Monday, May 07, 2007

The beast in the swamp

Well! For the past week or two, we have been hearing the most ungodly noises issuing forth from the marshy area (aka The Swamp) next to our house. For the life of me, I could not figure out what it was. The resident beavers' love calls? The mating song of the huge snapping turtle I discovered while traipsing around there? A very, very, VERY large frog? My husband digesting his supper?

The sounds was hard to describe... a bit like giant bubbles welling up in a water cooler, but more than that, and much stranger.

I ruled out the amphibian theory after listening to recordings of the calls of every frog and toad species in Quebec. I ruled out the snapping turtle after a field expert in snappers told me that in ten years of studying them, he had never heard them make such an exotic noise. He suggested it might be a bird. I decided he could be right, but I had yet to rule out the beavers, or maybe that muskrat I saw last fall while I was out kayaking. Whatever the creature was, it had to be fairly large, because the noises I heard weren't coming from a goldfinch. I was starting to wonder if we had our own version of the Loch Ness Monster out there in the swamp.

My little brain soldiered on. We have two green herons hanging around... could it be them? Nope! And I knew that great blue herons don't make anything close to such a bizarre sound.

Last night, as I was idly thumbing through the heron section of my bird field guide, I found it. The call was described as a loud "oonk-a-lunk" (or oong-ka-choonk, or punk-a-lunk) that most people would not immediately recognize as a bird call.

I dashed to the computer to listen to the corresponding audio file, and voila: the American bittern! At which point I remember seeing a pair of bitterns flying over the house last week.

If you want to hear this bizarre call for yourself, go to

and scroll down the page to "listen to the songs of this species", and you can hear for yourself the amazing sounds of the Outaouais Swamp Monster!


  1. Well of course it was a belcher squelcher!


  2. That is the weirdest bird call I've ever heard. I see why you confused it with reptilian or amphibian sounds. Actually, it's not far off from what I've heard churning in Jack's stomach. LOL.

    See my blog and you'll see we came across a rare (for me) Roseate Spoonbill yesterday. So cool.

  3. Anonymous6:29 pm

    Very cool sound! I wouldn't have thought that was a bird either. Are you sure it wasn't a swamp monster imitating a bittern?

  4. Uh oh... Leanne, you may have a point there!! It's just lulling me into a false sense of complancency before it lures me t the swamp and devours me.

    And I love the name "Belcher Squelcher" - perfect!

    I have seen a roseate spoonbill before and they are amazing. Lucky you, Robin!

  5. What a wonderful sound! I wonder if my mockingbirds would learn it if I played it for them a couple of times... ;)


Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!