Night Hike Brings Good Turnout

Joyce Hartmann

Anticipation of a night hike and learning about owls brought about 30 people of all ages to the Outdoor Education Pavilion on Saturday, July 28th. Included were nature lovers, members of the Little Red River Audubon Society, Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners, and the Iris League. It was a lovely cool July evening with overcast skies.

Gates-Rogers Foundation Vice President Bob and Docent Joyce Hartmann presented a program at 7:30 p.m. while guests roasted s’mores around the fire pit. Bob spoke about our most common owls: the Barn Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, the Barred Owl, and the Great-horned Owl. He also touched briefly on the owls that pass through here occasionally, including the Short-eared Owl and Burrowing Owl. He talked about other night birds, including the Whippoorwill and the Chuck-will’s Widow. Joyce showed photos and played the sounds of owl and bird calls on her tablet, using the iBird Pro app. She also talked about the Katydid and the Cicada, and how they produced their noisy night sounds.

We watched the bats flying around the pavilion and visited until 8:30, when it became dark enough to walk unseen through the woods and call up some owls. On the peninsula perimeter trail, the first stop was at the boardwalk…Little Red River Audubon Society President Edie Calaway played screech owl sounds from her phone, sounding like a high-pitched horse whinny, as we stood quietly and listened. Cicadas and katydids made it hard to hear.

The group hiked to the first bench circle and sat quietly as the screech owl song was again played. And then we heard an answer! And another. Simultaneous calls! Several screech owls came closer with each call. Although no one could see the birds, 3 to 5 owls were all around us and so close, right overhead in nearby trees! It was exciting!

The group hiked on with red flashlights to the second bench circle. This time Edie played the Barred Owl call (Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?). There’s something really awesome about sitting in complete silence in the dark, just listening, with about 20 other people! Some heard the faint call of a Barred Owl in the distance. A dog barked across the lake. Coyotes howled and yipped nearby. As the group walked back toward the cabin, a stunningly beautiful full moon rose over the mountain, reflecting in the water. 

Thanks go to Janet Miron, Gates-Rogers Foundation Executive Director, who came up with the idea of a summer night hike and Owl Prowl. It was a great success, as owls were actually called in over the noise of the insects, and many enjoyed learning about different kinds of night noises. Thanks to the great group for being so cooperative and quiet, enabling owls to hear the calls and people to hear owls in the silence. The s’mores were delicious, new friends were made, and everyone can look forward to another owl prowl in late fall or winter.