Note: The recording featured above is a “3D binaural soundscape”. Please wear headphones for a profound listening experience that will make you think you’re actually out there, immersed in the natural world!
During two recent trips to Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas (one in mid-March and the other in mid-April), the drought was palpable. Dawn choruses seemed suppressed in comparison to what I experienced during a previous visit in 2017, and there was a dearth of natural sounds to record. It was also either too cold and windy or else uncomfortably hot and subdued. Overall, I had trouble capturing useful soundscapes. Nonetheless, with considerable effort, and in spite of the less-than-optimal conditions, I had a number of successes, the recording featured above being one of my favorites. So please don your headphones and enjoy this spacious soundscape as you read about my adventure.
At first light on the 17th of March, I hiked the trail that leads into Big Bend’s impressive Santa Elena Canyon, through which the Rio Grande River runs. With near-vertical bare-rock cliffs rising as high as 1500 feet on both sides of the river, the canyon is a geological spectacle and, unsurprisingly, an immensely popular destination for tourists. Fortunately, nobody else was in the parking lot when I arrived, so maybe, I hoped, there would be an adequate window of time for capturing a pristine soundscape before the crowds arrived.
As I entered the canyon, I was met by a huge gust of wind. I almost turned around, thinking that it was much too windy to get a good recording, unless I hiked back to my car to pick up my protective “wind box”. But I continued on, knowing that I had to stay well ahead of the onslaught of sightseers that would soon arrive.
The trail rises steeply at first, but then passes over a hump before angling down to a broad flat next to the river. There, a huge patch of Giant Reeds (Arundo donax – also called Carrizo Cane) grows thickly along the river’s edge (bamboo-like in appearance, this invasive from Asia is now common along much of the Rio Grande).
As I approached this dense forest of reeds, I immediately noticed the profusion of snaps, crackles and pops, created as gusts of wind blew against the stiff, dry stems from last season’s growth. “Wow,” I thought … “perhaps the makings of a compelling soundscape?” So I quickly set my microphone at the edge of the patch, placing it on the lee side, to minimize possible distortion caused by wind buffeting the mic itself.
No sooner did I hit the record button than a pair of ravens flew near, their low-pitched resonant croaks echoing off the steep canyon walls. How delicious to my ears! Then, to my absolute delight, the ravens flew up and down the canyon for minutes on end, frolicking in the gusting wind and calling to one another repeatedly, thereby allowing me to capture one of the most lovely binaural soundscapes of my spring travels. I wish I could have gotten an even longer recording, but a noisy group of tourists suddenly appeared on the trail, their penetrating voices abruptly putting an end to my recording session.
“Thank you wind! Thank you Ravens! Thank you Reeds!,” I remember yelling out loud, before quickly packing up my gear so as to avoid questions from curious passerbys. As I hiked out of the canyon, I was elated and felt truly blessed to have captured this unique slice of wildness. I was glad I did not return to my car for my wind box … for if I’d done so, the crowds would have arrived just as I was retrieving it and I would have missed my chance at capturing this engaging mix of natural sounds.
Wind, Ravens, Reeds … a nature soundscape extraordinaire!
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