By Brian Woods and Steve Moon
In addition to monitoring established research areas, time and resources are often
expended identifying, scouting, and gathering data from areas that we either have not
visited, or have spent very little time in. Researching areas that we are already familiar
with is enjoyable on many different levels, but our understanding of Sasquatch
populations within the Central Lowlands Physiographic Province can grow exponentially
when we explore new and untested regions.
Identifying a new research area involves among other things, map-work, an assessment of localized environmental resources, and the careful evaluation of any anecdotal stories or reports that might be available from local informants. In this particular case, we were also looking for an area that was somewhat equidistant from one another, in terms of driving time. It was about a three hour trip for each of us. In the end, regardless of why or how a potential new study area is identified, the time comes when an overnight investigation is warranted. It’s time for exploration and discovery!
We made plans to visit Stephens State Forest east of Osceola, Iowa, in August of 2019. Neither of us had ever been there, although we had investigated a Sasquatch population further to the west within the past five years. Stephens State Forest is quite large, covering over 15,000 acres, and is broken up into seven "units" in Lucas and Clark counties, in south central Iowa.
Visit the Iowa DNR website for more information on this and other Iowa State Forest
After a lot of discussion, we decided that the time was right for us to meet up for a two
night investigation. The weather looked to be spectacular, and our schedules allowed us to get away during the week, thus avoiding any weekend crowds. We were prepared to
record many hours of audio, as always, although neither of us took many photographs,
which is unusual. We never know just what to expect, but we were pleased with the
outcome of this research foray, finding our time at Stephens State Forest to be extremely productive.
Wednesday, August 7 Plans were made to meet just off of Highway 34, within the Whitebreast Unit of Stephens State Forest. Our original plan was to examine a few interesting looking remote campsites within the Whitebreast Unit. Brian arrived several minutes before Steve, and took the opportunity to explore the road leading to these campsites, which we had seen on maps and on Google Earth. It became apparent rather quickly that we would need to find another area to camp, as the road abruptly ended at a barricade. A partially obscured sign proclaimed that the bridge over Whitebreast Creek was out. It had obviously been quite a while since the bridge or road had seen any maintenance. Brian returned to the meeting spot and waited for Steve.
When Steve arrived Brian briefed him on the road and bridge closure, and a plan was
hatched to check out the adjacent Lucas Unit. After returning to Highway 34 the two
headed east towards the intersection with Highway 65. A sign noting the entrance to the
Lucas Unit pointed the way in. A sketchy looking one-lane wooden bridge crossed a set
of, as it turned out, very busy double railroad tracks. Once inside the Lucas Unit, well
maintained equestrian and hiking trails were found at nearly every turn. Three medium
sized ponds were encountered; Mine Pond, Hidden Pond, and North Pond. A small
campground near Mine Pond was found to be occupied by a few campers sitting next to
their tent. This campground and pond were in a deep valley bottom, and the surrounding ridges greatly inhibited any wind movement, making the place seem still to the point of being a bit stifling.
We had identified several campgrounds on park maps. Amenities in this state forest seem to include only a few picnic tables and pit toilets, a fact that will tend to keep human traffic to a minimum. We decided to check out Middle Area Campground next. This campground is on a ridge top, and we immediately felt a refreshing breeze as we exited our vehicles. There were no other campers at this location. This was just the ticket! There were several equestrian trails nearby, and North Pond was only a short walk away. We chose to make this our camp.
Steve immediately began recording audio as we set up our tents. We always start an
audio recorder upon arrival at a campsite or research area, because our initial presence
will often trigger a response in a Sasquatch population if present, or in other animals.
Steve eventually deployed a total of three audio recorders in different parts of the
campground, and Brian deployed two.
We hiked an equestrian trail to North Pond. The pond appeared rather still, and like Mine Pond, was surrounded on three sides by steeply rising slopes and a dense growth and trees. This would be our first and final visit to North Pond, but we were optimistic when we realized that the Middle Camp Area, true to its name, was right in between North Pond and Mine Pond. Bodies of water are a critical element in Sasquatch habitat, and although we suspect that their range of activity can be rather large, this seemed like an area where activity would be concentrated.
We decided prior to the trip to not have a campfire. Cold camping is something we often
do as a research tactic. Avoiding a fire relieves us of the disruption of minding our wood
supply and worrying about hot coals during windy or dry weather. Also, we don’t have to
question whether or not a wood knock is a knock, or the fire popping, when we do our
audio file analyses later on.
