June is a time of transition in what we hear in nature. Although the avian migrants have moved on and summer resident birds have established their nesting territories, there's still plenty of birdsong. But the sounds of June are not only birds' territorial songs and begging nestlings and fledglings. The actual ensembles of June are subtly complex.
I’m always curious about who is singing with whom and when, and this year I decided to see if I could document the month with recordings. Here’s a Prelude to June: I invite you to listen while you continue reading.
I took a trip to the Holden Arboretum meadow area near the Conifer Collection early in the month, walking from Sperry Road down the long, grassy hill to Hour Glass Pond.
It was a sunny afternoon but there was a challenge on that day and every other day on either side of it.
Persistent southeast winds, not gentle summer breezes, seemed to continue for almost a week. It was odd, annoying, and I finally decided I’d give recording a try anyway. Maybe I’d be able to edit out some of the wind noise.
Are you still listening? Go back and play the track again. Birds here and there, right? And did you hear that lovely, shimmering trill?
That was a Spring Trig – a tiny cricket that used to be heard south of the Cleveland area but has rapidly moved into my region and is establishing itself all the way to Lake Erie. I've been keeping track of everywhere I find Spring Trigs in NE Ohio.
There were two of them singing on this trail, and they were the first Spring Trigs I have recorded at the Holden Arboretum.
But for me, there’s more to this song. It’s a prelude to singing insect season – a kind of foreshadowing, perhaps. Spring Field Crickets begin singing in early May and are now followed by Spring Trigs in late May and early June into July.
Around the same time, I went to one of my favorite locations both for observing and listening to Gray Treefrogs: the wetland trail and small boardwalk at Orchard Hills Park. These frogs come in from their solitary woodland lives to form massive wetland choruses in late May. They subsequently spread out a little but still continue calling through June into early July.
I simply wanted to delight in listening to the chorus and being able to focus on individual frogs. I expected there would be some Green Frogs and Bullfrogs as well, but once again, there was that subtle prelude…
There were two Spring Trigs here at Orchard Hills as well. Listen to how their songs continue
right through the texture of individual frog calls, forming a continuous cricket
pedal point through the amphibian chorus. You can see it on the sonogram - it's that thin,continuous line above all the frogs below it.
The frogs will become quieter as July progresses, and there will be more crickets and especially katydids with each passing week during the same time. The Spring Trigs announced the overlap and eventual dominance of insect song.
Here’s an insect “chorus” of sorts that you may not have thought of or even noticed hearing unless you were near Lake Erie. For me, it's an enchanting sound of late May or early June that I might or might not hear again until another year that I’m near the lake on just the right evening.
Midges! Huge clouds of them at twilight! Whether or not you've heard them, it’s likely a sight you’ve observed - even on National Weather Service radar.
I didn't make the connection right away. I used to wonder what that persistent hum could possibly be when I’d hear it at Lake Erie Bluffs. I would try to get a fix on the direction with my microphone – out over the lake? Was it some kind of boat engine? But I could never pinpoint it until I was right underneath the huge, gentle cloud. Fireflies were flashing all around me in the trees and shrubs on the bluffs, and the midges were directly above me. Insect light and insect sound.
I’d like to invite you to listen for another insect song in late May and in June. You’ll hear it in grassy meadows accented with buttercups and oxeye daisies when you’re listening for Bobolinks and Meadowlarks.
It’s the Northern Green-striped Grasshopper, Chortophaga viridifasciata. These grasshoppers overwinter as nymphs and you may see them in the late fall, or even during some of our increasingly common warm winters days.
They can be green, brown, or even pink, and the adults can be multicolored beauties.
In addition to their presence in early June meadows, I hear an additional association between the birds and the grasshoppers. Listen to the buzz at the end of this Bobolink’s call, then listen to the fluttery crackling of the Northern Green-striped Grasshopper. I hear them together every year and maybe now, you will as well.
There’s one more insect song of June that you quite possibly have not heard. Listen first: you’ll initially hear the Wood Thrush and nesting Dark-eyed Junco that share its habitat. I recorded them at Chapin Forest Reservation in the Lake (county) Metroparks.
Hear the buzzing sound part way through the track? Say’s Cicadas call from up in the trees, especially on ridge tops. If you’re in the northeast corner of Ohio, listen for them in June. It’s another prelude, as they are the precursors of our common Swamp Cicadas, Linne’s Cicadas, and occasional Lyric Cicadas of mid-July and August in northeast Ohio. I have yet to actually see one, but Wil Hershberger has gorgeous Say's Cicada photos in Songs of Insects online.
The multiple windy days in early June were followed by a hot, very humid period that made daytime exploration unwelcomingly miserable. The next challenge was days of high humidity and thunderstorms, which were yet another deterrent for adventures with recording equipment. While some areas didn’t get much rain (like my neighborhood), the places I wanted to visit seemed to have daily deluge parades.
You may wonder why I felt I didn’t have enough recordings.
I wanted more ensemble representation. I had birds and Spring Trigs, Gray Treefrogs and Spring Trigs, but no June recording of birds with frogs. In addition, I felt that Spring Field Crickets should be included because…well…”spring”…
I studied the radar compulsively, watching for any break in the precipitation processions until I finally had a sunset opportunity at Lake Erie Bluffs. But in addition to wind (again), the human noise factor was the worst I’d encountered all month.
Birds were singing as the sun slipped into Lake Erie, and a couple of Spring Trigs joined them. As I was leaving, Spring Field Crickets were singing along the road into the park while the first Gray Treefrogs were beginning to call from the woods.
I recorded them (wind and human noise and all) yet couldn’t quite let go of hearing the last evening birdsongs with the Gray Treefrogs.
The following day and evening presented more showers and
thunderstorms, but there appeared to be a possible break in the precipitation
just before sunset at the Oxbow Lagoon area of North Chagrin Reservation.
Should I even bother?
Of course I did. And of course, light rain was still falling when I arrived. I waited under leafy cover, listening to birds and frogs and a passing train.
I’ll close with my June postlude for a hot, windy, stormy month of mixed ensembles.
The insects will take over the day and night stages next month and dominate the concert halls by early August. But instead of waiting impatiently for mid-July, this year I felt I really listened to June.
Below is a map of the locations where these recordings were made. All but one are either in Lake County, Ohio or a park that is literally on its border. (The Bobolink/Northern Green-striped Grasshopper is from Geauga County.)
The parks are:
Lake Erie Bluffs (northeast corner of Lake County. There are entrances at Lane Road and at Clark Road.)
South Russell Village Park (Geauga County near Chagrin Falls and Bainbridge.
1050 Bell St, Chagrin Falls, OH 44022 is the entrance I'd suggest for "Bobolink Hill.")