NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
6 Jun 2003
- Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park
- 55.45083 -114.82533
- HHB PORTADAT PDR 1000
- Sennheiser MKH 40
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Stereo=1; Decoded MS stereo; Sennheiser MKH40 Cardioid Mid Mic and MKH30 Bidirectional Side Mic
Log of DAT #: 2
Engineer: Marcia Caldwell
Date: June 6, 2003 afternoon
MC: That we're back out in what are we calling this area?
That's the Slave Lake Park southern portion,
MC: Ok, and I'm in the MS pattern and my left channel is the cardioid MKH40 and my right channel is the figure of 8 MKH30 and we are continuing on. This is tape number 2. Friday.
Ambi. Walking, crunching leaves. Frogs and crickets. Some talking and breathing sounds.
Ambi. Walking with birds behind.
Ambi. Walking and talking. Bird sounds.
Ambi. Walking with good chirping sounds.
Cuts out and then back in. Ambi. Walking and talking with some birds.
RT: ¿the northeast. This is the Red Eyed Vireo. [Good birdcall right after he says this]
Ambi. Good bird sounds. Very clear.
RT: Listening to a Red Eyed Vireo, which is one of the commonest songbirds and neo-tropical migrants. This part of the Boreal holds the world record for the highest number of songs in a twenty-four hour period, which is up in the twenty thousand somethings. Some naturalist counted them apparently.
EA: You mean different sounds?
RT: Each of these songs. They're the most indefatigable singer in the Boreal Forest. When everything else is quiet, you'll still hear Red Eyed Vireos. And, trying to identify species with sound is a relative of the Red Eyed, called the Philadelphia Vireo, which is a Vireo that's in quite a lot of trouble because it's losing tropical habitat as well as Boreal habitat. But, some people have played Red Eyed Vireo sounds to young Philadelphia Vireos and attracted them so they've said that the two can't even tell their own sounds apart, but I have my doubts about that, because [pause]
EA: What's that? What's that?
RT: It's an immature bald eagle that's just whizzed by¿But the Vireos have my doubts because up in northeast Alberta, in the Boreal at least, Philadelphias sing a much slower buzzier song and their relatively easy to tell apart, but such are the difficulties of identifying Boreal birds by sounds. Even the birds can't tell each other apart.
EA: Now which is the Red Eyed Vireo song? Do it to me so I can¿
RT: Well, some people¿I can't remember the exact words they use to kind of transliterate it. "Here I am, way up here, look up" [pause, good bird sounds] "See me, way up here¿"
EA: And they might do that x number or times?
RT: They give about three or four phrases. Doo doot, doo doo doot, doo doot, doo doot. That's one song, made up of three or four phrases. Then they're off and running again and they tend to almost run them together so, this guy apparently counted them and got about 24,000 I think.
MC: I just want to say, to make it easier for 'em, always stay on his left, that way you'll always be on the same channel.
EA: Ok, got it¿Here I am, on his left, on the same channel.
RT: I'm a bit shorter.
Ambi. Walking and talking. Mike sounds.
Ambi. Discussing birds and what birds are where, but too quietly to really understand.
EA: Can you come in?
MC: Want me to?
EA: Do you mind?
MC: No, not at all.
Ambi. Mike sounds, walking, loud breathing
MC: Now what am I doing here?
RT: We're going to chant.
EA: So you want me on his left?
EA: Ok, we're looking up at a gaping hole¿
MC: Hold on, let me just get set.
EA: We're looking up at a gaping hole here in a large tree and um, home to, what do we think?
RT: Well, we know it's a Pileated Woodpecker nest and PW a lot occurs through hard woods throughout the United States and broadly forests in Canada and throughout the Borweal Forest. Its thought to be a very important species in the Boreal forest, a potential keystone species in the Boreal Forest. It's a primary cavity nester it's the largest woodpecker now left in North America and excavates its own large nest cavities and when it abandons those, lots of other species utilize them. It also drills very large whole in live and dead trees. A favorite food of it is carpenter ants up in the Boreal Forest and you'll often see these very large square or rectangular holes at the bases of trees where they've been looking for carpenter ants. Now those holes allow fungi to get into the trees and continue the process of recycling in the Boreal Forest, breaking down the cellulose and lingam. Pileated Wood packers are very good ecological indicators, they're indicators of mature or old growth forest in the Boreal because they require, because they're so large, they're crow size, they require trees with diameters of roughly 50 centimeters to drill their nest in. And they're area demanding, that means they need a large home territory in the forest and they're intolerant of edge really, so if you fragment a forest, they're area forest so if you fragment a forest into really small patches you lose you Pileated Woodpeckers. So they are a very good ecological indicator species in the Boreal of naturally functioning mature or old Boreal Forest.
