For the Birds Radio Program: Birding by Canoe

Original Air Date: July 13, 1987

What sounds can you hear when canoeing in the Boundary Waters?

Duration: 3′36″


(Recording of a Common Loon)

It has recently come to my attention that most people visit the Boundary Waters for purposes other than birding. What I’ve always thought of as warbler heaven turns out to be more popular for canoeing and fishing than bird watching. But even those people paddling a canoe or appropriating fish from loons and osprey occasionally take notice of flying objects–and not only military jets. It’s hard to ignore a Bald Eagle flying past, or an osprey peering at you atop its massive stick nest. A Great Blue Heron can be pretty impressive, too. Of course the big thrill is usually finding our state bird, the loon. Most people’s loon sightings are limited to calendar pictures and wind socks–the real thing is much more thrilling, and makes its own sound effects.

(Recording of a Common Loon)

It isn’t hard to key in on bird songs from a boat. More people ask me about the song of the Veery than any other.

(Recording of a Veery)

Veeries are thrushes, shy relatives of robins. Although they can be found throghout the state in summer, they are most abundant in the moist woods of the north–I always associate them with ferns.

Two other thrushes sing in the Boundary Waters area. Swainson’s Thrush sounds a little like a Veery in reverse.

(Recording of Swainson’s Thrush)

The Hermit Thrush has one of the lovliest of all bird songs.

(Recording of a Hermit Thrush)

Winter Wrens can be heard along old spruce bogs.

(Recording of a Winter Wren)

Of course, not all the bird sounds are so pretty. Crows and ravens can both be heard, crows cawing

(Recording of an American Crow) and ravens croaking

(Recording of a Common Raven)

Red-breasted Nuthatches sound like they’re blowing a tiny tin horn:

(Recording of a Red-breasted Nuthatch)

Cedar Waxwings sound like tiny mice snoring:

(Recording of Cedar Waxwings)

When I taught an elderhostel class near Ely a few weeks ago, the songbird that impressed most people was the Evening Grosbeak. This species supposedly sounds like an exotic House Sparrow.

(Recording of Evening Grosbeaks)

Although Evening Grosbeaks are usually common year-round in the Northland, down in tropical Minneapolis they’re irregular. It’s easy to pick out which vacationers come from the cities, or even more equatorial places like Austin, by noting how excited they get by the grosbeaks– just one more instance of how birds can raise our awareness in our daily lives.

(Recording of a Common Loon)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”