MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." This week's theme is Going Places and thus far, we've mostly been moving around our urban landscape. But in this next segment, we're going to get a bit more wild. In just a few minutes, we'll trek out to some of the more remote corners of Maryland's Assateague Island as we search for some wild horses. We start, though, a bit closer to home, at the Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge. Environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour journeyed there on a warm spring night when love was most definitely in the air.
MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
An unseasonably warm breeze welcomes the sunset near the Occoquan River about 30 minutes south of the District, near Woodbridge, Va.
MR. BOB STUDHOLME
If you look through the scope, there's a bunch of green in front and then in sharper focus, it just moved again, and just moved again, you'll see some sticks and you keep looking at that pile of sticks. It's an osprey nest that was commandeered by a great horned owl. You'll see movement if you just be patient and keep looking.
That is naturalist Bob Studholme.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
It's sort of like -- oh, let's move in.
Yeah. Little gray fuzzy head.
Oh my gosh, he's looking straight at us, you can -- his eyes are like -- you can see his eyes, they're kind of glowing. And the ospreys or the hawks, they don't come back and try and kick the owl out?
No, that'd be a one sided battle. They're smarter than that. The horned owls has several nicknames, one of which is tiger of the woods. They're pretty much about as high on the top of the food chain, for around here, as you can get.
As dusk sets in, everything takes on an orange glow. And from every hole in the ground, fork in a tree, the park springs to life. A group of nature lovers, Friends of the Occoquan they call themselves, gets together at this refuge a few times a year, at night, just to see the show.
Some species of animals are only active during that crepuscular period between day and night.
MR. LARRY UNDERWOOD
Yeah, that's the fancy word, crepuscular.
Larry Underwood is a retired biologist. He says this is the best time of day and the best part of the year to come.
You're likely to get the night animals overlapping with the day animals so you're going to see some of each.
There goes a muskrat.
And there's a snapping turtle there.
We're getting a third turkey. There he goes.
Oh, he just displayed, he displayed.
And a deer.
Don Moore is associate director for Animal Care at Smithsonian's National Zoo. He says it's not surprising to see all these animals at dusk.
MR. DON MOORE
Well, you have to think of time as a niche in ecological terms, right. So we know that spaces are niches, there's a tropical forest niche, there's a temperate forest niche, there's a river niche. Well, time is also a niche.
So is sound.
You know, we've got a little bit of an arms race going on, if you will, between the predators and the prey. So the owls have these very, very nicely designed ears so that they can triangulate on the noise that's coming from a prey. And the prey, mice and birds and things, have voices that are almost ventriloquial in their capabilities.
That's the ending note of the Red-Winged blackbird.
And that's a male blackbird that's establishing his territory, he's defending his territory from other males.
The warmth of the day still hangs in the air. But the sky has gone dark. And all around, from every angle, there's a steady din. Naturalist Rick Czarnowsky peers into the bushes with a spotlight and spots a tiny frog.
MR. RICK CZARNOWSKY
There he is. Right in the center of the light.
Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Looks like he's blowing bubble gum.
Yeah, that's his vocal sack.
He's so tiny, but so loud.
Yeah. And you can see the faint -- very faint, but there's an X on his back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2
What type is it?
That's a spring peeper.
He says it's surprising to see these little guys still out with the early spring and the warm weather, he predicted we'd miss them.
But maybe there's still an occasional female that comes through that they're trying to get lucky with.
Not everyone has left the bar yet.
And then, in the distance...
...in case you missed that, that was a barred owl. There's only one nest in the whole refuge.
I never get tired of hearing owls. I mean, that's probably my favorite sound.
Sometimes in order to go places, all you have to do is get the timing right and open your ears. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
We've got photos, links and plenty of ideas for local spots to do some pretty groovy night listening on our website, metroconnection.org. And if you are someone who hears plenty of wild nightlife where you live, we'd love to hear your stories. Just send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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