Week of November 19, 2023 – November 25, 2023
by Anna Stunkel, Environmental Educator
The season following Halloween often gets me thinking more about nighttime nature, from owls gliding softly through the trees to spiders crawling carefully on tree bark. There is a whole world that awakens at night, and experiencing it is a special way to get in touch with your senses. The woods, and even our own backyards at night might seem intimidating or scary since darkness makes this a mysterious time. As a little kid, I was kind of afraid of the dark and had to sleep with a night light as many of us probably have. But once you start safely venturing into the nocturnal world, it can feel like nature is letting you in on secrets that only a few other people know about.
During a recent night adventure with a group of Girl Scouts, we had a really special encounter with one nocturnal creature. As the scouts arrived, it was a rather drizzly and cold evening with even a bit of sleet falling, and I was skeptical that we would find any owls. But I greeted the group with positivity and as soon as we started off down the steep side of the Valley Trail, a quiet whinnying came from the underbrush near the trail. I knew from past owling expeditions that these little owls sometimes call faintly, which can make it seem like they are far away when they’re actually very nearby. A hush fell over the group as we slowly sneaked towards the whinnying, and I shone my headlamp towards the sound. Just like that, there was the screech owl! Everyone had an opportunity to watch the little bird gazing at us from a low branch, almost sitting on the ground and looking around from side to side. Perhaps the owl had been hunting. To avoid disturbing him or her, I stopped shining the light and we continued walking quietly down the trail a bit. Looking briefly at the branch again, it was empty and the owl had glided away without a trace.
Since humans don’t have very good night vision, exploring the nighttime world can seem to amplify the sounds of night creatures, the smells of crisp fall air, and the feeling of leaves crunching beneath your feet. When leading night walks around Baltimore Woods, I always take a moment to pause quietly as a group and listen to the sounds around us. Sometimes we might just hear the pelting of sleet on the leaves, and other times there may be a whole chorus of crickets and katydids depending on the season. If you cup your ears you can hear even better, an exercise that I call “deer ears.”
In addition to sounds, viewing insect and spider life at night is fascinating, too. While I was waiting for the scout group to arrive, an intricately patterned gray and brown spider was hunting in the pavilion. Although invertebrate activity has calmed down with the cooling temperatures, there are still geometer moths flying around that might dart in front of your flashlight and sometimes, you can even shine your light across the grass and find the reflections of many spider eyes looking back at you.
While the night can seem scary at first, exploring this world safely and sharing it with your friends and family can lead to unforgettable memories and a great sense of discovery. I always find that nighttime adventures in the woods encourage me to slow down, listen more, and focus on the present moment, with a deepened awareness of my surroundings. Here at Baltimore Woods, I’m grateful to have a space to share this mysterious world with others.