Robert Barnovfsky is not afraid of the dark. In fact, the Claude Moore Park naturalist doesn’t think anyone should be. That is why he will be running the Spring Owl Prowl, May 31, at 7:30 p.m. The nighttime hike at Claude Moore Park will not only be a search for nocturnal birds, but also a chance to get accustomed or recognize all the wonders of nighttime wild life.
"I want people to enjoy the nighttime," said Barnovfsky. "We’re day-active animals, even a person on the night shift brings light with them. Not many people go out in the dark without any light and it’s a bit unnatural to us, but by not going out at night you’re missing half the natural world."
The program starts with a class where Barnovfsky teaches people how to hear and see in the dark. He said that we can all actually see well in the dark as long as there is some moonlight and that carrying a flashlight actually limits our ability to see the nature and wildlife around us. Listening is also important, in fact Barnovfsky has participants sit and listen to the woods in order to understand all the wildlife around them. People on the hike also learn how to listen with directional hearing instead of just the direction our ears our pointing.
"We do something like fox ears where they listen in all directions and you think about the animals who are out there at night and you adapt your hearing to hear all around you. We learn to line up your eyes and your ears. It’s hunting using your ears," said Barnovfsky.
ONCE PARTICIPANTS have their ears and eyes accustomed to working in the dark, it is time to start finding some night life. Barnovfsky says that there are plenty of local owl species and that the majority of the trip's participants at least hear owls in the woods. Part of the trip is learning to identify different owls by their calls so that when you hear them at night you know which one it is. Seeing owls is a bit of a different story as they are usually afraid of humans, but Barnovfsky said that they do sometimes make an appearance.
"We do try to call owls and sometimes we get them and sometimes we don’t. I let the people on the walk try to call in different types of owls. I have a couple recordings so you can hear what the real one sounds like," he said.
The most important thing Barnovfsky said is to listen for the tone of the owls. The smaller tones come from smaller owls and each owl has its own type of call. The main problem to spotting an owl is that it can see us from 100 yards away and recognize us as humans making owl sounds. Still the main point of the walk is to experience nature at night no matter what animals may be seen. Barnovfsky even recommends the walk for children older than 7 as it is pretty calm and never scary and teaches them to not be so afraid of noises at night.
"Most public areas are closed at night so this gives people who are interested in finding out what is out there a chance to see it and let them know there is wildlife out there even in a suburban wildlife. You may see very little but you hear so much," Barnovfsky said.