Crow’s Nest: What’s that sound?

January 10, 2023

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

We tend to talk most about the sights on the preserve, but there is so much more to experience. Since I did a post about an odor people observed at the preserve recently I’ve been thinking about our other senses. I probably won’t do a post about taste since although there are edible things found here there are a far greater number of things that you absolutely shouldn’t taste. And of all our senses, taste is most consumptive, and we wouldn’t want to negatively impact the preserve; there are already many hungry herbivores here. I might do a post about our sense of feel, and will be sure to include the invitingly fuzzy leaves of mullein (Verbascum thapsus), a non-native biennial which shows up occasionally here.

Before we talk about the natural sounds that mark the change of seasons, I should mention two sounds that visitors always notice first. Both are not at the preserve itself, but close enough that the sound carries.

Just south of Crow’s Nest is an active quarry for the local diabase rock known as “black granite.” You can see a few homes built of this dramatic stone, and it is also used in monuments and lab tables. In fact the lab countertop in our visitor center is made from this stone, which when polished reveals streaks and speckles of color against its glossy black surface. But what about the sound, you ask? On weekdays you can hear the machinery which extracts and carries this stone, the safety back-up alarms of loaders and trucks, and very occasionally, a blast used to release more of it from the surrounding rock.

The other sound is one I’ve tuned out but visitors immediately notice: there is a lot of shooting at a neighboring gun range. People mistakenly think it is from hunting (and we do share a mile-long boundary with State Game Lands, and also have our own managed deer hunt). But the repetition should tip you off that this sound is not from hunting, but target practice. The volume and frequency of the sound may impact the tranquility you seek during your visit, and for that we apologize. Some days it’s quiet, others not so much, and yet we hope you still find beauty and solace here.

On the plus side, we experience very little sound from automobile or airline travel, compared to most other natural areas in our region. We also realize that the power tools that we use in the course of managing the land are not without their impact, one of the reasons we’re looking to transition to more quiet electric tools, and one reason we use prescribed grazing as a tool.

And fortunately the intermittent human sounds don’t mask the seasonal progression of sound. Of course bird song is a major part of that, and I look forward eagerly to the neotropical migrant song birds’ arrival in our forests. The wood thrush’s is my favorite song, but I also enjoy hearing ovenbird and the whole chorus of birds in spring.

You can also know where you are in the progression of spring by the calls of amphibians. First comes the wood frog, localized in wetlands, so you have to be close enough to hear them. There’s always one population in the woods upstream from north end of the Creek Trail and in vernal pools alongside the Horse-Shoe Trail, easily accessed where it passes through the preserve west of Trythall Road.

Then come the spring peepers, and overlapping with them but continuing later into spring, the American toads trilling loudly. Even fall and winter have their distinctive sounds as we hear geese migrating and owls calling more then.

So don’t miss out on the sounds of nature even as they are filtered through other sounds.