Perseid Meteor Shower and Night Sounds

Capturing the soundtrack of a summer night on Yellow Island. 

Listen to the audio track below.  

Written & recorded by Phil Green, Yellow Island Land Steward

It was all over social media: the Perseid meteor shower was supposed to be the best in years. I’m normally a morning person but does 3 a.m. make you a morning person or a night person. I guess since I will have been asleep for a few hours and getting up this falls under the very early morning person category. So at 0245 the alarm went off and I was out the door with coffee and audio recording equipment to entertain myself between meteors.

The following recording gives the highlights of a two-hour recording session from 0300 to 0500. If you want to know what’s happening at 0 dark hundred, I suggest you start the audio and read along.

The first 50 second clip was a real score for me. A bird species I had heard was in the area but never got to see or hear myself. Of course what you will first notice is crickets! Lots and lots of crickets. They will be the background through much of the audio. Very faintly in the background you can hear what has been described as a ping pong ball bouncing. This is the call of the western screech owl. For scale, the crickets are only meters away while the screech owl is more than a mile away on either Crane or Shaw Island.

The next clip runs just under four minutes. In my last post in July I talked about all the seals and seal pups in the area. August is weaning time for the pups and they are not happy about it. It can get very noisy, especially at night. The sounds you are hearing are mostly pups calling for moms. There is also a lot of splashing noises. Adult seals for unknown reasons like throwing their hind flippers over their heads and slapping the water. Whether this is just for fun, a mating behavior or what is not known. At approximately the 2:45 and 4:40 marks, there is a different noise, with a loud splash at 3:15. Think about that when you hear it and see if you know what it is. The next segment goes into detail.

The next four and a half minutes have the previously mentioned sound heard at 6:00, 6:40, 7:45, 8:10, 8:40 and 11:25. What you are hearing is a river otter chewing its latest catch. For anyone who has seen an otter foraging, you can picture it surfacing with fish or crab in its mouth, throwing its head back and chomping away. After each snack there is a small water noise as it dives again for its next snack. The loud splash heard at 3:15 was most likely the otter hauled out below me on the rocks, and then suddenly aware of me and diving into the water.

This segment also has two interesting birds calls. At 6:50 another very faint owl call, this one described as “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all”. This is a barred owl. I’ve only heard them a half dozen times in the San Juans although they are known breeders and fairly common now.

At 11:20 a great blue heron gives out a disturbance call. The final four and half minutes are one of my favorite birds that I’ve posted before, black oystercatchers. What’s interesting is that here we are in the wee hours of the morning, and they are calling an d flying about as if it were daylight. When birds like the heron and oystercatchers are calling in the middle of the night, it makes me wonder if an otter has wandered through or is thereother reason to be excited at 4 a.m.? At the end of the black oystercatcher section,  a bald eagle, black turnstones and Canada geese make cameo appearances.

That’s it for the audio, so what about the meteor shower. I’d have to rate it as just okay. I did end up seeing 30-40 meteors over the two hours and these tended to come in little bursts. I might see five in fifteen seconds but then not see any for several minutes. I was also surprised that the NE quadrant was supposed to be the best viewing direction. The two brightest meteors I saw were when I happened to turn around and look SW.

Summary: It was a beautiful, clear, starry night full of wildlife sounds and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.