Read more about choosing and setting up a squatching camp HERE.
We spent the afternoon getting acquainted with our surroundings, and formulating a plan for our evening research. We noted a high frequency of trains passing on the tracks that we had crossed coming into the Lucas Unit, and were greatly relieved as the evening approached and trains were less frequent. This was a favorable development, as we captured many interesting sounds in our audio on the first night. More on these a little later…
We waited until the sun had mostly set to begin our hike down a nearby equestrian trail
that led to Mine Pond. With headlamps ready and walkabout recorders active, we hiked
through near-total darkness, periodically remembering to stop and listen to the sounds of the night. We spent several minutes standing at the north end of Mine Pond, and could smell faint hints of campfire emanating from the solitary campers that we'd seen earlier. The place seemed incredibly quiet and still.
Steve wrote the following transcript of his audio recording from Wednesday evening,
which includes our arrival and setting up of camp, our hike down to Mine Pond, and the
first two hours after our return to camp.
The transcript begins at 7:59 PM. The timecodes listed correspond to
hours/minutes/seconds after 7:59 PM. For example, 00.05.48 is five minutes and forty
eight seconds into the audio recording, marking this event at approximately 8:04 PM.
Audio clips and spectrogram images of sounds captured during this nearly four hour time period are included following the transcript.
190807_0050 2019.08.07 Stephens SF walkabout 7:59 PM
Brian and Steve register campsite – walk around campground
00.05.48 distant vocalization with vibrato – not heard
01.19.53 vocalization with vibrato - heard
01.24.15 Brian and Steve begin walking down to Mine Pond
01.49.33 distant vocalization – not heard
02.06.32 10:05 PM Steve does knock on valley floor using a red Jam Blok
02.06.42 distant reply knock – sounds like Steve’s Jam Blok – not heard
02.07.05 Brian and Steve begin walking back up to campground
02.16.25 Brian and Steve arrive back at campground
02.18.00 10:15 PM Steve does knock
02.18.04 three distant reply wood knocks – sound like Steve’s Jam Blok – not heard
02.39.30 Steve howls
02.39.57 quiet knock right channel - heard and announced by Steve
02.40.13 distant coyote
03.21.41 Steve howls
03.44.52 five part vocalization - announced by Brian and heard by both but not recognized as a vocalization – also owls
The following video includes several audio clips and spectrograms from this transcript (headphones recommended):
The recordings in this report were made with Steve’s Olympus LS-P4 audio recorder, and
a set of Sound Professionals Master Series in-ear binaural microphones. Other recorders and recording rigs were used by both Steve and Brian, but these recordings proved to be good representations of the activity that was observed, and were the recordings that Steve concentrated on during sound file analysis. The Olympus LS-P4 is a very good quality recorder, with a very “quiet” internal amplifier.
Thursday, August 8
After breakfast in a diner in Osceola, we continued our investigation of Stephens State Forest. There is a variety of terrain within the units, with thickly forested areas broken up by pastureland and farmsteads. As we had discovered the day before, our initial target area in the Whitebreast Unit was difficult to access due to a bridge being out and more than one road no longer being maintained. Roads around the state forest switch from paved to gravel frequently. It quickly became obvious that additional visits would be necessary in order to gain a better understanding of potential study areas within the forest boundaries.
We also visited nearby Red Haw State Park, on the east edge of Chariton, Iowa. While we didn't feel that the park would be conducive to future research, it is quite beautiful and worth a visit. The available facilities and maintenance appear to be top notch. Being in close proximity to Stephens State Forest, this park is very likely heavily trafficked, which relieves human pressure on the state forest lands.
After an evening meal at a restaurant in Osceola, we returned to our camp. We enjoyed
some down time, while of course keeping our recorders running. We took a short hike into the woods immediately to the north of camp to investigate an area where we had
potentially seen fluctuating pulses of eyeglow the night before. Just beyond where we
estimated the location of the possible eyeglow to have been, the ridge drops off sharply.
This drop in elevation would not have hindered access for a Sasquatch wanting to quietly observe activity in our camp, and would have provided for a rapid retreat if necessary. We had determined that at least one of the vocalizations that we had heard on Wednesday night had come from further down the ravine that we were now staring into; to the northeast of the Middle Area Campground. Of note in this area were two piles of plucked feathers from a grouse or similar sized bird, and small patches of ripe raspberries. We stayed within fifty feet of the edge of the woods where it borders the campground, due to the sharp drop-off. Here is Steve's audio transcript of the walk.
