Sunday, June 21, 2009

Creatures of the Night

I was out late into the night last Friday night, in the hinterlands of Morgan County. A team of us were surveying breeding birds for the Breeding Bird Atlas II project, and this very rural hill country region still needs a bit of work.

So off I went, to see what nocturnal goodies could be produced. The best sighting was non-bird; I saw my second Bobcat and at much closer range than my first, which was just a few weeks ago. This was more of fleeting glimpse, as the cat popped out on the road perhaps 30-50 feet in front of my car as I idled along, took a look at me, and sprang across the road and into the undergrowth.

I have several videos in this post, and be sure to carefully check out the second, of Cope's Gray Treefrog calling in the dark. Something very strange enters the video right at the end. If anyone has any idea what that might be or what causes such effects, please let me know.


One of my primary targets was Whip-poor-will, and if you click the video above you'll see that I was successful. I heard a few in my wanderings, but this guy was only thirty feet away and calling up a storm. I was so close I could hear the muted wooden tock note that they preface each phrase with. He also made a note that was very similar to the call note of a Swainson's Thrush; a soft liquid sound. I hadn't heard that before.

It was far too dark to show anything on the video, but I got to see the bird very well. To test its reaction, I played the whip's song every so briefly on my I-pod. The bird instantly darted from cover and nearly thwacked me in the head!

Conspicuous that evening were calling Cope's Gray Treefrogs, Hyla chrysoscelis. If you aren't familiar with this species, you'd undoubtedly wonder what it is making the racket, as their calls carry considerable distances and are very obvious in the still of night. The more wide-ranging Ohio tree frog is Gray Treefrog, Hyla versicolor, which is found commonly throughout nearly all of the state. These two are essentially identical in appearance, but Cope's has double the number of chromosomes. No great field mark there, but fortunately their voices differ noticably.

I was able to track one down as it sang from under a tuft of grass bordering a damp ditch. In this photo, his throat sac is still inflated.


I made this video from the pitch black of the nighttime forest, before I got my flashlight from the car's trunk. There were about four frogs calling from a wet roadside swale, and I was very close as you can tell. Cope's Gray Tree Frog has a distinctly harsher, raspy and more nasally abrupt song than does Gray Tree Frog.

But something very weird happened with this video. Watch very closely at the end and you will see some bright flame-like object seemingly shoot into the field of view from the right. It's even stranger in appearance if you hold the video backward/forward control and watch this light come in and go back out in very slow motion.

Keep in mind that I was not using any flash from the camera, nor did I have any other light sources at this point. There was also no other source of lighting nearby. If anyone has an explanation for what causes this sort of thing I'd like to hear it. I certainly didn't notice any light or other phenomena when I was making the video.


I finally did go find my flashlight so I could find one of the frogs and light him up for video purposes. Amphibians engaged in nighttime singing are remarkably cooperative and can often be carefully approached to within a few feet. I've seen and photographed this species before, but it was cool to be able to grab some decent video.


Dave said...


Could that be lighting bug coming in at you at the end there? He would bring his own light, and could look distorted thru the lens?


Jim McCormac said...

That's a possibility, Dave, thanks for the suggestion. There were plenty around. Sure creates a bizarre effect if that's what it was!


Janet Creamer said...

You might ask Jaret Daniels. It might have been a skunk ape :)

Nice capture of the Cope's. Very cool.

Jared Mizanin said...

I'd say it was a lightning bug that approached rather close to your lens. But I'm not completely confident on that. Really weird looking.

I don't know if I've ever heard Cope's call before. I went out on a Gray Treefrog hunt a couple nights ago (northern species) and their trills are much more "musical." Now you've piqued my curiosity and shall listen to a few more recordings.

Great post as always.

Scott Pendleton said...

Jim- I am with Dave. There is a very short flash in the top middle that precedes the large flash and there appears to be lighted straight things when the video is over (legs?)Great post as usual.
Scott Pendleton

Heather said...

Wow, all 3 videos are very cool, even though there's nothing to see in the Whip video. I never noticed that tock sound in their song before, thanks for bringing that to our attention. Enjoyed watching the tree frog vocalize. And ANOTHER bobcat sighting?! You are lucky.
(And hey, what's with stealing my post title?! Just kidding!)

dAwN said...

Excellent..I love the videos! that whip poor will call..
Yeah looks like you might have captured a lightning bug in that vid.

Dave Lewis said...

Boogie man, yep.