Monday, January 23, 2012

Night Owls

No study is complete without field trips. This week is chuck full of them, kicking off with a guided night hike at the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. I was hesitant to go given that it was cold (and I don't like cold), it's in the middle of nowhere (country roads after dark still sometimes creep me out despite living out here for over a decade), and I had a slight fear that we'd be attacked by a wild animal (but I didn't tell Bean that). Despite my initial hesitation, it was a night I don't think we'll soon forget.

Screech Owl
Photo by Angela Bartels
From our family, it was just Bean and I and he was totally in his element: skipping around in excitement, asking a lot of questions and rattling off his knowledge of all kinds of owls that he's been learning about. It wasn't long into our hike that the guide called a screech owl with a recording. It sounds like a UFO, then like a horse whinnying. Off in the distance, we heard it reply . Then the call got closer and closer. When the guide turned on her light, there it was right beside us up in the closest tree! So amazing and beautiful! Bean got to see it too. I think that was the best part of the night.

For the rest of our hike, she also attempted to call a barred owl, which sounds like someone asking, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" but nothing ever responded. Still, we got to see an animal's burrow, some coyote's poop, and a deers' path. We also got to hear the rushing water of the Middle Fork River which was pretty high due to all the monsoon-like torrential rains we've gotten in the past couple days. There was something so peaceful about being out there in nature, yet also so sad that even though we were 45 minutes away from Champaign, you could still see it's light pollution in the southwestern sky.

Right before we left, the guide attempted a couple times to call the great horned owl, the largest owl in Illinois. She called the owls in order of smallest to largest, to better coax them out. The great horned owl responded very, very far off with a deep hoot, but only once and it never came close. Only she and I heard it. Then the wind soon picked up and it was difficult to hear anything. Bean didn't seem too bummed about not hearing it. He had a great time and we picked up more info to do more night hikes again.

On the way home, we were only 10 minutes into the drive when Bean fell asleep. It was only 8 o'clock. I guess the only night owls here are the ones at the forest preserve. :)

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