…
This is a true Dawn chorus. Tt captures the entire Dawn, from First Light, 4:33 AM, through Sunrise, 5:03 AM.
There are three dominant voices here: Coulee crickets (I'm not making this up: Anabrus longipes), Yellow-headed Blackbirds, which, if I had to pick, would be my single favorite bird, and the Bullfrogs. Listen to the crickets, thick and lush in the twilight, slowly drop off and become a sparser presence towards the end. In a few hours they'll stop singing during the period the sun is highest.
You'll also hear of Canyon Wrens, with their mournful drooping, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Nighthawks, Tree Swallows, and a distant Rock Wren.
Click through the comments and markers in the soundcloud track for callouts of some of the various voices.
At Northwest Soundscapes:
- Field Recording