A haunting, tremulous sound came from the sky above. A few white clouds dotted the blue, and that hu-hu-hu kept coming from right overhead, slowly circling, but I could see nothing. I’d just finished pitching my tent on the Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Reserve. I’d come for a writing workshop hosted by Fishtrap in Enterprise Oregon. The winnowing began again, but still no bird visible. It was a Wilson’s Snipe, and I knew it’d be circling, spreading its outer tail feathers. That sound comes from how the wind passes through those feathers while the bird descends a little. They use this call to court the opposite sex and to define a territory. I’d expected birds here this week but not a Wilson’s Snipe. There must be more wet areas than I expected along Camp Creek. No human-made sounds filled this remote landscape. This was the wilds and our home for the week.
The Zumwalt Prairie is the largest remaining fragment of a native prairie known as the Palouse Grasslands. Now, 99% of the Palouse is gone. But, here, this chunk in Northeastern Oregon still has over 300,000 acres. Native grasses, such as Agropyron spicatum, Festuca idahoensis, and Elymus condensatus, cover these hills and sway in the light breeze. This prairie would be our setting for the next week, our laboratory for writing. Each morning, we’d walk some of these rolling hills, looking for wildflowers, birds and studying geology.
Grassland birds dominated the avifauna. Along Camp Creek, the Nature Conservancy has fenced-off sections to allow regrowth of the riparian habitat. Willows, marsh grasses, and little wetlands border this small creek, and trout spawn in it. The snipe must find sufficient wet areas to stick its long bill down into the muck to find worms. The birds and the night sounds provided the musical background for our workshop and writing endeavors.
The following are nineteen sound recordings done during the week. They cover the gamut from coyotes howling at night, to the early morning chorus of birds, to individual bird species, as well as the rasping of crickets. The first listing is for a playlist with all 20 tracks, and it should play continuously like an album. I’ve then listed each recording separately so you can find a particular species. Of course, if you listen with headsets, the stereo sounds come through better.