BirdNote Presents: Grouse

By BirdNote

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BirdNote's home for longform stories and series that connect us more deeply with birds, nature, and each other. Our latest series, Grouse, is about the most controversial bird in the West and what it can teach us about hope, compromise and life in rural America.

Episode Date
Grouse: In Search of the Bird, Through Time

Mike Schroeder has been studying sage-grouse in Washington state — where the population is declining — since the 1980s. Mike takes Grouse host Ashley Ahearn on a journey to find this troubled bird and explore some scientific and cultural lore surrounding it, from American Indians to Lewis and Clark to Roosevelt. Will they find any sage-grouse today? Why is this bird in so much trouble? Should anyone care?

Sep 15, 2020
Grouse: Stranger in a Strange Land

Grouse series host Ashley Ahearn burns out on the urban rat race, leaves her job at a top NPR member station, and moves to 20 acres of sagebrush in rural Washington state. She discovers the Greater Sage-Grouse, a bird that is native to the land where she now lives — and fits in a whole lot better than she does. What is a sage-grouse, and why does everyone get so worked up about this bird?

Sep 15, 2020
Introducing Grouse

The Greater Sage-Grouse has eclipsed the Spotted Owl as perhaps the most controversial North American bird in the 21st century. These strange, wonderful birds live exclusively in the sagebrush steppe of the intermountain west. But they are in decline and protecting them has sparked fights between stakeholders across the region. Host Ashley Ahearn is a newcomer to sagebrush country, and she uses her personal journey — as an outsider trying to understand rural life — to serve as the proxy for listeners. She went from filing news stories on deadline to herding cows on horseback — and she talks about it in the show, weaving together her flailing attempts to understand country life with her quest to understand what it is about the Greater Sage-Grouse that gets so many people riled up.

Grouse is an eight-part podcast series produced in partnership with BirdNote Presents and distributed in collaboration with Boise State Public Radio. The first two episodes premiere September 15th — subscribe today.

Aug 31, 2020
Sound Escapes: Our Solar-Powered Jukebox

In the season finale of Sound Escapes, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton takes us on a whirlwind tour of nearly every habitat on the planet. From tropical forests to deserts to wetlands, you'll hear what the Earth truly is: music spinning in an otherwise silent space. 

Thank you for joining us on this sonic journey. We hope each episode brought you a sense of peace during these troubled times, and that you have tapped into your natural ability to listen deeply.

And now, let’s listen to the music of the Earth.

Jul 01, 2020
Sound Escapes: Mark Twain's Limpid Brook

“By modern standards, Mark Twain was really a switched-on listener,” says our Sound Escapes host, Gordon Hempton. “He brilliantly used sound in the crafting of his novels. Birds would sing at the right time of day and in the right situations. He would use thunderstorms to mark the locations of Jim and Huck's journey down the Mississippi.” In this episode of Sound Escapes, we’ll explore what made Mark Twain such an astute listener. 

Gordon was particularly inspired by a passage in Twain’s autobiography, in which he describes "a limpid brook" on his Uncle Quarles’ farm near the town of Florida, Missouri. Gordon recreated the sounds of that clear, melodious brook using stones gathered from the original site, which is now a dry creek bed.

"Sonically, we have the interplay between the brook itself and the bird song," Gordon explains. "And it's really an uplifting experience."

Let's listen...

Jun 24, 2020
Sound Escapes: Song of the Paddle

After a long winter in northern Minnesota, everything seems to awaken at once. From the songs of migratory birds to the croaks of frogs and toads, we can witness a wonderful rejuvenation.

In this episode of Sound Escapes, paddle a canoe through Voyageurs National Park alongside Gordon Hempton, the Sound Tracker. We'll hear the hauntingly beautiful duet of a pair of Common Loons — and learn why Gordon refers to cold water lakes as “magic amphitheaters.” 

Let’s listen…

Jun 17, 2020
Sound Escapes: The Poetics of Space

Today we head to Pipestone Canyon in Eastern Washington, where you can hear a ridgetop wind come from a mile away. You can not only listen to the calls of animals in the distance, but also the waves of echos upon echos as the sound passes through the canyon: a form of dimensional information that Gordon Hempton calls, “The poetics of space.”

Let's listen...

Jun 10, 2020
Sound Escapes: The Poetics of Space

Today we head to Pipestone Canyon in Eastern Washington, where you can hear a ridgetop wind come from a mile away. You can not only listen to the calls of animals in the distance, but also the waves of echos upon echos as the sound passes through the canyon: a form of dimensional information that Gordon Hempton calls, “The poetics of space.”

Let's listen...

Jun 10, 2020
Sound Escapes: Kalahari Sunrise

Experience dawn in the Kalahari Desert as the sun rises over the sandy savannah in South Africa. It’s nearly level at this part of the Kalahari Desert. The trees are widely spaced. There’s almost no available water. You cannot see very far — the heat itself ripples the horizon. It's hard to imagine any animal feeling at home in this landscape — but they certainly sound like they are.

Let’s listen…

This podcast is made possible by Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle.

