Outdoor Snooper: Springtime

Nice to see you again. It’s downright noisy out in nature this time of the year. Standing knee deep in a trout stream in total darkness, the early birds tell you daylight is on its way.

The other morning in the warmth of my bed I was awakened by the gobble-gobble of a male turkey. reating it as a dream, I dozed back into slumberland, only to be jolted totally awake by “turkey talk.” That sounds close, I thought to myself. Actually, it was. As I looked out the window, a male turkey was strutting in front of the kitchen window, trying to bluff his own reflection. He is now recorded on video tape.

Over the years, you learn to identify many animals by the sounds they make, even though you don’t see them at the time. Sometimes it takes years to find the source that makes the strange noise. One call that had me stumped was a squaling sound in the deep woods, either during the early mornings, or late evenings. When heard, it was always at tree-top level, and moved around the woods.

While hunting mushrooms one evening in May, I could hear one Great Horned owl hooting to its mate, which would hoot in return. After a period of time, I saw a rather large bird glide down the hill, and land just above my hiding position. It was a Great Horned owl. Shortly, up on the ridge, a squeal resounded, followed by an answering hoot. There were three owls. Could the one above me be an intruder, causing alarm to the resident pair? When I shifted my position, the mystery was finally solved. Apparently, young Great Horned owls squeal before they learn to hoot.

Years later, during my study of the Great Horned owl, I found this bird of prey was also the source of the sounds that had been a mystery. The female owl produces an “onking” sound around the nest of young, but produces the call other times of the year. She will also give a “purping” sound after landing on a branch and walking to the nest, apparently talking to the young.

From now into July, a call that was quite common today, was the Ka-Ka crowing of the male pheasant. Years ago, when pheasants were plentiful this mating call could be heard everywhere. Each male or “cock” bird had his own little territory and would “crow,” trying to attract the roaming females. You could hear a dozen or so males randomly repeating their mating calls.

Once in a while they would all crow at the same time. Whatever made them call in unison took some time to figure out. One day I happened to hear a ba-ba-boom of some type of distant blasting. Just before this blasting, all the male pheasants had made their unison call. Somehow, the pheasants were picking up the vibrations of the blasting sooner than I was!

Turkeys, especially the male gobblers, are famous for their answering gobbles to other sounds. Turkey hunters imitate the hoot of owls in order to locate a roosting gobbler. One evening, years ago, I was watching two gobblers feeding in an old cornfield. In the distance I could hear the rumble of thunder, and so did the turkeys. Every time a clap of thunder occurred, the two turkeys would gobble. They must have gobbled 30 times before disappearing into the darkened woods.

My first hunt was in 1941, with my father, for squirrels. We were hunting the tall timber in the back of our house, just outside the village of Pine Grove Mills, seven miles from State College. I can still remember his instructions: “You stay here. I’m going to the big Hemlock. If you hear any squirrels “barking,” see if you can sneak up on them” I didn’t hear a single squirrel “bark,” although my father told me he heard several that seemed to be in my direction.

Later, as we were eating lunch, my father said, “Hear that?” I said, “Yes, what is it?” He then knew that I didn’t know how a barking squirrel sounded. After all, dogs bark, so wouldn’t a barking squirrel sound the same?

Down through the years I’ve heard a lot of squirrels bark, but I’ve never been sure why they give this call, although I figured it must be a warning of some sort. After years of diligent study (actually, just hanging out in the woods), it appears to be a warning for birds of prey, especially the Red-tailed Hawk. Seldom do they bark when I’m in the woods, but let a hawk fly in and land, and some nasty squirrel will sound the alarm. It’s amazing how the other squirrels pay attention, and hug a tree until the barking stops!

Other animals have their alarm calls. One of the local names for a groundhog is a “whistlepig,” and for good reason. More than once, while walking along a fence row or woods edge, I’ve had a fright chill when a “gruncer” gives off a shrill whistle, sometimes followed by a second, slower rippled sound. The next time you see a hog feeding, give a shrill whistle. He will either stand up and look around, or make a bee-line to his hole!

There are a few sounds that can make your hair stand on end, especially if you don’t know the source. Raccoons, with their chirring, purring, and barking-like sounds, can make a night time hike out of bounds for the innocent hiker.

The most terrifying sound, to me, is a scream that can be heard in the dark night sky. It is made by a seldom seen bird of pray. You won’t hear this aerial scream every where, only in specific areas, but it can be heard night after night, year after year. There are stories of people who heard this scream and fled the scene, screaming to themselves.

Picture a person down on his luck, years ago, in a rural setting, not having a place to stay, sneaking into an old barn to rest his weary body. Unbeknown to him, in the peak of the barn are two pair of eyes watching his every movement. The two White Barn Owls decide they’ve seen enough, and emit their famous, bone-chilling screams, then fly like two ghosts. from the barn. You can bet the owls will have the barn to themselves when they return and re-enter the barn!

See you next time.

Join the Conversation