Here comes the Night

Updated: Jan 4, 2019

As summer draws to an end and the darker evenings start to draw in, it is sometimes

easy to forget that wildlife is still all around us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When

we close our doors and curtains, and are busy on our smart phones or tablets it is

sometimes hard to imagine what is going on in nature outside - perhaps only a few

yards away in our own gardens. As humans we have evolved as diurnal animals;

meaning we are active during daytime and we rest at night. This rest period is

important for our bodies to reset our natural body clock called our ‘circadian clock’.

In today’s world, our rest period is interrupted with so many sources of artificial light

inside and outside our homes, our eyes are no longer accustomed to the darkness

but we do have a certain amount of night-vision and we can still use that skill if we

take a few moments to let our eyes adjust away from artificial light.

Many animals, birds and insects are very active in the dark and are known as

nocturnal. We often think of nocturnal creatures as more mysterious as we rarely

see them during the day. Their senses, such as hearing and night-vision, are highly

developed to help them hunt for food or clean and improve their bedding, some

migrating birds even use the patterns of the stars to help them navigate through the

sky at night.

So why are these creatures more active at night?

Most nocturnal animals sleep during the day in order to avoid predators. Animals

that are on the “night shift” also have less competition for food and some predators

like Owls have adapted to nighttime hunting. In hotter parts of the world, it makes

sense to sleep at night when it is cooler.

Let’s look at nature – The Pine Marten

Its Irish name Cait Crainn (meaning “Tree Cat”) gives us a good idea about where this

native mammal spends most of its time. Its natural dens are in hollow trees, rabbit

burrows and tree roots. The Pine Marten has become a rare sight due to hunting in

past times and loss of forestry habitat areas but the good news is that it its

population is starting to recover. They are about the size of a domestic cat with a

long tail and a rich dark brown fur coat. Their distinctive creamy patch and bushy

tail make them easy to identify at a glance. Pine Martens have a varied diet of

berries, insects, frogs and small mammals (including the non-native grey squirrel).

Dark Sky Rangers

As a Dark Sky Ranger, you can begin a night safari adventure in your own back

garden to spot creatures like; moths, cats, bats and even foxes. Pick a dry evening

and plan a sleepout in your garden (over a weekend so you won’t be up too late on a

school night) or just try it for a few hours and experience the sounds of nature after

the sun goes down. This is something you can do as a family or with some good


Look for clues of animal activity before it gets dark; you may find trapped hairs under

a fence or tracks in longer grassy areas, use any information you find to make notes

and perhaps even a map of your garden area to revisit later.

The first thing to do is to let your eyes adjust to the dark away from artificial light.

This can take up to 20 minutes but your eyes will become adjusted then and you can

practice your night vision.

Use red light - You can still keep a torch with you but place a red film or coating over

the bulb. Red light is less disturbing for animals and won’t affect your night vision.

Quietly explore your surroundings for night-life, always listening carefully. You're

almost certain to find moths congregating around outside lights, or bats flitting

around trees and hedges until late summer. Young foxes tend to hunt for food early

in the evening so you may spot them. Later in the evening, if you are very lucky and

quiet, you may even spot hedgehogs or badgers.

Finally make a note of any sounds or sightings you have experienced in the dark and

create a wild story before you get yourself comfortable for a snooze under the stars!

[Article by Ged Dowling, written for Primary Planet Magazine]

#schooltours #nocturnalwildlife

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Terra Firma Ireland is a member of Irelands Association for Adventure Tourism

With thanks to Steven Hanley & Brian Wilson for astrophotography shots 

info@terrafirmaireland.comTel: +353 89 240 9015 | Newport, County Mayo, Ireland

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