Many years ago a dear friend and fellow nature photographer, Greg Ryan, and I were invited by a nature loving Cajun friend to visit the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge near Hackberry, LA, late one afternoon. As the sun settled over the coastal wilderness, the Sabine came alive with gorgeous sounds, of which our naturalist did all he could to identify what we were hearing.
“There,” he would say, “alligator!”
After awhile, he simply gave up. Herons, alligators, frogs and all the rest turned the Sabine into an audio jungle as darkness settled over the grassy wilderness, so much so that ever since I’ve used this as the high water experience for wilderness audio moments.
Since moving to our farm, stepping out onto the porch roof or into the yard at night this time of year is a near equal. No, we don’t have alligators nor herons, nor many of the hundreds of other nocturnal denizens that created such an euphonic chorus on that humid night in the Delta, but we have our geese. Thousands of them. Just over the hills to the east and north of us, thanks to a couple of wetland sloughs neighboring farmers have generously not drained. This time of year a third “ghost” of a wetland is also found just to the west of us.
In the late afternoon sun we can watch as we cook dinner as skeins of geese ease from the sky down to the temporary lake. This means we’re basically surrounded by various species of geese and ducks that follow the Flyway and make the many wetlands all around us, as well as the nearby National Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge and Big Stone Lake, stopping off places en route to permanent homes far north of us. Of course, some of the geese are now pairing up and claiming portions of the smaller wetlands for nesting sites, but the majority are just passing through.
Although we can hear and see the nearly constant population of geese during daylight hours, our trees are just as likely to serve as temporary hosts to the clouds of murmurating blackbirds. Having a murmuration suddenly descend onto the farmyard isn’t unlike hearing a huge soccer or football stadium suddenly fill of fans. When one landed the other day, I rushed inside to catch the attention of Dale Pederson, who has been here finishing his work on our Taj Magarage. We both stepped outside just to listen for a moment, both of us smiling in appreciation.
Yet, it’s at night when the sounds of the geese ratchet to decibels not unlike that night in the Sabine. Though not nearly as varied and exotic, this sound is nearly as rich in spirit and verve. Many nights we will stand outside just to listen to the stereophonic chorus that surrounds us. “We live here,” one of us will say. We say that a lot, especially this time of year. We both take pictures, and are still hoping for a really good one. Rebecca’s image into the sun and cloud banks the other night was incredible, for once lightened just a little, the skies were literally full of flying geese. This morning, like many mornings here on our farm, clouds of geese circled over the wetland in the rising sun just to the east of us. We both had our cameras out taking pictures, and I even sneaked one in of her looking out our bedroom window.
Yes, there were hundreds of arcs and vees above in the sky, but inside the wetland an entire darkened island contained of thousands of geese. So dense that only the occasional movement of a head gave witness that this was an island of life, of birds, rather than some dense “jungle” of aquatic prairie plants. And, of course, there was the sound. Though not as loud as it can be after dark, the songs were still amazing. As we look around in the trees and shrubs around the farm we can identify many different song and prairie birds we know are simply passing through. We see them on the feeders, too, and secretly wish some would stick around for awhile. We just took several moments to watch a bald eagle that had landed in the tall cottonwood on the corner of our grove. Eagles, though still a treat to see, are actually fairly common in our area close to Big Stone Lake and the Minnesota River. We often take a drive through the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge, and the other night as the sun was setting, Rebecca excitedly shouted for me to stop. Over one of the beautiful outcrops she noticed five bald eagles in a tree, silhouetted by a beautiful, red-tinted sky.
Spring is a lovely time on our farm. Yes, we have varied and usually beautiful sunrises and sunsets throughout the seasons, and many nights we stare through our plate-glass window in the kitchen as we sip on a glass of wine and make our dinner as the sun wanes in the west. Soon the acrobatic swallows will arrive, along with the thrashers and other birds from the annual migrations. Come fall the geese will return, but the occasional reports of the sporting shotguns offer interruptions of silence unknown in the spring. Yes, this is the season when our neighboring wetlands come to life visually and audibly. It’s spring, and a lovely time here on our farm.
Yes, we live here.