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Listening to the night moves

March 24, 2013

Dudley Wooten


PDT Contributor


Spring nights have the peepers and summer nights have fireflies, fireworks, and drive-ins.


Autumn nights have football and cooler weather, so what’s to do on a brisk winter night? This is a great time to be near the fireplace and that’s where many of us migrate to in winter, but there’s a lot to be said for a winter night outside too.


With a full moon, clear sky and a snow on, you can hike as if it were daylight. The moon light reflecting off the snow is a special effect that you don’t have opportunity to experience too often here.


The point is, the next time you have snow, full moon and clear night — hike it — you’ll like it.


On a clear winter night, you can also do some serious star gazing. With the brisk air, it seems that the stars are so illuminated.


As long as you’re dressed warm and keep moving, it’s like they say on the Band-Aid box, “You’re going to be just fine.”


Another p.m. classic would be owling. What is it about owls that we find so intriguing?


Why do we always think of them as the wise old owl? When I was in college studying trees and animals, ODNR was using “Woodsie” the owl, as their mascot in the 70s.


There are plenty of other night noises. The wood thrush from dusk to dark is a beautiful flute-like call.


The mockingbird is able to sing all night. This is good if he’s not right outside your bedroom.


The same can be said for the whippoorwill. You could also say that a cricket in the bedroom can be an all-night song.


Many insects “sing” at night, not by voice, but rather by mechanically rubbing legs or wings.


You can’t deny the consistency of frog and toad chorus in spring and summer, but that’s gone on a winter night. The chatter of a raccoon or the bark of a coyote is very realistic in our winter woods now.


I see, hear, track, and scout coyote everywhere that I used to deer hunt. I believe that coyotes are the number one problem for young fawns.


You won’t have ground hogs in the pasture if you have coyotes and you probably won’t have a wild dog or coyote problem in your fawns or calves if you have a donkey.


Well, that’s a whole different avenue. Let’s get back to night moves.


My first owl adventures were in our barn lofts with barn owls, as a kid. These “monkey-faced” beauties are fascinating and an efficient rodent control.


I would say that the barred owl is the owl that most of us can relate to. This is sometimes called the hoot owl because its call is, “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hooo-aw.”


It has a stocky body with dark bars across its gray feathers. This is the owl that Jon and I saw hunting this year about dark. This is the owl that I converse with most mornings and evenings off my firewood porch.


The little screech owl comes in red and gray phases. This color isn’t based on sex, age or season, but rather on location.


It was one of these little owls that I came face to face with one day tracking deer in the snow. As I tracked through the new growth of Virginia scrub pine in an abandoned pasture, I ducked down under the low pine limbs and came back up to be face-to-face with a screech owl in the rufous color, about a foot off my nose.


We both froze — that’s typical for both parties. He was a small bird looking pretty big at that moment. I backed out and he stayed put.


The most difficult owl to see locally might be the great horned owl, not because of size, but rather because of temperament and lifestyle. When I’m hunting and see or hear a horned owl, that tells me I have probably escaped civilization and found the deep woods. They are a big, vulnerable bird and usually don’t trust people.


The owls are truly one of the classic calls of the wild and are seldom heard by those inside. Get out there amongst ‘em day or night.


It’s a hoot.


Dudley Wooten can be reached at 740-820-8210 or by visiting wootenslandscaping.com.