EA: And critical because of what you said, in terms of the other birds. So if you lose your Pileated you lose¿?
RT: Pine Martins lose their holes, flying squirrels may lose their holes, bats can use them, all sorts of birds and mammals and insects use those holes. So, just like THE keystone species in the Boreal Forest and the one that alters the Boreal Forest more than probably any other species except man, is the beaver. And that's a very characteristic keystone species, but other keystone species are not quite as well known as the beaver. Things like Forest Tent Caterpillar, for example¿
EA coughing, laughing¿swallowed a mosquito
MC: Want some water Liz?
RT: It's difficult working with these people¿
EA: I swallowed a mosquito! [coughing]
Ambi. Laughing, joking about being in the Boreal.
RT: Can we record just a tiny bit more?
MC: I would love to, let me just get this¿.Continue
RT: And these holes are very important as well for the Boreal Forest, some of the Boreal Forest owl species, particularly the Boreal Owl, itself because they use these cavities. When you are conducting a Boreal Owl survey, you go along with a little stick and you rub the base of the tree you've got the big hole in and you hope a little head is going to poke out. Well, I've done it about twenty thousand times and I'm still batting zero for 20,000. I had a friend who went up to a tree in Elk Island National Park, first tree he had ever done and out came a Boreal Owl, so¿never know, but Pileated Woodpeckers are very important species here.
EA: And you would hear them because you would hear them rap rap rapping?
RT: It's interesting, when they're drumming and advertising, sometimes you can hear it I don't know, a kilometer away. Other times, when they're prospecting for things like carpenter ants you can just get the lightest tapping and they're often on the forest floor and you can creep right up to them and get fabulous views. The male and female look almost identical except the male has a little red whisper stripe on the side of his face.
EA: They're big, too.
RT: There she is. [whispering] Just there. [pauses] Crow sized.
EA: Did she just fly by?
RT: She's in that Aspen just waiting.
EA: She's wasn't home? She's going home now?
RT: She might be, yeah¿
Ambi. Forest. Trees rustling.
RT: There she goes.
RT: See how she's crow sized with a very distinctive rowing flight, big red crest.
EA: She's like, I'm not going home now! What are all these people doing?
RT: No, actually we should leave, leave her in peace.
Ambi. Talking about yellow-bellied woodpeckers.
EA: You ok?
MC: Mmhmm. I have to go slow.
EA: I know.
MC: To, hopefully, not get too much movement.
EA: Well, we're going to need lots of walking ambi, so¿
Ambi. Talking and walking.
RT: See how untidy this forest is. Sinful isn't it? All these standing dead trees, fallen wood, you know they should clean it up! But this is a structure of a mature forest that makes it much more attractive for wildlife and its well documented in the mixed woods of Alberta that the oldest age class of Aspen dominated mixed wood Boreal Forest is the most diverse for any type, any group of plant or animal you can name. So, old growth forest really is precious and we've lost a lot of it in Alberta and the rest needs to be protected asap, in my opinion.
Ambi. Bird sounds, talking.
RT: Ahh haa, what do we got here?
Ambi. Bird sounds. Walking.
EA: What do you hear?
RT: Sounds like a Canada Warbler.
Tyler: That's what it is, yup.
MC: Say it again, please. Forward.
RT: It's a Canada Warbler which is very appropriate and that's the Warbler I was telling you the story about earlier.
EA: Tell me.
RT: Well, we were talking about identifying birds by song in the Boreal Forest and if you are going to try and do that you have to have, you have to be prepared to be humiliated at least once a day when you think you know something. A friend of mine and I were in Cole Lake Provincial Park in eastern Alberta and we were listening to a Canada Warbler and had great views of it and we watched and tape recorded it for ten minutes and when we walked away we thought, that's it. We'll never ever not identify a Canada aWarbler and we were walking towards the vehicle and another Warbler started singing and we didn't have clue what it was so we turned around and it was close to where we had taped the Canada Warbler so we stood there for a few minutes going, "I haven't got a clue what this is. Do you know what this is?" "No" and eventually the bird popped up to the top of the bush and it was the same Canada Warbler singing a totally different song, so our egos were as flat as pieces of paper and we just crawled away with our tails between our legs and another lesson learned. [good birds behind him]
EA: What is the other bird that is going dee dee dee? Do you know?
RT: Well, we had a White-throated Sparrow in there and we also had a Chickadee, Black-capped Chickadee¿
EA: Is that a Chickadee that does that?
RT: Dee dee dee?
RT: Yup, that's the White¿
Ambi. Mike sounds and birds.