Jun 03, 2020
Sound Escapes: John Muir's Yosemite

“Water makes every sound imaginable and occupies every frequency audible to the human ear and certainly spans the dynamic range from the faintest sound to near distortion,” says Gordon Hempton, the Sound Tracker.

The writings of John Muir can guide our ears, as we listen to the water music: “The deep bass tones of the fall, the clashing ringing spray an infinite variety of small, low tones of the current gliding past the side of the Boulder Island and glinting against a thousand smaller stones down the Ferny channel.”

In this episode of Sound Escapes, walk in Muir’s footsteps as you follow the sounds of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.

Support for Sound Escapes comes from Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle.

May 27, 2020
Sound Escapes: Amazon Awakenings

In this episode of Sound Escapes, you'll hear sounds recorded by Gordon Hempton, the Sound Tracker, at Zabalo River Wilderness Quiet Park — deep inside the Amazon of Ecuador. Zabalo was certified as the world's first wilderness quiet park on Earth Day in 2019.

Gordon calls this place a living Eden. "And when we listen there, we listen for miles. Not city blocks. We listen for miles."

Whether you're sheltering in place or taking a break from your duties as an essential worker, we hope this episode brings you peace and a brief escape from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the Quiet Parks initiative

Support for Sound Escapes comes from Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle.

May 20, 2020
Sound Escapes: Songs of Spring

"Olympic National Park has taught me that it's possible to not only love a place, but love a place deeply at first listen," says Gordon Hempton. "And spring is when Olympic is at its most musical."

Delight in the sounds of Pacific Chorus Frogs, the Varied Thrush, grouse, sapsuckers, and many more in our first sonic expedition.

Support for Sound Escapes comes from Jim and Birte Falconer of Seattle.

May 20, 2020
Introducing Sound Escapes Season 2

For those of us sheltering in place, it’s easy to feel the walls of our homes closing in. But sound can set us free. All we need to do is listen.

In these eight episodes, you'll hear soundscapes from the wildest places on the planet personally selected by host Gordon Hempton, the Sound Tracker, from his thousands of hours of recordings.

"These sound portraits are really about my love for the planet, and I hope to transfer to you that same feeling of reverence," says Gordon. "Isn't it special to be alive?"

During these difficult times, we hope that these sonic portraits can truly be an escape.

Grab your headphones, relax, and let's listen...

First episodes coming May 20th.

May 19, 2020
In the Clear: The Problem with Birds and Glass

Window strikes are among the most serious threats to birds in North America, killing an estimated 1 billion birds every year. In New York City, between 90,000 and 230,000 birds die annually from collisions with the city’s buildings, according to NYC Audubon. But recent legislation requiring bird-friendly glass on new construction offers a hopeful precedent.

BirdNote's Mark Bramhill visited the Big Apple to learn more about this complex problem — and how the community is responding. Join Mark as he connects with Project Safe Flight, a community science project, and Wild Bird Fund, the only wildlife rehab center in New York City.

Though tall buildings kill millions of birds, they're only half of the problem.

According to American Bird Conservancy, nearly 50 percent of bird collision mortality happens on home windows. Preventing window strikes is a shared responsibility in our communities. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to help, whether you're an architect or a homeowner. Together, we can #BringBirdsBack.

Three Ways to Make Your Home Safer for Birds:

1. Reduce lighting at night. Light pollution can disorient birds and draw them in to urban areas. Decreasing lighting overall — especially omnidirectional lighting — can greatly help birds.

2. Add bird-friendly window stickers. Simple, inexpensive, do-it-yourself products like Feather Friendly will help make your windows safer for birds. When you create a dense pattern on the outside of the window, birds will perceive a solid surface that they can't fly through. This treatment is especially important on windows that reflect green space or other desirable bird habitat. 

3. Keep bird feeders close to windows. This may seem counterintuitive, but if bird feeders are within 3 feet of dangerous windows, birds can't pick up enough speed for collisions to be deadly. Keep this in mind when deciding where to place a bird feeder!

Feb 18, 2020
Rachel Carson and the Veery

Rachel Carson is known best for writing Silent Spring. It’s a condemnation of DDT and other toxic pesticides and how they hurt the environment. When the book was published in 1962, it was full of new information that shocked most Americans. Silent Spring led to a radical shift in national pesticide policies, and the book has been credited with sparking the modern environmental movement.

But before all that, Carson built a summer house. It was at the edge of a cliff on the coast of Maine, on a little island called Southport. And it was on that island that Carson met Dorothy Freeman.

This is the story of Carson and Freeman’s relationship. It grew from their shared love for the natural world — and one species of bird in particular: the Veery, a kind of thrush. Plain looking as it is, the Veery has a beautiful song. And that song matters to Rachel and Dorothy. It's an expression of the wonder they experience in nature — and in each other.

Jan 07, 2020
Wingspan Takes Flight

The board game Wingspan came out this year to a lot of buzz. The bird-themed game is fun, but it’s also having a surprising impact. It’s gotten board gamers hooked on birds — and birders hooked on board games!

