One of the most fulfilling experiences I've ever had in the natural world took place as the sun was setting. I was out for an evening stroll with my mother along the water, and as we walked along in the relative silence of the twilight, an entire ecosystem unfolded before us. We watched dragonflies skimming through the reeds on their evening hunt, saw kingbirds soaring over our heads, and watched a Snapping Turtle settling down into the mud. We even got the chance to see a beaver emerge from its lodge and head out for a night of collecting sticks. The night was quiet and beautiful, and because the sun was setting, we avoided the worst of the day's heat.
The trails at Audubon are open from dawn to dusk, so guests are welcome to use them as long as there is daylight. At various times of the year, you might meet people hiking, jogging, skiing, power-walking, or just meandering from the time the sun rises straight on until darkness falls. Early morning and late afternoon are both excellent times to visit the trails, as they aren't quite as hot (or as busy) as during business hours.
Some of the best wildlife sightings also happen during off-peak hours. Many of our local animals are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. The list includes mammals such as Eastern Cottontail rabbits and American Beavers, birds such as Great Horned Owls and Common Nighthawks, and insects such as certain species of fireflies and moths. Crepuscular animals are often asleep or inactive during the day, so your best chance of seeing them is to stop down in the morning or the evening. Plants and animals that are only flowering or active in the evening are referred to as vespertine and those that prefer the morning only are called matinal.
A Screech Owl is pictured in a nesting box.
One local crepuscular mammal is the White-tailed Deer, which is often active at Audubon. In the spring and summer, the deer are raising their young. Fawns (juvenile deer) are covered with white spots to help them blend in to the shady grass and undergrowth where they hide. They will often rest while their mothers are off grazing, so don't worry if you see one on its own. In fact, deer who give birth to twins or triplets usually split them up to keep them safe. In the woods at twilight you might see a deer, or you might see evidence that deer have been there in the form of tracks, scat, branches or bark that have been browsed on, and antler rubs- trees that the males have scraped with their antlers. Next time you come to Audubon, look for these signs; you might get a chance to see a deer.
For many people, a trip to Audubon just isn't complete without a stop inside the building to see our various exhibits and our live animal collection. On a normal day, the building closes at 4:30 p.m., so if you're out for an after-dinner walk on the trails but want to stop inside too, you're out of luck. That's why starting this summer, Audubon is trying out some new hours. On the second Thursday of the month, we will be keeping the building open until 9 p.m. That way, evening walkers and people who work during the day will be able to stop in to see the exhibits for as long as the trails are open.
We hope you enjoy the nature center at twilight as much as we do! As usual, admission to the building is free for members and children and $5 for non-member adults. If you see anything interesting outside, stop in and let us know. We're always interested in unique trail sightings. The first Nature at Night evenings are scheduled for July 11 and Aug. 8,, and they are likely to continue in the Fall on the second Thursday of each month.
Emily Schlick has just finished an internship at Audubon.
The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is at 1600 Riverside Road, a quarter-mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren, Pa..
For more information, call 569-2345 or visit www.jamestownaudubon.org.