190808_0051 12.31 PM Thursday 08.08.2019 investigation of woods north of camp
00.01.01 whoop right channel as we are walking north towards the woods to investigate
area where eyeglow was observed on Wednesday night – whoop came from the east of
00.04.47 low ascending vocalization possibly preceded by two vocals - inside the edge of
the woods - right channel
00.11.24 spoken syllables
00.13.22 stepped descending vocalization in left channel probably to the east of the
The following video includes several audio clips and spectrograms from this transcript (headphones recommended):
Our second night was spent at camp recording audio, scanning the woods with a Seek
CompactPro thermal device, and issuing both a single howl and a knock. Here is a
transcript of Steve’s audio recording of this hour.
190808_0052 8.40 PM Thursday 08.08.19
00.06.02 unknown sound right channel
00.08.27 three part vocalization – not heard
00.19.01 quiet wood knock but discussed in context of car driving by on gravel car was
possibly used as cover for knock communication
00.31.11 Steve does a knock
00.31.45 two part vocalization right channel
00.59.30 the time is 9.39 PM
01.02.03 Steve howls
No further activity detected in sound file
Here is an audio clip and spectrogram image of the three part vocalization (00.08.27) listed in the above transcript (headphones recommended):
There was a noticeably lower level of owls, coyote, and other anomalous sounds
recorded in our audio on Thursday night. Because of the apparent lack of observed activity we decided to retire earlier than usual. With recorders still running, we slept through the night.
The next morning we broke camp and headed into Osceola for breakfast. We were
ecstatic about what we had experienced. Our conversation was loaded with questions
about the activity that we had observed. Excited to return home and begin analyzing our
audio, we parted ways.
We consider our time spent at Stephens State Forest to be a real success. We are
planning future research trips to this state forest, and are anxious to take a closer look the other units.
We obtained several very interesting audio clips. The Sasquatch at Stephens State Forest
seem to exhibit vocalizations that we feel are unusually complex and at times even
musical. We may even have recorded instances of spoken syllables. Audio file analyses
will continue, and our experience with the place will inform what we do there next. This
was very definitely a productive research trip!
A few quick notes regarding audio file processing:
Download audio files as soon as possible after a research trip. Copy them to folders that
are labeled with the date of the initial recording, using the following protocol: YEAR,
MONTH, DAY, PLACE; as for example, 2019.09.15 Stephens State Forest. By doing so, all of your audio recordings will be in order and will be easy to find at a glance. Always make a working copy of every file, keeping original files in their original pristine state.
Before a file can be analyzed it is often necessary to perform a low-cut filtration at around 1500 Hz in order to remove high frequency insect and frog calls as much as possible. Otherwise, listening can be very painful. With the Stephens State Forest files this was very necessary. Files should be listened to at maximum volume in order to hear every detail, and performing a low-cut filtration allows that.
In the case of particularly long files, smaller files may need to be produced before
processing, as just about any computer will be unable to perform processing on long files. Often a clip of a sound will be exported, opened in a separate window, and then a low-pass or other filtration performed on the shortened file. Computers with solid state
processors are much more able to perform processing on longer files, up to a couple of
hours in lengthy, in a timely manner.
High and low filtration, and noise reduction, as well as amplification, should all be used
only as needed. A single routine that best fits all sound files does not exist. Each file is
different, and has different processing needs. It is often a good idea to listen to and analyze a file more than once. It seems that the second time you listen to a file the more you will hear. This is particularly relevant for complex or critical sound files.
We use Audacity, a freely available, and very powerful audio processing software, to
analyze our sound files. A major component of our analysis is to examine our sound files visually in sonogram image form. A three minute window is used for initial analysis, and when identified, individual sounds are represented in a three or five second window, or longer when necessary. Standardization of length of audio clip sonograms allows for better comparison between files. Most of the sonogram images of sound files in this article are three seconds in length. When analyzing sound files we depend on our research partners for feedback. We have come to realize that it’s much better to include a sonogram image with a sound file in order to give the best and most accurate representation of the sound being analyzed. The following sonogram image has been annotated to show a few of the sounds that were heard from our campsite at Stephens State Forest. The sound file that the sonogram image is derived from is also included here. These give you an idea of the process that we sometimes go through when trying identify sounds, both in the field as they are occurring, and later during file analysis. As was the case here, anything that isn’t definitely recognizable as “squatchy” will not be represented as such, and will not be published. These discussions are critical to our overall understanding of a study area.
You can download Audacity HERE.