Night walk – Spring
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Welcome to a night walk at the Penquis virtual nature center. Night walks in the spring are very exciting here. It is during that season that we are most certain to hear creatures. We already have some with us. I’m sure you can hear that whining buzz. Or you can feel the makers the the buzz prodding at you. I have some bug repellent, if anybody wants to use it.
I will be your guide tonight. I can’t promise you any particular night sound, but I’m sure we’ll hear something. At least we’ll hear those. (DVG) There are so many species of cricket I don’t try to keep track of which is which.
You will not be handicapped as much by the absence of light as will naturalists dependent upon sight for their understanding and appreciation of nature. We will take a short walk around the center, visiting briefly the gardens and listening for night birds in the surrounding area. With any luck, we should find at least one or two owls. Other birds are possible. And we should find some frogs.
There are a lot of things blooming. Crocuses, trout lillies, maples, serviceberries, even trilliums, though they don’t contribute very positively to the combined aroma. Oh, yes, that is a lilac you smell. We have dozens of other plants in our garden, some of which are blooming. Watch your hands, because some of them have thorns. Just to your left, reach down and feel the leaves of the plants there. Know what they are? Feel the long, smooth leaves. Now take a sniff. Iris. Listen there. Just one goose calling somewhere up there. Heading north,of course. Spring really is here.
I notice it’s getting chilly, so some of you may not want to continue. Spring evenings are generally cool.
Listen! A mockingbird. They sing at just about any hour of the day or night. Let’s stop here for a little nature talk. Reach out toward me and I’ll guide your hands toward a small shrub. Be careful, it’s one of the thorny plants I mentioned. Feel the thorns? It’s a multiflora rose, favored food of mockingbirds during the winter. Mockers probably spread north following the spread of this plant. Feel along for a rose hip left over from last year. That’s what the birds eat, but I guess they missed that one. They also eat several other winter plants in the area.
Now we’ll visit our spruce garden. Feel them as you come to them. They are too small for the bark to be very distinctive, but feel the foliage. The first is the white spruce. Crush a needle and smell. It’s like a recently-used cat box, isn’t it? That is the key to white spruce. The next one is a red spruce. That and the following black spruce are very difficult to tell apart unless you have cones — and that is either by feel or by sight. The black spruce has tiny little round cones less than an inch across generally. The red has cones only a little larger, but elongated. The best way to tell them apart is that red spruce grows where it is dry, black spruce in bogs. Be careful of the last spruce in line. This one is not native. It is the commonly-planted blue spruce. The needles are very stiff and sharp. We include this one as a caution to grabbing spruces when you don’t know if they are native or not.
Just beyond, we have an assortment of fragrance plants. You have already noticed the lilac.
Next — wait, there was an owl! Listen. That’s a barred owl. “Who cooks for you; who cooks for you-all.” Southern birds really drag out the ‘all’. Northern birds don’t always even say it. You’ll notice this one is sort of in between. Let’s listen and see if he calls again. Yup, there he goes. They also have a bunch of other calls. One is a hoooo-hooo-hooo-haaa-haaa-haaaa-haaaa sound that some people refer to as the monkey call. It is a territorial defense call.
OK, let’s move on a bit. Here we have two birch trees. Feel the bark. They are a bit young for the full peeling effect to have begun, but you can get the idea. Incidently, not all birches have peeling bark. The native gray birch peels very little. It is like an unpeeled white birch of poor form and with sort of arrow-head-shaped leaves. Some planted European birches don’t peel much either. Most have drooping branches.
What was that? Hear it? (long)(WK) I’ll bet all of you know that’s an American toad. Sort of sounds like an old-fashioned comb being stroked.
Hear that? Out there in the meadow. That’s a killdeer. They often call at night.
Let’s listen for anything else we might pick up. Down in the moist woods. (long)(WK) That’s wood frogs. And on the other side (long)(WK) are spring peepers. I wonder if we could possibly hear – Yes! (long)(WK) The bullfrogs are tuning up in the beaver pond.
Well, I don’t know about you, but there’s cyber chocolate waiting for us, and it’s starting to sound awfully good. I think it’s time for us to go back inside. But wait? What is that? Listen. Yep, that helps our owl inventory for the evening. Now we have a great horned. Just listen for a moment more before we head back inside. Thank you all for coming.