At day's end when the sky begins to darken, clouds of crows descend around Union Bay.
The blackness of their beaks, feathers and claws make the american crow the perfect harbinger of darkness.
As the days get shorter and the nights get longer the darkness increases.
The result is more time for those who make things go bump in the night.
Before we talk about our local creatures of darkness let's take a closer look at the moon.
Each of the circular craters is evidence of a very large collision. These impacts were so hard that we can see the results from over two hundred thousand miles away. This may seem only mildly interesting at a safe distance, however evidence shows asteroids have hit the earth. Clearly, one of these could be the ultimate, bump in the night.
Still it is likely that it is the smaller and more local bumps in the night that keep you awake and listening for the next sound. The darkness does seem to amplify our fears.
If you have ever been jogging in the early morning darkness just before dawn, and had an owl pass within an inch of your head, you have had a small taste of the fear a mouse must feel.
The barred owl is designed to feed and hunt under the cover of darkness. This bird has special wing tips that confuse the air so no sound is made as it passes. It has hearing so sharp it may be able to hunt with its eyes closed. Plus, the owl's huge eyes can collect the smallest flicker of light. For all intents and purposes, the owl can see in the dark.
To the owl, a mouse is just a small meal. However to the mouse, an encounter with an owl is the final bump in the night.
There are other larger creatures that roam our Union Bay neighborhoods in the dark. They will scream and fight in your yard in the middle of the night. They will eat the cat's food if you leave it out and if the cat is out, they might eat it too.
We took our injured cat to the vet last year and asked if it might have been in a fight with a raccoon. The vet said, "No, if a raccoon gets close enough to injure a cat, the cat does not survive."
This photo shows a small raccoon encountered in the Arboretum last week around dawn. It was returning from its morning drink from the bay, before bedding down for the day. Larger ones will stand toe to toe with a human and hiss at you before deciding to fight or slowly amble away.
Earlier this month I met someone who had just seen a coyote south of Foster Island. It came out of the early morning darkness to grab a duck and throw it back on shore for its cubs to kill and eat. Their training starts early.
If like me, you have never actually seen a coyote around Union Bay, here is a photo of a fairly small one.
It shows you what to look out for but they usually hunt under the cover of darkness, unless they are very hungry. I understand they like to eat cats, dogs, ducks and even beavers, basically, they like meat.
Around Union Bay one of the largest bumps in the night was the falling of this large, mature cottonwood tree.
The living cambium layer at the base of this tree was consumed by a Union Bay beaver. Along with the help of some internal rot, a beaver brought this tree to the ground. On the left side of the photo you can see where the beaver came back under the cover of darkness to feed a bit more.
Most of the cottonwood trees along the water's edge in the Arboretum, have felt the beaver's teeth. If the trees have leaves the beaver has left s small portion of the cambium layer intact. The numerous naked, standing snags silently speak of the beaver's deadly work, although woodpeckers seem to love the beaver's handiwork.
Another positive is that beaver dams can actually increase fish habitat according to the information found in Wikipedia. Click here to read more about the beaver.
Odds and Ends:
I read this morning that a short-eared owl (SEO) was seen at Volunteer Park and it was heading towards Union Bay when it left. I have never seen an SEO around Union Bay. They like to hunt over open land, so the marsh area north of Broadmoor, the golf course and the Union Bay Natural Area would seem to be our most attractive areas for them. The photo below is included to give you a fresh idea of what this beautiful bird looks like.
Click here to see a comparison to the Hawaiian SEO at the end of another blog. Please leave a comment if you see one around Union Bay.