Woodrat Podcast 35: Creatures of the night

spring peeper, northern saw-whet owl, and American woodcock
Spring peeper, northern saw-whet owl, and American woodcock

It may feel and sometimes even still look like winter out there, but spring is on the march (so to speak). This is perhaps most evident after dark. Join me and some other folks for a night-time ramble through the March woods and wetlands of Central Pennsylvania. We’ll listen to a woodcock, a saw-whet owl, some creature whose identity I’m not certain of, spring peepers, and herpetologist Jim Julian from Penn State Altoona. Julian, an expert on seaonal wetlands ecology, leads the annual Vernal Pool Tour of the Scotia Barrens, sponsored by the Clearwater Conservancy. We all squish about looking for wood frogs and spotted salmanders on a cold and rainy night.

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Photo credits, l-r: Norman Walsh (CC BY-NC), Dave Darney/USFWS, Tom Tetzner/USFWS. Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence).

14 Replies to “Woodrat Podcast 35: Creatures of the night”

  1. Very cool! I heard my first woodcock of the year this morning in Keene, from my porch in a thickly settled neighborhood right near campus. It’s a location that doesn’t seem wild and woodsy enough for woodcocks, but there are some scrubby lots nearby that they’ve apparently commandeered.

    1. That’s good to hear. As you know, their numbers have been declining a bit due to loss of suitable habitat — the former old fields have mostly gone back to woods, and modern “clean farming” techniques tend to prevent new brushy, scrubby areas from getting established. Fortunately, we are slobs in Plummer’s Hollow — no clean farming here!

      1. College students and adjunct instructors aren’t much into clean farming, either, so scrubbiness abounds…for now. These particular empty lots are vanishing, house by house and business by business. Just today, I noticed a big “For Sale” sign on a wedge of land that’s been empty ever since I moved to Keene: there’s something of a real estate boom going on, so I suspect the woodcocks, Cooper’s hawks, pheasants, and other wild lurkers are going to get squeezed out. For the time being, though, it’s nice to know the woodcocks are making themselves at home.

  2. A great treat, although you and Mr. Thurber clearly confabulated the woodcock.

    My dog has a firm i.d. on the mystery calls, if you can translate the signal flags of canine ears. They almost swiveled off his head.

    1. Oh yeah? I was hoping it might turn out to be bobcat (which we know we have thanks to the hunters’ game cams) but the sound didn’t match any of the online audio samples I found.

      1. Echoing what JMartin said, Melony the beagle was very interested in the mystery call. She snoozed right through the owl and frogs but sat up and listened to that call.

        1. Our neighbor Paula listened to it, and pointed out that it sounds a lot like some of the rabbit distress calls on YouTube. One possiblity that hadn’t occurred to me is that it was in fact someone out coyote hunting (which we don’t allow, of course, but there are plenty of poachers), using a call.

  3. I wish I could be on that walk…and it makes me think, working on behalf of our struggling coastal Botanical Gardens, that night walks might be a good thing to offer…we have the folks/volunteers here who could lead them. When I lived in St. Louis, we did the wolf walks often….and they were magical.


    1. You should try it! There was something a bit magical — or maybe sinister, depending on your frame of mind — to the site of 30+ flashlights bobbing silently through the woods in single file on our way in to the pools. But yeah, it’s a very popular event. They have a waiting list, and people who can’t make it have to email them right away. We were amazed at the turn-out considering how bad the weather was.

  4. Can you say more, Dave, about the audio recorder you used for this? Although the last thing I need is another gadget, I’m intrigued by your description of the earbuds as a way of amplifying your hearing, like an environmental stethoscope!

    1. Sure. It’s an Zoom H2 — basically the cheapest good-quality recorder, as opposed to one of those $25-dollar mp3 recorders. This records to lossless wav format, and is pretty easy to use. I bought it based on reviews at CNet and Amazon.

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