Welcome to Scientific AmericanNature walks in the national park. I am your host and guide Jacob Job.
Today we explore the Northwoods.
For nearly a decade, I have explored national parks and other protected areas across the country and around the world and developed a deep respect and appreciation for them. I’m also a conservationist and ecologist, and I’ve spent a lot of time alone, Record the sounds of the species and places I encounter. I want to connect you to these places too.
In this podcast, I’ll share these sounds with you, interpreting who makes them and what they mean, so you are better equipped to take advantage of your next visit to one of our parks.
National Park Nature Walks is an immersive listening experience that recreates what it’s like to be there with me. To maximize your experience, put on headphones and find a quiet, cozy place to relax and unwind.
In today’s episode, we’re heading to the northernmost areas of the adjacent United States, one of the National Park Service’s most remote parks. We head out into the wild to explore Voyaguers National Park on the Minnesota-Canada border. Voyaguers is located on the southernmost edge of the expansive boreal ecosystem that extends hundreds of miles north to Canada’s Hudson Bay. We start the morning at camp with a coffee in hand and enjoy the solitude and serenity of dawn next to a lake in the backcountry. On a path that is shared by moose, bears, lynx and wolves, we then make our way to a decades-old beaver dam, where we settle down in the late morning to the rhythm of the birdsong. Let us go for a walk.
Some of the species in this episode make noises that normal computer speakers cannot hear. For the most complete experience possible, put on headphones before setting out on today’s trip.
Welcome to the northern forest. This is what Minnesotans call the southern boreal ecosystem we are in this morning.
After canoeing and hiking a few miles yesterday, we spent the first night under a starry sky, listening to the sounds of Lake Agnes as we paced back and forth unconscious.
The northern forest is my favorite place on earth and pure magic for me. My introduction was an 8-day solo canoe trip that took me 50 miles through stands of deciduous and coniferous trees, spruce bogs, and endless miles of meandering river wetlands. On this trip I saw countless species of birds, otters, beavers, elk and deer. I also shared the landscape with wolves, black bears, bobcats, and lynxes.
Voyageurs National Park may be the best place in the lower 48 for an accurate and personal introduction to the boreal ecosystem. Winters here are long and cold, falling to -40F. Summers may be short and full of biting bugs, but for anyone looking for a real adventure, something to really experience. There is loneliness for days and the sounds of the land are unlike anything most people have ever experienced.
Let’s top up our coffee, take a seat on the shore of the lake, and watch the sunrise. I want you to experience the northern forest as I have done so many times.
The first sound that really strikes me is those melancholy whistles.
So: ** whistle **
They are from white-throated sparrows. Americans say the sparrows sing “poor Sam, Peabody, Peabody, Peabody”. But when you speak to Canadians, they think it sounds like, “Oh cute Canada, Canada, Canada”.
In any case, this song is one of the most characteristic sounds of this place.
Do you hear that gurgling sound?
It comes from an American bittern. It is a large, very secretive heron that lives in wetlands and the edges of such lakes.
Their camouflage makes them practically invisible, but their calls can be heard from afar. I think they sound like an old farm pump.
Did you hear or somehow feeling The? How was it in your chest Was it a soft, quick knock?
It’s from a ruffed grouse. And somewhere in the forest behind us a man is sitting on a tree trunk and making this sound by flapping his wings faster and faster against his body and building up in a crescendo. He will do it all morning trying to attract a partner. I am sure we will hear it again.
Huh, now there’s my favorite sound in the world. It’s a common idiot. There is a breeding pair on the lake. Do you see her? Listen to what they have to say.
Due to climate change, these iconic Minnesota and North Forests birds could be pushed north out of the state and most of the United States by mid-century.
Do you hear these looks? They come from an aptly named spring peeper. It’s a little orange frog.
In and of itself, this male is not too loud, but at night when males call together the chorus can be deafening.
Huh do you hear that Look up! A Blackburnian Warbler landed on top of us.
There! His neon orange face and neck are unreal. It shines like a flame up there. So cool!
Warblers like this Blackburnian are a popular group of birds for bird watchers. You are so colorful! I think they look like Christmas decorations in the spruce trees up here.
Voyageurs has the highest concentration of breeding warblers in the country. We are likely to see and hear a lot more today.
Here is our spring tensioner again.
There is the wood grouse! Maybe we’ll see him from the trail later.
Whoa did you hear the drumming?
It’s a yellow-bellied juice treat. It’s a kind of woodpecker.
There! They have this unique way of drumming on trees. It starts quickly and then slows down significantly. Listen again, but more carefully this time.
The rattling song is from another sparrow. A swamp sparrow. I can’t imagine moving my jaw that fast.
Here come some Canada Geese. It actually looks like they’re flying right overhead.
Well my coffee is gone. Let’s stretch out our legs and walk up the path into the woods. I have a cool place I want to take you to.
Listen to the trees creaking in the wind. I wonder how many other people or animals have heard the same sound over the years.
The Ruffed Grouse is so close now! Did you feel it
Man i love to be here Let’s move on.
I took you to this beaver dam because it’s such an important part of this place. This particular dam could be a century old and is about 100 feet wide and nearly 8 feet high. It’s crazy to think beavers built this one stick at a time.
Dams like this one honestly changed the entire area, creating this huge pond and surrounding wetlands that so many other species can live in. It’s not hard to believe that without beavers, voyageurs would be a whole different place.
Speaking of which. Did you hear that? At the moment a beaver is watching us. This tail slap lets other beavers in the area know we are here and potentially dangerous. Let’s see if it does that again.
Just listen to how much bird song there is here. That’s partly because of this beaver dam.
‘Thief’! It’s a Blue Jay call.
Huh, here’s a new warbler. A maroon warbler. Listen to his “delighted, delighted, delighted to meet!” Song.
Did you hear it? Such a beautiful bird! This chestnut color is so rich that it seems unreal.
Do you hear that “weesa weesa weesa weesa”? Kind of like a squeaky wheel?
Exactly there! It’s black and white warbler. I think this is the most unique warbler. A bit like a zebra crawling along branches and tree trunks.
(** laughs **) Here’s another type of warbler. This one is a black-throated green warbler. Listen for the “zee zee zee zee zee zoo zee”.
There! Look for him high up in the canopy above us.
It’s getting a little windy. Usually this is how often the birds stop singing. Hopefully we can hear a little more.
Yes! I love this bird! It’s a winter wren. Hear how long the song is.
We heard it’s relative, the Pacific wren, back on the Oregon coast.
I can see this man on the dam. He is sitting on the high branch that protrudes about halfway.
The white-throated sparrow is now very close. Do you remember “Poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody”?
I could listen to these guys all day. It is so beautiful.
Well, let’s go back to camp and have some lunch. Hope you enjoyed our hike today and felt some of the magic I feel every time I’m here. Thank you for coming to see me. See you on our next National Park Nature Walk.