Wingspan from Stonemaier Games

Buy Wingspan on Amazon


Dec 04, 2019
A Conversation with J. Drew Lanham

BirdNote host Ashley Ahearn recently sat down with Dr. J. Drew Lanham at the University of Washington College of the Environment Symposium on Nature and Health. The conversation wove through Dr. Lanham’s poetry, readings from his memoir, and his thoughts about faith, climate change, the loss of birds, and the ways we can work together to confront systemic racism.

“What I’ve learned from all the years of looking for birds in far-flung places and expecting the worst from people is that my assumptions, more times than not, are unfounded," says Dr. Lanham. "These nature-seeking souls are mostly kindred spirits, out to find not just birds, but solace. A catalogue of friends, most of them white, have inspired, guided and sometimes even nurtured my passion for birds and nature. As we gaze together, everything that’s different about us disappears into the plumage we see beyond our binoculars. There is power in the shared pursuit of feathered things.”

Dr. Lanham is a BirdNote board member and the recipient of Audubon's 2018 Dan W. Lufkin Prize for Environmental Leadership. He is also an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology, Master Teacher and Certified Wildlife Biologist at Clemson University. 

Learn more about Dr. Lanham and his passion for conservation:

Interview: Why I'm a Birder

Video: Rules for the Black Birdwatcher

Q&A: The Story Behind Rules for the Black Birdwatcher

Video: Behind the Binoculars

Dr. Lanham's book, The Home Place  

Nov 19, 2019
Introducing BirdNote Presents

Hey Sound Escapes listeners! Just a heads up that this is now the feed for BirdNote Presents, the home for all longform and special podcast projects from BirdNote. We've got lots of great stuff coming, including a story about Rachel Carson and a kind of thrush, a series on cats and birds, and another season of Sound Escapes. If you're subscribed to this feed, you don't need to do anything — new episodes will download automatically. We can't wait for you to hear what we've been working on.


Thanks for listening, and stay tuned!

Nov 14, 2019
Sound Escapes: Nightfall on the Zabalo

Today we’re visiting the Zabalo River in Ecuador. It’s a completely undisturbed ecosystem, where all the creatures we hear are all native to the land, and have coexisted and continued to evolve together for thousands of years. No animal is stepping on the communications of another animal. No two birds sound alike. Let’s listen…

This is the final episode of Sound Escapes. If you’ve enjoyed this special BirdNote production, consider giving a donation today. No matter how much, know that every little bit helps. And from all of us here at BirdNote, thank you. We hope you’ve enjoyed Sound Escapes as much as we’ve enjoyed making it.

Aug 14, 2019
Sound Escapes: Cold Lake Amphitheater

A great place to listen to insects — and birds — is a remote mountain lake in the spring. The surrounding mountians and properties of the cold water make these lakes some of nature's great concert halls.  Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist and sonic guide for the this series, recorded the sounds of this lake in Washington’s Methow Valley. The air is so clear of noise you’ll actually be able to hear the tiny splashes of lake trout gobbling up insects from just below the surface. Now let's sit back, relax, and listen the natural concert.

Jul 12, 2019
Sound Escapes: Riot of Music

You might think of the Mississippi River as the central artery of North America. More than 300 species of birds - billions of birds - make their way north from Central and South America every year along the Mississippi Flyway, with the river at the heart of their route.

The young Samuel Langhorne Clemens - later known as Mark Twain - loved the sounds of the river.

He signed on to train as a pilot on a riverboat when he was just 22. And Twain quickly discovered that if he volunteered for the early morning shift, he could experience one of the most incredible musical shows there is.

Jun 14, 2019
Sound Escapes: Land Between the Lakes

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a massive inland peninsula, bordered by sections of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers that were permanently flooded as a part of FDR’s New Deal. The damming of the rivers in the mid 1900s submerged lots of little towns and farms and old family cemeteries. If you take a trip to the park and you have a boat, you can actually still see the ruins of some of the towns, deep beneath the surface.

Humans changed this landscape, but now birds have claimed it - and they are flourishing.

May 10, 2019
Sound Escapes: The Auditory Horizon

We’re back with our guide, Gordon Hempton, the Sound Tracker. Today he’s taking us to Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park, just a few miles north of the Canada/US border. As you’re listening, close your eyes and envision how all of these voices fit together — how each one is settled into just the right place on the spectrum.

Apr 09, 2019
Sound Escapes: The Song of the Big Island

Take a carbon-free journey to Hawaii in the second episode of Sound Escapes. The Song of the Big Island takes us from the waves on the beach to deep within the Hawaiian rainforest.

Mar 08, 2019
Sound Escapes: Relearn the Art of Listening

Gordon Hempton has spent his life recording the sounds of the natural world, from the rainforest of Hawai’i to the vast dry prairies of North America.

Then, one morning, he woke up to silence.

Ever since his first sudden encounter with hearing loss, Gordon has made it his mission to share the art of truly listening. He believes that in our noisy, busy world we’ve forgotten how to hear. With Sound Escapes, a new podcast from BirdNote, we teach you how to listen with new ears.

Feb 13, 2019