Dusk Portal

photo of Swainson's Thrush by Lang ElliottOur native thrushes often sing at dusk, just before going to roost for the night. I’ve always considered such songs to represent a transition into darkness, a “portal” into the mysteries of the night.

In early June of 2000, I was lucky enough to find a Swainson’s Thrush (Olive-backed Thrush) singing at dusk next to a small brook in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. A second thrush was answering in the distance and Spring Peepers were sounding off from a nearby marsh. I felt incredibly fortunate to witness this beautiful sound event.

Of all our thrushes, I like the song of the Swainson’s the best. It is an upward jumble of musical, flutey notes. It is quite magical, one of the most stunning performances that grace mixed forests and conifer woods of northern areas. Over the years, I have worked very hard to capture the essence of this species’ song, and this soundscape comes as close as any to fulfilling that impossible goal:

Swainson’s Thrush singing at dusk with another in the background, 8:15 pm am, 9 June 2000, Floodwood Road, near Lake Clear, New York. Recorded by Lang Elliott.

How could anyone not enjoy this recording? The balance seems perfect. The thrush songs are loud and clear, yet reverberant, and do not jangle the ear. The gurgling brook adds a relaxing element, as do the distant calls of Spring Peepers. A Ruffed Grouse drums every minute or so as if he couldn’t help but join the choir. This is the music of nature at its very best. Breathe it in and let go of all your cares and woes.

Question: While this recording is appealing to my ear, I wonder how long it would be comfortable to listen to. If I feature it in a soundscape title, should it run for just a few minutes, or up to seven or eight minutes? My friend Bob thinks he would get tired of listening to it after just a few minutes because it’s primarily composed of one bird singing song after song after song. My feeling is that I could listen to it easily for five minutes or more and still not tire of the experience, as long as I keep the volume at a comfortable level. What do you think?


  1. That sounds kind of unusual to me. Until the day I heard one, I never knew they sang during migration. I have, however, also heard Hermit Thrushes singing and calling during migration.

  2. One of my best recordings of Swainson’s Thrush is from Land Between the Lakes, KY. A migratory bird, for sure, but singing at a pretty good clip, sounding just as he would on his breeding grounds much farther north.

  3. In addition, I heard a Yellow-Rumped Warbler at 0:12 and 1:12. Some sort of bird is uttering high-pitched calls in the background, my guess is another warbler. At 0:38 a Black-Throated Green Warbler gives its zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-zee song and at 1:50. At 2:11 one of those “trilling warblers” sings, probably a Palm Warbler. A Golden-Crowned Kinglet sings at 2:20, 2:34, and 2:45. Finally, I heard a White-Throated Sparrow sing twice.

    I, so far, have only heard a Swainson’s Thrush singing once. It was on May 12, 2012, and surprisingly, during the day. I’m also surprised because where I live, Swainson’s Thrushes are just migrants, although they do breed in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan and the upper peninsula.

  4. I’d go loopy for a loop of this, too. It’s nice to enjoy the ‘single’ while reading the narrative, but I could also take an extended trip in “the zone” to this, imagining the sullied snowpack mostly gone and today’s teen temps back to the 40s. Hopeless in PA 🙂

  5. I could listen to this for many many minutes. 20 doesn’t seem long enough to really relax into the scene and escape into this space in my mind. I hated to see this snippet end.

    • Shannon: This particular audio player doesn’t allow looping. Maybe I’ll have to switch to another type of player. Alternatively, I’m thinking about creating a new Page on the website where I will post all the soundscapes together. There I would use a player that loops each recording indefinitely. That might very well be the best solution because it would allow you to quickly check out all the soundscapes that have been posted, without having to look at all the individual blog posts.

  6. I appreciate the “Like” button. When I hit it, it posts a link to the recording onto my FB wall, then other people can hear it. I like the choice of rating too. I enjoy all of your recordings, but this one is near the top for me. I think it’s the echo that appeals to me the most.

    • Suzanne: I just added social bookmarking at the bottom of the post, right below the 5-star ratings. So now I think our blog is up to speed in these domains. Next in line is for me to get active on Facebook so that I can start drawing people in there. This will be especially important once I launch my soundscape product line (in a few months?). Right now, there is no money-making model here. Me and my friends are entertaining for free. Somehow we have to get some money flowing; otherwise this won’t be sustainable in the long run.

  7. Lang: I was really riffing off the Facebook “Like”, but I do like the idea of like. Its a simple way for showing approval without having to write anything. Like’s are not always helpful, but do let you know you are on the right path with something or have struck a chord. So not necessarily liking to post to Facebook (though this is a plus), but more as a way to gauge opinion for those who may not be willing to write comments.

    Its funny how innovative that Like button really is.

    • David: I just installed a 5-star rating plugin, and now the rating option appears at the end of each post. I wonder if I should move it to the top of each post, so that folks immediately become aware of it? I have also installed a Facebook “Like” button that shows up at the top of each post, though I’m not at all clear as to what that accomplishes (I have a Facebook page, but I’m not active on it right now).

  8. I wonder, can you put a “Like” button on there? 🙂
    The grouse thumping in the lower frequencies is certainly a nice counter-point which gives the recording an unexpected richness. I can even hear a little of the wing articulation from said grouse.

    • David: I plan to look into WordPress plugins that allow readers to rate posts. Or are you referring to a “like” button that will automatically post a link to a person’s Facebook page?

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