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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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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...

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