Nature Shines at Night
|There are sunset boat tours and overnight camping at Okefenokee Refuge, GA.
Credit: Joy Campbell/Okefenokee Adventures
Nighttime brings a new slant to nature – and some national wildlife refuges are going out of their way to help you see and hear it. Several times a year, they’re delaying normal sunset closing times to host night star-viewings, swamp paddles, scorpion hunts and wolf howl serenades in settings hard to beat for natural scenery and iconic wildlife.
If you want to jolt a youngster out of complacency and off a smart phone, this may be the ticket. You’ll need to plan ahead – most events occur on scheduled dates only, and some require reservations – but the effort is worth it.
“If you take a hike in the day, you’re pretty much just looking,” says Park Ranger Denise McInturff at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, AL, which is hosting five night hikes this summer. “At nighttime, you have to use your other senses. There’s a lot more to hear and you’re paying attention more because you don’t see as well. I tell kids, ‘You don’t have to be afraid at night. It’s not scary. It’s just darker.’
Dark, Darker, Darkest
Darker is darker still at remote refuges like Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, WA, and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM. You can’t help but look upward at night.
Conboy Lake, which will host an “Astronomy Night” Sept. 1, is “a spectacular location for star-gazing,” says Sue McDonald, visitor services manager for that refuge and six others. “It’s not only that there’s no light pollution. There’s this huge open camas prairie” that makes an ideal viewing platform. Adds assistant refuge manager Lisa Wilson, “On a summer night, you can see a glow on Mt. Adams, and hear greater sandhill cranes call at dusk.”
Of course, some refuges turn downright creepy at night, and that’s a part of their attraction, too. The thrill of seeing giant reptiles on the prowl draws hundreds of visitors a year to night boat trips at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia.
“It’s cool to see the bigger gators at night, when they do their hunting,” says Brittany Waryjas, a visitor services intern at the refuge. A reflective layer of tissue in the retina makes their eyes glow red at night – a good way to spot them, if you don’t hear them first. They hiss when threatened and bellow to call mates or mark territory. Refuge ranger Cynthia McIntyre recalls hearing the sound for the first time: “It sounded like a lion roaring in the jungle.”
Visitors who like their swamp adventures mild can take a guided sunset motorboat tour. The braver can opt for multi-day kayak or canoe trips that feature overnight camping on platforms that might have growling gators below.
Different shiver-inducing night sounds draw nature lovers to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC. Red wolf “howling safaris,” held on scheduled dates from April to December, feature the eerie calls of endangered red wolves, whose recovery through captive breeding began on the refuge in the 1980s. The refuge is the only place in the world where you can hear these wolves in the wild. Listening online can’t match being there, but listen to this.
Here are some refuge night events to plan for this summer and fall:
|There are red wolf howling safaris at Alligator River Refuge, NC.
- Red Wolf Howlings, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, NC
Meet at the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail parking lot. Bring a flashlight and insect repellent. No pets allowed. 252-216-9464
Summer Howlings, $7 per person. Kids 12 and under free. No Registration Required
June - August, Wednesdays - 7:30-9:00pm
Fall Saturday Howlings. Free. No Registration Required
October 12 - Wolf Awareness Week – 6 -7:30 p.m.
November 16 - Full Moon Howl – 5 - 6:30 p.m.
December 7 - Holiday Howl – 5 - 6:30 p.m.
- Owl Prowls, Patuxent Research Refuge, MD
Saturday, June 29, 8 -9:30 p.m.
Explore the refuge at night while looking and listening for owls. Ages 10 and up. Patuxent North Tract. Registration required: 301-497-5887
- Bats Among Us, Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, WA
Saturday, August 17, 7-9 p.m.
Watch bats as they emerge at dusk. Hear them with the help of bat detectors that convert bats’ echolocation ultrasound signals into audible sound. Learn how bats benefit the environment and find out how biologists study bats. Info: 509-364-3667
Night Sky Events
- Astronomy Night, Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, WA
Sunday, Sept 1, 7 p.m.
Discover the night sky with a local astronomy expert. On a clear night, see the Milky Way, several planets, man-made satellites, and sometimes meteors. Info: 509-364-3667
- Seasons of stars, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM
Saturday, Sept 21, 7 p.m.
Celebrate the refuge’s dark skies on the evening of the autumn equinox. Listen for coyotes howling and Rocky Mountain elk bugling. Info: 575-835-1828
- Night Sky Party, Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, CA
September date to be announced. Check refuge Web site.
Join an amateur astronomer in viewing the night sky through a telescope. Meet at the Environmental Education Center, Alviso. Later, warm up with some hot chocolate. Info: 408-262-5513
- Night nature hike, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, AL
Friday, June 28, July 26, August 30, Sept. 27, 8 p.m.
Listen for owls hooting, coyotes howling, frogs calling and strange rustlings in the brush. Meet at the Jeff Friend Trail parking lot. All ages are welcome. The one mile trail is handicapped accessible. Closed toed shoes, long pants, and bug spray are recommended. Please leave flashlights at home. More info: 251-540-7720
|Ridgefield Refuge, WA, offers hikes by the light of a full moon.
- Full-moon hikes, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, WA
Monday, July 22, 8 p.m., River 'S' Unit on the Kiwa Trail
Hear owls hooting, coyotes yipping. See bats wheeling. Marvel at the night sky away from city lights. Hikes are free. Space is limited. RSVP required: 360-887-3883,firstname.lastname@example.org
- Full-moon guided canoe trips, Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, FL
Saturday, July 20, 7 – 9 p.m.
Saturday, August 17, 7 – 9 p.m.
Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and bring a flashlight and bug spray. Canoe rental: $32; you may not bring your own canoe. Reservations required: Loxahatchee Canoeing: 561-733-0192
- Okefenokee Swamp at night, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, GA
Take a two-hour sunset tour by motorboat ($27.50 per adult, age 12 and up; Kids age 5-11, $18; Kids under 5, free) or a four-hour guided kayak or canoe tour ($85 per person). Check ahead; tours are affected by water levels, availability of guides. Or sign up for a multi-day canoe or kayak adventure, with overnight camping. ($10 per person per night plus $25 per day canoe or kayak rental). Other options and more info: Okefenokee Adventures, 912-496-7156