BirdNote Presents

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Stories that connect us more deeply with birds, nature, and each other.


An Update on BirdNote Presents

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Hey BirdNote Presents listeners! A quick update on this podcast feed:

Thanks for listening to our stories! 🦜�🦢🦩🕊🦚🦉🦅🦆

Poetry Month: Heid E. Erdrich

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Heid E. Erdrich is the author of seven collections of poetry. Her writing has won fellowships and awards from the National Poetry Series, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board, Bush Foundation, Loft Literary Center, First People’s Fund, and other honors.

Erdrich has twice won a Minnesota Book Award for poetry. Heid edited the 2018 anthology New Poets of Native Nations from Graywolf Press. Her forthcoming poetry collection is Little Big Bully, Penguin Editions, out Oct. 6th, 2020. Heid grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota and is Ojibwe enrolled at Turtle Mountain. Read along with the poems below as you listen to the episode.

Poetry Month: Timothy Steele

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Timothy Steele is an American poet who has received numerous awards and honors for his poetry, including a Lavan Younger Poets Award, the Los Angeles PEN Center Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Robert Fitzgerald Award for Excellence in the Study of Prosody. He has taught at Stanford University and the University of California in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Since 1987, he has been a professor of English at California State University, Los Angeles.

Stele is known for his love of rhyme, meter, and traditional forms of poetry. He loves birds, and has had a number of poems inspired by encounters with them. Read along with the poems below as you hear them in the episode:

Poetry Month: Traci Brimhall

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A native of Minnesota, Traci Brimhall is an Associate Professor and Director of Creative Writing at Kansas State University. Her first published collection, Rookery, features many poems about birds.

“Birds just seem to have a kind of spiritual or symbolic weight,” Traci explains. “They feel somehow ancient or ethereal – timeless in a way, and I think poets are often attracted to things that have that sort of feeling.”

But her interest in birds began with a common bird, the Red-winged Blackbird. “Perhaps that's part of the greatness of common things,” she says. “They’re so accessible, so ever-present.”

You can read along with the poems featured in the episode on our website.

Poetry Month: Wendy S. Walters

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Wendy S. Walters is a non-fiction writer and poet, who holds a MFA/PHD in Poetry and Literature from Cornell University. She is the former Associate Dean of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons, The New School. Currently she serves as Director of the Nonfiction Concentration and Associate Professor of Writing, Nonfiction in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.

While Walters was living in L.A. during the early 2000s, she wrote a chapbook, or short collection of poems, about the city called The Birds of Los Angeles. A number of themes are woven through the collection, including the Iraq War, trying to make sense of images, how we treat the things and people we love, and the birds that caught her attention.

  • Prophet as Slow Bird
  • Hollywood Finches
  • Either I Watch a War on TV

You can read the poems in today's episode on our website

Grouse: Bonus Guest Episode: The Spotted Owl

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This episode we're sharing "Timber Wars," from OPB. The show explores the fight over old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. And at the center of that fight was… a bird! The spotted owl became a lightning rod and a symbol of the divisions between timber interests and environmentalists back in the 90s. And there are some interesting parallels between the spotted owl and the greater sage-grouse and the fights it has sparked in sagebrush country, today. This is the third episode of the series, you can find the rest by searching "Timber Wars" wherever you get your podcasts. 

Introducing Threatened

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A new podcast from BirdNote about about the enduring connections between birds, people and landscapes. Join host Ari Daniel for an escape to the natural world — and a glimpse into the lives of the people working to protect it.

Subscribe to Threatened in your podcast app.

Grouse: If Not Hope, Then Courage

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In the final episode of Grouse, Ashley returns to a lek in Washington with biologist Michael Schroeder and finds it scorched by recent wildfire. Michael cries as he looks out over an area that was once home to one of the largest remaining pockets of sage-grouse in the state. But he says he’s not ready to retire yet — there’s more work to be done. We’re all looking for hope right now, but Ashley says what we really need is the courage to keep fighting, loving and dancing, as the sage-grouse have shown us. We may not be able to save this bird, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cherish it and do our small part — whatever that may be — to try to keep these birds around.

Grouse: The Death of Compromise?

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Back in 2015, the Obama Administration hammered out a deal with leaders and land managers across the west that avoided listing the Greater Sage-Grouse under the Endangered Species Act. It was a grand compromise that protected key sage-grouse habitat while allowing for continued access to sagebrush country for a diverse set of stakeholders, from ranchers and energy developers to recreational users. There were pats on the back and photo opps with folks in cowboy hats next to folks in Patagonia. And yet sage-grouse populations continue declining. Compromise makes us humans feel good, but does the sage-grouse have time for it?

Grouse: Oil and Gas

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Western Wyoming is home to many sage-grouse mating and nesting sites. And, in recent years, it’s also become a hub of oil and gas extraction. Matt Holloran knows this all too well. He did his PhD - back in 2000 - on sage-grouse and how natural gas drilling affects them, and has been studying the birds ever since. Ashley Ahearn heads to oil and gas country to visit a lek with Matt Holloran, and interview Paul Ulrich, VP of Jonah Energy, who says there’s “more work to be done” and it will involve bringing people together to look for shared solutions to keep sage-grouse around.

Grouse: The Story of the Grieving Woman and the Sage-Grouse

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The Greater Sage-Grouse appears in the the songs, stories and dances of many Indigenous Peoples of the West. In this episode of Grouse, Wilson Wewa, an elder of the Northern Paiute of the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, remembers the first time he encountered a sage-grouse lek as a child. He also shares an ancient story from the Wasco Nation about a grieving woman who finds solace among the sage hens. We are losing these birds, Wilson says, but they can still provide important lessons about hope and joy in a world that is short on both.

Grouse: Fire and the Questions It Raises

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Caleb McAdoo is a biologist with Nevada Fish and Game. He’s lived in sagebrush country his whole life — he loves this landscape — and now, he’s watching it disappear before his very eyes as cheatgrass and wildfire take over. In this episode of Grouse, join Ashley Ahearn for a trip to the vanishing sagebrush sea in Nevada — and find out what fire means for the Greater Sage-Grouse. 

Grouse: In Search of the Bird, Through Time

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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?

Grouse: Stranger in a Strange Land

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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?

Introducing Grouse

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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.

Sound Escapes: Our Solar-Powered Jukebox

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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.

Sound Escapes: Mark Twain's Limpid Brook

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“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...

Sound Escapes: Song of the Paddle

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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…

Sound Escapes: The Poetics of Space

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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...

Sound Escapes: Kalahari Sunrise

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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.

Sound Escapes: John Muir's Yosemite

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“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.

Sound Escapes: Amazon Awakenings

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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.

Sound Escapes: Songs of Spring

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"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, and many more in our first sonic expedition.

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

Introducing Sound Escapes Season 2

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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...

In the Clear: The Problem with Birds and Glass

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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!

Rachel Carson and the Veery

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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.

Wingspan Takes Flight

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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


A Conversation with J. Drew Lanham

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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  

Introducing BirdNote Presents

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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!

Sound Escapes: Nightfall on the Zabalo

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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.

Sound Escapes: Cold Lake Amphitheater

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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.

Sound Escapes: Riot of Music

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The young Samuel Langhorne Clemens - later known as Mark Twain - signed on to train as a pilot on a Mississippi riverboat when he was just 22. He quickly discovered that if he volunteered for the early morning shift, he could experience one of the most incredible musical shows there is.

Sound Escapes: Land Between the Lakes

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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.

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

Sound Escapes: The Auditory Horizon

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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.