Thanks to those of you who joined us at the Great Swamp Watershed Association (GSWA) on a gorgeous full-moon night on December 10 to take part in our last full-moon hike of the season. More than 120 people attended this event; more people than GSWA has ever had on one of these hikes! The turn-out was truly amazing, so we have decided to put more of these outings on our calendar in for 2012. Keep an eye out for our event announcements and please tell your friends to join our email list by visiting our home page at www.GreatSwamp.org. (Please note that we will be limiting future hikes to 30 guests in order to increase the chances of hearing wildlife and minimize the damage of foot traffic.)
If you are out and about after dark on these long nights, here are some of the sights and sounds to watch out for. The next full moon won’t be until the new year. It’s 7:30 a.m. on January 9th and goes by the name of the Full Wolf Moon. It’s also known as the Old Moon, or the Snow Moon according to some native peoples. Bundle up and head for a street light free area to watch or wander by its light.
While you’re out and about, listen for the three owls you might be lucky enough to hear. Those present on our hike listened hard for Screech, Barred and Great Horned owls, but, as they are all breeding during the winter months, pairs will be active hunting for their young owlets over the coming nights.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
NJ’s largest owl, also known as the hoot owl. Its call is the haunting low-pitched but loud ho-ho-hoo hoo hoo. They are locally common, and very likely owl you’ll hear out the window in your yard as they hunt for their prey of small to medium-sized mammals such as rabbits, hares, and skunks. Great horned owls have even been known to hunt prey much heavier than themselves, such as raccoons, and young fox, even Great Blue Herons! They are paired up by now, getting ready to lay their eggs in the bleakest part of winter, so listen for their paired calling.
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Also known as the hoot owl, this owl has a call not unlike a rooster! Some say the call can be parsed as who-cooks-for-you-who-cooks-for-you-too-oo. This owl prefers deeply forested areas including prey rich wetland areas within Great Swamp watershed, although some residential neighborhoods may make good habitat too. This owl feeds on smaller mammal prey, or small songbirds as they roost. Driving through Great Swamp at dusk you might be lucky enough to spot a Barred owl getting a jump on its nocturnal hunting.
Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)
One of the smallest owls in NJ, the grayish or reddish screech owl has a haunting tremolo like call. It does not sound like the unearthly screech of the barn owl, but has a rolling trill. This species breeds in late winter. Males, who find and secure the nest site, attract their mate by calling, by the quality of the nesting cavity they have found, and by the food they place within the nest! As with most owls, both parents care for the young. You might hear their communication calls as they hunt when you step out late at night to let the cat out!
Hikers at last week's Moonlight Hike learned a little about both nocturnal (night active) and diurnal (day active) creatures of the area, and also learned a new crossword puzzle word—crepuscular—which covers those animals active at dawn and dusk in the twilight hours. Though it may seem that we humans are also crepuscular at this time of year, look forward to steadily lengthening days after the winter solstice on December 22.
We hope you will continue to visit places around the Great Swamp Watershed, including Morris and Somerset County Park Commission’s properties, Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Morristown National Historical Park, Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, and, indeed, our own Conservation Manamgnet Area located at 1 Tiger Lily Lane in Morristown.
And, we do hope you’ll consider joining our organization and venturing out with us on another educational program in 2012.
Best regards for the holidays,
Your Friends at the Great Swamp Watershed Association