WVN #516: What was that noise?
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Between 9 and 11 p.m. on Monday Aug. 5 many Waylanders were disturbed by, or at least curious about, loud noises that sounded like a large unmuffled engine revving up and down. The sound could be heard over much of the town.
Dozens called the police, according to Chief Bob Irving. As one caller described it:
"...(T)he dispatcher asked if I was calling about the noise. I said yes. He said that a lot of people had called and that the noise was from `Fish and Wildlife' and that they were doing something on the river. I asked what it was and he did not know. I expressed my astonishment that I would hear the noise that loudly from a location...a long way away from here. I then asked who I could call at `Fish and Wildlife' about it and he did not know... "
In reality, howeve, it was the state Fish and Wildlife agency, not US Fish and Wildlife. Chief Irving explained a few days later:
"On August 5th, at about 4 p.m. the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife called the station and advised the dispatchers that they would be on the Sudbury River during the evening from nightfall until approx.. 11 p.m. with an airboat. The purpose was for the banding of ducks to determine their migration patterns. Apparently, in other locations , the police received numerous complaints when the airboat was in operation and they wanted to give us a heads-up. In fact, our dispatchers began fielding numerous calls from concerned residences as soon as the airboat was put into operation (estimated 30-40). A review of a sampling of these calls revealed that the two dispatchers advised the calling party what was happening, who was doing it and that it would end at 11 p.m. Due to the number of calls the dispatchers may have sounded abrupt, at times, with the callers and for this I apologize.
"I placed a call today to the Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife Division and left a message that we would prefer to coordinate better in the future if this was being done. We could have easily put out a Reverse 911 call to affected neighborhoods so they were aware of what was going to happen....They did leave a number (508-389-6321) that has a pre-recorded message advising residents what was happening. It is unclear if they advised our dispatchers to give this number out, but the dispatchers did not pass it along to the many people that called."
An airboat is flat and powered by a large aircraft-type propeller.
WVN contacted Massachusetts waterfowl biologist H. W. Heusmann, who was operating the boat that evening. It turns out that there is a long history of using an airboat on state waterways, including the Sudbury River, going back to 1970, to band ducks. Heusmann has been on the boats through that entire period, either as the driver or one of two netters. In response to the obvious questions, he explains that the work is done at night because the ducks are at rest and confused by the noise and bright spotlights on the boat, and become easier to capture. Imagine ducks instead of deer in the headlights.
The phase of the moon, weather, and water level all have to be right. And an airboat has to be used because a conventional boat just can't get into the shallow nesting areas where the ducks spend the night.
As to why the noise sounded louder this year to some residents than they remember in the past, there are several possibilities. The boat has been used on the Sudbury only once before, in 2011, in the last ten years, due to non-optimum water levels and the bridge reconstruction at Route 20, the closest adequate launch site. And in 2006 a new, more powerful (and presumably noisier) boat was donated to the state agency. So residents have not been used to hearing the noise in recent years, and in fact it is louder than it used to be. Furthermore, the perfect weather that Monday night encouraged opening windows rather than sealing houses with AC turned on.
In any case, there are no plans to repeat the banding on the Sudbury this year, and State officials and Chief Irving have agreed that next time more notice will be given and a Reverse 911 call will go out to the town in advance.
Heusmann has written an entertaining and informative account of his long career as an airboat pilot, originally published in Massachusetts Wildlife:
-- Tom Sciacca
Wednesday Aug. 14, 7 p.m. The Dirty Water Jazz Band will perform outside of the Town Building. Free. Bring blanket or chair and enjoy. The band features Jamie Pierce of Wayland.
The Somerville-based band plays an eclectic mix of jazz, R&B, New Orleans, and more, creating what is billed as an "often times raucous but then again sometimes subtle sound that could be defined as music from the bayou and beyond."
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor