Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
DESERT NWR: Two Nights of Nocturnal Discovery at Desert!
California-Nevada Offices , August 11, 2012
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A scorpion under the black light
A scorpion under the black light - Photo Credit: Jim Boone

Combating lightning, wind, and recent flash floods, 78 people ventured out to Discover Desert: After Dark.

The event was created to increase awareness of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, encourage people to explore natural places at night, and to teach about human and animal nocturnal adaptations. There was such an interest in the event that it was offered twice to accommodate everyone that wanted to attend.

Both nights started off at Corn Creek with a welcome and introduction to Desert NWR and the refuge system. Ranger Anica Mercado then surprised participants when she “came clean” about her history of coming from a long line of pirates. Participants listened and laughed at cheesy pirate jokes and legends, all while keeping one eye closed and covered in a makeshift eye patch. After the story, the lanterns were turned off and participants experienced the noticeable difference in the vision in their two eyes.

After an explanation about rhodopsin and how human eyes work at night, the group started down the trail, trusting solely on their night vision to see. While walking, participants were asked to ponder one question: What was missing? After a few minutes, answers ranged from the sun to lizards, and with a helpful hint, participants noticed they were seeing the world in blacks and grays. Learning about rods and cones, participants were given paper and markers to guess the colors, with the answers to be revealed at the end of the night.

Continuing to walk and listen to the various night sounds, soon the subject of owls came up. Passing around a replica Great Horned Owl skull, Ranger Anica talked about the owl’s night adaptations, from the size and shape of their eyes to their asymmetrical ear placement. Owl and turkey feathers were passed around, and participants flapped them to hear firsthand the sound difference between a diurnal and nocturnal bird.

At the trail’s end, participants went on a scorpion hunt. Using small black lights, both small and large scorpions were seen glowing as they scurried across the desert floor.

The night ended with a walk through the Railroad Tie Cabin. Built from old railroad ties in the 1920s, the cabin was lit with oil lanterns, giving participants a look back into what night was like on the refuge nearly 100 years ago.

As the evening came to a close, participants checked their colored papers and were surprised by how off their predictions had been. It was the first time on the refuge for three-quarters of the participants, and many took brochures with them as they made plans to come back and see what Corn Creek looked like during the day.

Contact Info: Anica Mercado, 775-240-9173, Anica_Mercado@fws.gov
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