National Park Nature Walks, Episode 2: Sequoia Heights
Welcome to Scientific American‘s National Park Nature Walks. I’m your host and guide Jacob Job.
Today, we climb up into the Sequoias.
For the better part of a decade, I’ve explored national parks and other protected areas across the country and world, developing a deep respect and appreciation for them. I’m also a conservationist and ecologist, and so I’ve spent a lot of time *alone*, recording the sounds of the species and places I encounter. I want to connect you to these places as well.
In this podcast, I’ll share those sounds with you, along with some interpretation of who’s making them and what they mean so you’re better equipped to take advantage of your next visit to one of our parks.
National Park Nature Walks is an immersive listening experience that recreates what it’s like to be there with me. To maximize your experience, slip on a pair of headphones and find a quiet, cozy space to unwind and relax in.
In today’s episode it’s June and we’re in Sequoia National Park in California, home to some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet. Instead of hiking along a trail to explore the park, we’re going to experience it from a slightly different perspective. Today we’re climbing up into the Sequoias to hear what the world sounds like from over 250 feet above the ground. During the first half of this episode, we’ll greet the dawn while sitting at the base of a massive, centuries old Sequoia tree in the Giant Forest. Then, we’ll travel back in time to the beginning of this episode and experience the sunrise all over again, but this time from up inside the canopy of the same tree. Are you ready to climb?
Whoa! So much bird song.
We’re in central California on the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas about 7200 feet above sea level. All around us are ancient and massive sequoia trees. Some of them are over 2,000 years old, nearly 300 feet tall, and over 20 feet wide at their base. I just can’t capture in words how magnificent the feeling of reverence is in this spot. It’s like walking under a forest cathedral.
Listen to the echoes of bird song all around us.
Let’s start to pick a few of the species out.
The first thing I notice are the territorial drumming sounds of woodpeckers on the trees around us. They sound like mini-machine guns off in the distance. Here in the Giant Forest you’re likely to come across Northern Flickers, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, and White-headed Woodpeckers, which I think is what we’re hearing.
Hear those musical trills?
Those are Dark-eyed Juncos. They’re a type of sparrow, but not the plain brown kind you might be thinking about. These Juncos have a dark black hood on their head and neck, rusty brown and gray sides, and bright white outer tail feathers.
You typically find them on or near the ground looking for seeds to eat.
A Common Raven! Although, not their most common call. Ravens have so many different vocalizations that it’s hard to know what they all mean.
Warm mornings like this means a lot of insects are humming about.
Huh, hear that!? I think we have a bigger animal coming our way. Let’s sit really still and quiet.
A big mule deer ran by right in front of us. So cool! My heart is racing a little.
They run by hopping on all four legs at once, so it sounds like they’re stomping through the forest.
That loud blowing noise is their warning sound to other deer. Something must have chased it towards us.
I hear an old friend we heard back in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Any guesses who it is?
A Lincoln’s Sparrow. Like the Juncos, they also stay pretty close to the ground.
I hear a new species, but it’s going to be a little difficult to hear overtop all of the Juncos, but you can do it.
It’s a vibrant, bubbly song that kind of sounds like the bird is saying “If I see you, I will seize you, and I’ll squeeze you till you squirt!” Ridiculous I know, but mnemonics like this help birders remember all of the different songs.
This particular song belongs to the Warbling Vireo. It’s not a very brightly colored bird, and it’s certainly hard to see way up in the branches, but I love to listen to its cheerful, happy song.
What a cool bird! A Pileated Woodpecker just flew over us.
It’s our largest woodpecker. Nearly the size of a crow.
Well, what do you think? Should we climb up into the canopy?
So we’re near the top of this Sequoia and I can already hear a difference. So spacious!
Can you hear the wind softly moving through the needles?
The birds sound much closer too.
Those woodpeckers we heard drumming before are now in the tree next to us.
You can still hear the trills of the Juncos down below, but they are so much quieter up here.
Here’s a song we didn’t hear on the ground. It’s a soft, slow warble.
This is Audubon’s Warbler, or as I mentioned in the previous episode, a ‘Butter Butt’.
Here are two new species with very similar calls. Listen for the really high-pitched sounds.
You hear them?
The single notes are from a Brown Creeper.
These camouflaged birds creep up the sides of trees searching for insects hidden in the bark.
Hear those ‘zseet zseet zseet’ calls? They’re from a Golden-crowned Kinglet.
They’re so tiny, but seem right at home in the canopy of these massive trees.
Something just flew into the branches next to us. (7:10)
A Western Tanager! Hear those raspy, short notes?
These birds are so colorful, but hard to see way up in the trees. If you have the patience, their bright yellow bodies and electric red heads are definitely worth seeing.
Another bird just flew in.
Our Audubon’s Warbler is up here with us too!
You can hear wing beats all around us up here.
I hear the Mule deer down below us.
So much quieter from up here.
Remember our Warbling Vireo? “If I see you, I will seize you, and I’ll squeeze you till you squirt!” They’re up here with us too.
Hear that bird that sounds like it’s whistling “Cheeseburger” or “Hey sweetie”.
**whistle** Like that?
That’s a Black-capped chickadee. Again, so small, but really, all of them look small in these trees.
Something big just flew into the tree with us.
The Pileated Woodpecker again. It’s so loud!
And with that, I think we should climb back down to safety.
I hope you had a great time. Thank you for joining me. I’ll see you on our next ‘National Park Nature Walk’.