RT: Oh, we've got a number¿. Oh, we've got another interesting woodpecker. Great name, a Yellow-Bellied Sap Sucker. And it's a very important species here in the Boreal Forest. In fact it may be a keystone species here as well because it drills it's sap well sin Birches and Aspens and other species and early on in the year, if there's a cold snap, things like humming birds will visit those sap well to feed and Yellow-bellied Sap Suckers may be a keystone species because an awful lot of other animals, insects will utilize the sap well to supplement their diet, so, an important species and some YBSS are neo-tropical migrants, in other words, a portion of the population winters in the tropics, but most of it winters in the southern states. And, an interesting thing, if we manage to hear one while we're out, YBSS, rather than just tapping away straightforward like most woodpeckers, have a very distinctive Morse code kind of tapping. An irregular, arrhythmic kind of tapping. So hopefully we'll hear that. Very distinctive.
EA: So you didn't actually hear it, you saw it?
RT: No, no, I saw it flying¿I saw it starting to hitch its way up an Aspen, but I lost it.
Ambi. RT. and Tyler talking about what they saw.
MC: At some point I want to sit for five whole minutes.
Talking about recording the ambi of the scene
Ambi. Mike sounds.
Ok, this is the ambience for the conversations we've just been having here in this forest.
Ambi. Quiet kind of buzzing with mixed bird sounds. Wind? Rain?
Ambi. Some faint voices.
I can still hear you guys, sorry!
Ambi. Forest. Quiet kind of buzzing with mixed bird sounds. Wind? Rain? A stream?
Ambi. Forest. Bird sounds.
Ambi. Forest. Better bird sounds.
Ambi. Forest. Loud wind or rain¿sounds staticy but still with some birds in the background.
Ambi. Forest. Airplane passes.
Ambi. Forest. Birds. Still a lot of background noise that makes it difficult to hear.
Ambi. Mike sounds.
Ambi. Forest. Loud static kind of noise that makes it difficult to hear the birds.
[cuts in] It looks weird, though. I grant you that. Ok, and the focus is there.
EA: Oh, what am I looking at? A sandpiper?
RT: You're looking at two¿
MC: Could you, um, yeah I'm in your way..
EA: It's ok.
RT: Your looking at a pair of spotted sandpipers on that washed up root mass on the shore of Slave Lake. And there's another one just flown in. And they've got a very distinct of walking and feeding action. They bob their tails and their breeding plumage, the spots on the breast and bellies, are very distinctive. But they winter in the tropics too and come up to the Boreal to Breed. [Good sounds behind him]
EA: Lakes and fens and bogs and water are critical.
RT: Yeah, the Boreal has been described as giant sponge that consists of forests and wetlands, a mosaic of forest and wetlands, and that's exactly what it is. And you take away one and you damage the other. Logging is, um, having its affect on wetlands, wetland drainage is having adverse affects. It's interesting with the, I keep using the phrase, but the neo-tropical migrants, the birds that winter in the tropics and visit us to breed in the summer, one of the larges groups, actually, THE largest group of Boreal Forest neo-tropical is shorebirds. A lot of them bypass us, but they use the Boreal, they go on to the Arctic, but the Boreal is a very important migration stop over and that's the other important function of the Boreal for the birds is a sight while they're moving north to the Arctic to rest and feed on route.
EA: What would happen if you took this chunk out, if you took the Boreal out of the whole cycle? Where would birds go?
RT: On a planetary scale? Well, that's another really important point because we've hear a tremendous amount about the tropical forest, but the Boreal is equally important because it serves a major function in regulating global climate and it's a very important carbon sink which is putting a break on global warming. It's often referred to as the lungs of the world as well as the rainforest. It's not true, you should call them knolls because they are not like lungs, they absorb or take in carbon dioxide and give us oxygen and that's one of the important ecological services that forests like the Boreal provide us free and that we're totally dependent on. It's that independence and that's the most important factor in us needing to conserve the Boreal because if we lose the Boreal and if we continue to clear it as we're doing and fragment it as we're doing, we're going to have major affects on global climate and the most frightening aspect of that is if global warming continues as it is people are very worried about a cascade effect. There'll be more fires in the Boreal, it will be less able to store carbon, there'll be more carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere and one of the very worrying things with global worming is much of the Boreal is underlain by permafrost and that contains methane which is 21 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. SO, you can image a series of feedback loops that result in the Boreal actually disappearing because calculations have been made with the predicted global climate models that warming will be quite drastic in the western Canadian Boreal forest and natural migration rates of the vegetation belts, of the trees, they won't be able to keep up with the rate of change of temperature so the changes, the push of the climate belts, if you like, northward will be ten to twenty times as fast as the vegetation the forest can cope with. In other words where we're standing now will be a savannah if the global climate predictions are correct given doubling of the plants CO2 in the atmosphere. So, it's extremely worrying. All the work we are trying to do with regard to protecting the Boreal, it almost could be for naught if we don't also concentrate on reducing greenhouse gasses and things like the Kyoto Protocol are simply a drop in the bucket in comparison with what we need. So, it's extremely important that we adopt a holistic attitude to these problems and not just look at them in isolation. Everything's connected to everything else.
