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NOLA Journal & A Nature Mystery

And now, the mystery!

This is a palmetto swamp:

I spent the weekend in the swamps of Lousiana, specifically a mixed cypress & palmetto bayou. (Early May, in case this post sticks around for awhile.) We were birding in the middle of the day, and at one point, we stopped because some Gray Gnatcatchers were bopping around in a tree with what may have been a Nashville Warbler.

All of a sudden, a sound started up off to one side. It was not a bird call that anyone recognized (and I was with two people who bird very well by ear.) It was not a gator grunt, nor a green frog banjo-twang, nor any of the tree frogs that I know, nor the buzz of a cicada. It sounded like someone driving with a squeaky fan belt.

“Fan belt bird,” said one of my birding companions.

And then the noise came very much closer and all of a sudden there were several of them calling, all around us, from high off the ground. The noise of multiple…whatevers…calling in this rising-and-falling sound had an incredibly loud, incredibly eerie effect. “It’s aliens,” I said. “Soon the probes will come.”

I have no idea what it actually was. My only guess is some kind of insect, maybe a katydid, but it could be some kind of frog. Does anybody have any thoughts?

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Your first painted bunting? May it be the first of many. They're all over the coast in SC, so must be there in NC, too.

I asked a friend who's from Louisiana about Mystery Animal! She asks if you can be more geographically specific, because that might make a difference.

This was just South of New Orleans at the Brataria Preserve unit of Jean Lafitte NHP. The habitat is palmetto/bald cypress swamp, and this was the middle of the day in fairly warm and still conditions.

The most striking nature was that it was clearly a chorus. One started in the distance and others joined it in a wave that (presumably) just happened to be washing over where we were standing. It was, as Ursula mentioned, very much like an old Ford sitting at a stop light with a squeaking fan belt. It had both the sound and the cadence.

Something about the noise suggests frog, and while I have seen lists of frogs of that habitat in Southern LA, none of them have audio recordings...

Cicada? They sound pretty alien-invasion-ish. No idea if they hang out in Louisiana, or in swamps, though.

This is the year for the next hatching of 17-year cicadas. I remember thinking, when I heard them back in 1999 (in Maryland), "My god, they really do sound like car alarms!"

Edited at 2016-05-12 03:29 am (UTC)

17-year cicadas emerge every year, just in different locations. This year, it's eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, immediately adjacent parts of VA, MD, PA, and one spot on Long Island, NY.

LA got hit by them last year, and will again (different brood) in 2018.

Interesting! I didn't know that. Thank you!

Lilies! They have started blooming here, I noticed on my walk yesterday.

I don't think lilies sound like fan belts...

Depends how fast you spin them? (I got nuthin)

Oh, they don't, but I had to look up "Fritillary" (which means lilies, basically), and that sparked that comment. :)

On the fan belts I'd go with a variety of cicada, esp. given location and number.

I remember hearing that Louisiana was having problems with some species of South American tree frog that had gone wild. [as in people had bought them as pets, then grown tired of them and let them go out in the swap... not that the frogs were pissed off about something.]

I don't know if that was the source of your mysterious noise, but some of those jungle frogs make weird sounds. Although, that would mean you were right about it being an alien invasion...

What is the spiky blue/purple flower in your photo? We have one in our pond.

And speaking of pond, apparently mint is not only the unkillable plant, it will grow under water.

Edited at 2016-05-12 12:38 pm (UTC)

It sounds like it might be a giant cicada - http://texasento.net/cicada.mp3

I don't really have any good suggestions for what your mystery fan-belt creatures might have been, but the "Songs of Insects" website (songsofinsects.com) has an extensive library of insect songs to check.

I did check the cicada page (http://songsofinsects.com/cicadas), and while none of them were exactly like a squeaky fan belt, there were a bunch that sound really alien. Particularly the "swamp cicada", which is probably closest to what you described.

Red-winged blackbirds! They are very territorial. When we lived in New Orleans mumblety-mumble years ago, my husband used to go running out near the lakeshore with a group of friends. And they found that in the spring, running in red shorts or a red ball cap would get them dive-bombed by an angry blackbird.

Same here. I've learned not to go out in my backyard wearing anything red because my god, they are such territorial little divas. XD

What does it say about You tube that I can find squeaky fan belts and cicadas? Yes they do sound a bit alike.

I'm looking at the Palmetto swamp and I'm thinking noise = velociraptor which would be cool in one sense but not so cool if you are surrounded by them signalling each other.

Giant cicadas apparently sound especially fan beltish? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLp74_b0Zp4

noises in the woods

I'm currently in the jungles of Belize, (remember the giant cave spider photos?), There are several *very* loud insects here. One that sounds like an air raid siren. I'm pretty sure what you heard was a bug.


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