The owl prowl and other nighttime adventures

Do you live in an area where there are owls? Barred Owls. Eastern Screech Owls. Great Horned Owls. At this time of year, these birds can be especially active and especially noisy. Particularly those Barred Owls. I can remember well lying in my bed on December nights as a child and listening to two or more of the birds carrying on a loud conversation in the trees outside my window. It certainly sounded like more than two. It sounded like a whole convention of the birds, but it may have been only one amorous pair.

If there are owls in your area, you might want to step outside well after dark on one of these clear, cold nights and listen for a few minutes. If you are lucky, you will hear the distinctive call of a Barred Owl - hoo hoo ho-ho, hoo hoo ho-hooooooaawr, which is usually rendered as "Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all?" It is perhaps not surprising that this bird should speak with a Southern accent since it is the quintessential bird of Southern swamps.

I can't say that I've heard a Barred Owl recently, but I did see one a few days ago very late in the afternoon on a gloomy day. It was in low flight over a field, quartering it, searching for its supper.

Prowling for owls on these crisp clear nights is only one of many activities to engage the interest of Nature lovers this December. Did you know, for example, that we are currently in the middle of one of the best meteor showers of the year? The Geminid meteors come from the constellation Gemini and if you head outside after 9 PM and look a little north of due east, you might be able to see them for a few more nights. Tonight, in fact, is the peak of their activity when there should be 50 to 80 meteors per hour racing across the sky.

Not interested in meteors? Perhaps a lunar eclipse might be more to your liking. One week from tonight, on December 21, which is coincidentally Winter Solstice, there will be a total lunar eclipse which will be visible across the country. You will have to stay up late because the eclipse will not start to be noticeable until around midnight Central Time, with the total eclipse beginning around 1:41 AM. But it is a rare and magnificent show, worth losing a little sleep over.

Even if you can't keep your eyes open for the eclipse, you can still see something beautiful in the December night skies - Jupiter. Jupiter is that brightest wanderer that is near the moon now in its nightly journey across the sky. It is not quite as grand a sight now as it was about a week ago before the moon got so big and bright and began to outshine it, but it is still a wondrous heavenly object, especially in combination with the moon. With powerful binoculars or a small telescope, you might even be able to see Jupiter's moons as they circle the giant planet.

Owls, meteors, eclipses, close encounters with giant planets, December has it all. All we have to do is go outside and open our eyes and ears. Nature will put on a show for us.


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