The silent short-eared owl cruises the evening skies. Sunset over Audubon National Wildlife Refuge and the North Dakota prairie - a vivid kaleidoscope of colors marking the end of a day.
But wait...... dusk creeps across the sky and breezes relax. Gently tickling water laps Lake Audubon's shoreline and the day doesn't seem to want to end.
Instead, something magical happens! Rather than drawing to a close, for some the day is just beginning. Night life is awakening on nature's wild side:
Quartering across prairie grassland and marshes, a short-eared owl circles and glides near the ground as the sun sets. Wings upheld, it plummets straight down, clamping its breakfast - a mouse or other unsuspecting rodent in sharp claws.
It's summer and the short-eared owl shares its sky with any one of three different bats found on the Refuge - the little brown myotis, silver-haired bat or big brown bat. These marvelous bats are friends to all, feasting on pesky insects.
The big brown bat, sometimes reaching lengths of five inches, can cruise at 40 mph and is the fastest North American bat. The little brown myotis forms nursery colonies in the summer and may fly hundreds of miles to winter hibernating sites. The solitary silver-haired bat emerges in early evening, flying slowly in search of its favorite meal - moths and flies.
But as minutes and hours tick away, the grayish-blue sky surrenders to the blackening night. Yet, the night life continues.
A coyote's howl pierces the silence. Off in the distance.....another barks out its reply. Then perhaps a serenade, conversing in language only a coyote clan can comprehend.
A white-tailed deer and her fawn stretch their legs, browsing throughout the night before venturing to their hidden retreat at daybreak.
Crickets, here, there, everywhere, performing an orchestrated melody not to be outdone by chorus frogs. But a slight disturbance and the frogs dive beneath the pond's surface, waiting for normalcy to return before rejoining the musical production.
Sitting atop a prairie hillside, it's tempting to close your eyes and drift away to the sounds of the night. But sit back and enjoy the dancing of the Big Dipper in the June northern sky. The beckoning of millions of diamonds moving across the heavens reminds one that daylight soon approaches. To the east a bright dot of light twinkles - the planet Saturn . Toward the south, one wonders how the planet Jupiter could be so large yet appear so small ? A softening of the nightly serenade gives way to orange fingers of sunlight and different sounds awaken - the soft clucking of ducks along the shore as they slowly awaken, Giant Canada geese, the rustling wind.
Another day dawns, but only after the creatures of the night settle back for a day of rest.