In the Light of the New Moon: Owl Hunt
A Nighttime Adventure!
Have you ever read Jane Yolen's Owl Moon? If not, rush to your local library and enjoy! It's one (amongst many) of my favorite picture books because it captures the excitement and the anticipation of seeing owls. It's also a beautiful story about relationships and how we pass on love and knowledge.
I'm recently obsessed with owls because I can hear them at night, hooting and calling to one another, but I can't see them.
Owl calls are a call to imagine. What are they doing at night? Where are they swooping off to? What will they do? Who are they hunting? Where do they hide during the day? How can they be so noisy AND so invisible?
Signs of owls are everywhere in nature, if you know what to look for. Not only can you hear their calls at night, but you can also find owl pellets they leave behind (basically, owl barf). But, owls themselves are elusive. In fact, I've only ever been lucky enough to catch one on camera in the wild (last winter). Here's that lucky little guy--a barred owl--sleeping in a tree during the day. I felt like a nature-watching superstar that day... and then no owls since.
So, how excited was I when our local Great Swamp Watershed Association offered a night owl hike? Woo hoo! I signed up for a spot in a hot second. I was a character in Owl Moon!
- Hiking boots? Check
- Warm coat & gloves? (It was February in the Northeast!): Check
- Night time adventure & curiosity? Check
- Binoculars? Check
- Notebook? Check
- Recording device? Check
- Super awesome guide from the Great Swamp Watershed Association who knows lots and lots about owls (hey people, I am ALWAYS here to learn!)? Check!
- Camera? Nope--I am genuinely terrible at night photography AND I didn't want to use a flash when we were looking for owls, so grainy cell phone photos (with no flash) it is!
By the Light of the Moon:
So, off our merry band of adventurers trooped into the dark. We could hear owls calling to one another. I was surprised how light the swamp was. Despite the dark, the new moon and stars shone all around and created quite a bit of light, once your eyes adjusted to it. We didn't need flashlights or lights of any kind. The path was clear and the light filtered through the trees. As we walked, we learned about how natural reserves, like Great Swamp, have given raptors a place to rest and hunt. As a result of our cleaner water, rules limiting how many trees can be cut down, and habitat protections, owls are making a come back after being threatened.
New Jersey has 8 species of owls. We were looking for 3: Barred Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, and Great Horned Owls. We learned that each one has a distinctive call and a preferred hunting area in the swamp.
Sounds in the Dark:
Although we could hear the owls, we didn't see any. Our guide hoped to lure them in using owl calls. Here, you can hear him using owl calls to try to get the owls to respond to him and bring them closer. (Sorry for the rustling--it was cold and I had on a thick jacket that made some noise)! By the way: how cool is it to be able to make OWL CALLS? I mean seriously. If you need a hobby, this would be a great one! How many owl calls do you think you could learn?
The owls were definitely there, plotting their night-time adventures and (probably) waiting for us to leave so they could have the swamp all to themselves. I'm excited to go on another night hike and try again.
The best thing about adventures is the experience. Even if we didn't see any owls, I learned so much about owl calls, about night light, and what happens in the swamp after dark!
More about Great Horned Owls
More about Eastern Screech Owls
More about Barred Owls
More about conservation threats to owls