Early in June, while fishing on the Passadumkeag River, at dusk I started hearing a strange sound….like a woop woop woop, low in tone, but persistent, and there was obviously more than one individual making the noise. I described it as sounding like something you would hear on the Serengeti, or the jungle, it was almost monkey like and other worldly. I recalled that I perhaps had heard it once before, but it was a long time ago. I debated recording it with the digital camera, but didn’t, which I deeply regretted later. I asked a few people about what it was I had heard, including my avid bird watching parents, and couldn’t come up with an answer. So, I started searching the web, and you can imagine the results I got when I searched for woop woop woop marsh call. I considered maybe it was some sort of tree frog, so I searched all the frogs in Maine and listened to their calls and came up with nothing that sounded similar. It could almost be a tree frog, but it would have to be a sub-species or some exotic that wasn’t on the list, maybe a “whooping frog”. So I crossed that off the list and moved on to owls, thinking it was dusk and perhaps could be an owl. I went through all the owls species in Maine and listened to their call and again nothing matched. Hmmm…what the heck did I hear out there – some exotic rare new species? I thought about it for a while and gave up for a while. Then I thought, what about bats? Turns out the brown bat actually makes a noise, but alas, wasn’t the one I heard. My parents suggested some shore birds, but most shore birds make a croak/auk/shrill kreek sound and I knew that wasn’t it. I didn’t think it could be an insect, as the sound would be too complicated. I pondered for a bit that maybe it was a type of wing sound, similar to a Partridge drumming it’s wings;
Turns out I was on the right track with that thought – a search for strange whooping marsh sounds finally turned up the culprit, which is not something I would have thought of – a Wilson’s Snipe. Here is a link to the exact sound I heard on the marsh that day(click on the listen arrow) –Wilsons Snipe.
What’s amazing to me is they do that with their feathers, similar to the Woodcock “dance” which I have seen lots of times, the woodcock is also a snipe.
In fact, I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two in the field without some practice…the Wilsons Snipe is pictured at the top of the post, and this is a Woodcock;
Turns out the Wilson’s Snipe is a pretty common bird in Maine – and unlike the Woodcock, I can’t find video of it’s mating ritual anywhere. Now that I know where they are, next year maybe I can get it on film, and see if I can find what one of their hidden nests look like, and maybe get a picture of the elusive bird – you can find out more about them here. I’m glad I didn’t give up, and that I now know what mysterious noise I was hearing on the river that night.