EA: So saving the Boreal is in a sense saving us?
RT: Well, exactly. I often say this. I mean people often say why are interested in Dickey Birds. I mean what if one species of bird goes extinct? So what? Well, we are, as I've said, totally dependent, for our survival, on ecological services or the services provided free by ecosystems. And ecosystems are made up of complexly interlinked webs of species. So as the Yerlicks have said many years ago, they're live rivets in an airplane wing, and you start popping the rivets and sooner or later the airplane is going to disintegrate and you set in motion what's called atrophic cascade. Very often you don't realize the importance of a species to all the other species it's interlinked with until you remove that species. And, we have no idea what the thresholds are for dropping us into very deep trouble in terms of losing some of these essential services and some of the services are soil production, production of clean water, oxygen production and carbon storage to name a few. So, we're part of nature much as we may deny it and by acting to save the Boreal Forest and the species it contains we're acting to save ourselves. It's that simple.
Ambi. Frogs, birds.
Ambi. Talking about what they hear very quietly.
EA: Now, Richard, when you looked at the spotted sandpiper, I mean when you looked at it way over there, just the shape of it, how did you know that was a spotted sandpiper?
RT: You mean apart from the fact that I've seen a bazillion of them? No, there are a number of things. Birding is an experiential activity so it takes time and you have to be patient and there's no substitute for field experience. First of all, it's where we are, what is the expected sandpiper here on the beaches of Lesser Slave Lake? And that's spotted sandpiper now. It's perched on that root mass which is very characteristic. Then you look at the bird itself as I said, it often tilts its tail, bobs its tail. It's a dumpy sandpiper, its got a medium length bill, and of course if you can see the spots on its breasts, that's a dead give away, but you sort of integrate all those things and you know, as we say back home, "Bob's your uncle."
Another birder: It's a dumpy sandpiper. I liked that one.
MC: A very technical term.
Birder: I'm looking at the thing and thinking, yeah, he's right. It is a dumpy sandpiper.
RT: Well, it's pudgy. Its' compact¿You know, some sandpipers, because they have longer wings, they have a sort of attenuated rear end, but these guys are dumpy. Its' very interesting, but I was looking up spotted sandpipers and various threats in terms of conservation to them and one of the threats is obviously, they nest on shores, sandy shores typically, and mice predating their eggs is a problem in some places, but they love relatively undisturbed shores and the Boreal provides tremendous habitat for them. If you see them fly they have an extremely distinctive flight style. They fly low over the water with bowed wings, bowed downwards, and a very flickering flight. If you see that, absolutely distinctive, you know what you're dealing with straightaway.
EA: So, as stupid as I am¿
RT: No you're not¿
EA: I would think that we're going to the Boreal Forest and I would be so surprised that we're looking at shorebirds.
RT: Ahhh, well, the western Canadian Boreal Forest produces 40% of North America's ducks for example, as I said the Boreal aviary fauna, bird life in the Boreal is very diverse actually so ducks and shore birds as well. A number of shore birds breed in the Boreal that don't breed elsewhere. Short-billed Dowitcher is one which we've got out here. That's a shore bird in trouble as well and it seems to be declining. It needs bogs in the Boreal and another other, yellow-legged species, which a lot people in America will be very familiar with because they're very noisy. Wilson Snipe is another one that you hear kind of winnowing that display flight over bogs in the Boreal. So we have breading shorebirds, but as I said¿We had a very interesting experience here up in the Canadian Shield up in Alberta. The ice was still 50% on the lake we were working on, but the ice had rotted and a lot of these fish flies sort of got frozen into the ice and there was a flock of about a hundred Peeps, small shore birds, running around on the ice sheet picking out the midges so, well¿to get to the Arctic, all the shore birds that migrate north, have to cross the Boreal. So its, you know, it's a very important migratory stopover sight as well.
MC: I'm going to need to get a little bit of this.
MC: [cuts in] of the lake, known as Slave Lake. We were on the shoreline here talking about things. And they're wandering off so I'm gonna just get a scene of this bog, shoreline place, frog hotel¿
Ambi. Still some voices. Loud frogs. Mike sounds.
MC: Ok, ready, set, go
Ambi. Shoreline. Frogs with an occasional bird. Some Wind.