I recently revisited the place where my field recording journey started: West Texas. On my drive out the McDannald Ranch wildfire was burning large parts of the Davis Mountains. The day I arrived firefighters were finally able to contain the blaze, but sadly not before 22,000 acres burned. Much more of the surrounding mountains would have burned if not for the several hundred firefighters and an elite of crew hotshot firefighters who fought the blaze.
It is truly impressive to see the coordinated moving parts of a modern wilderness firefight. I watched in awe as hundreds of firefighters worked the ground, massive airtight bulldozers built fire breaks, infrared drones scouted for slow burning hotspots, and planes dumped fire retardant in long orange lines across the landscape.
This was the first time I'd had close-hand experience with a large wildfire. Emotionally, it feels much a hurricane. A large force of nature destroying everything in its path. I found myself thinking about times just 100 years ago when this fire would have burned for months until the late summer rains.
This fire was started by lightning and was fed by high winds. In these types of fires you usually see flames three times the height of the foliage. In most cases this is high desert grassland being burned, so three foot grass becomes a ten foot wall of flame rushing across the landscape.
Much of the wildlife is too slow to escape, but luckily one pack of coyotes was fast enough to climb over a ridge. Normally I hear coyotes out in the plains where they love hunting jackrabbits. That night, however, I was recording from the edge of the dead fire. I was stunned to hear howling deep in the valley! The pack had run into the mountains to escape the blaze.
I could hear the angst-ridden vocals of coyotes running to escape a wildfire. The howls and yips of an extremely close pack bouncing from high valley walls was stunning. It was like an echo chamber filled with the haunting howls of coyotes who has just had their home burned. It was at once beautiful and sad.
Do coyote howl mournfully after a wildfire burns their home?
I think they do. The howls I captured are haunting. I've previously recorded coyotes in West Texas, but they don't come close to the emotion I hear in these heartbreaking howls and yips. Listen and decide for yourself.
Tips for Recording Coyotes:
Coyotes are everywhere, in all 50 states. They've even been spotted in Manhattan! Despite this, it is still extremely difficult to capture their howls without human-generated sounds saturating the recording. Here are few tips:
- Buy a Coyote Caller. These are predator calls used by hunters to attack wildlife. Luckily for the coyotes I only hunt with my MKH 8040s :)
- However, I find the varmint calls don't work all that well. I rely mostly on just howling at the coyotes myself. This actually works! However, there are trade offs. Coyotes will howl back at you, but generally won't get very close if you are making tons of crazy sounds.
- For close up recordings, scout locations where you've previously heard coyotes. They tend to roam in the same areas from night to night. Then set up your gear for an overnight recording session.
- Side note – watch out for owls when recording at night in the desert. I've had them mistake my Rycote blimp for a tasty rabbit and swoop down far too close for comfort. This is not a joke. Be aware and careful!
THANKS FOR READING
Sound libraries are works of art and I hope you have enjoyed these behind these scenes stories. Really what I’m trying to say here is thank you. I’ve put a little piece of myself into each recording, and I hope that you love them as much as I enjoyed making them.