Night Sights, Night Sounds

Red-winged Blackbirds at magic hour. Loud.

Last night we went to Floyd Bennett Field and looked to the wandering stars, which is what “planetes aster” meant in ancient Greek. Nate was trying out his brand new telescope. Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were visible, even with the glow of the city, JFK, and the sports field nearby. We could see three of the Galilean moons, but Saturn was the star of the show, so to speak, with its angled ring. Awesome, and I mean that in its traditional sense of being full of awe.

We heard something back on the path we’d just wandered through. It’s that time of year, that time of day. The sound is usually transcribed “peent” (you can listen here). It’s made by male Woodcock (Scolopax minor). There were three nearby, one right in front of us. Of course, in the quickly darkening night, “right in front of us” is quite relative. It was all about sound. After repeated peents, he flew high up overhead, tiny but relatively visible on the lighter horizon, and then fluttered down with specially adapted tail feathers extended to whistle-twittering in the wind. The link to the sound recording includes the whole process. Then, back on the ground, he started peenting again. Then once more up into the air again. Repeat. It’s a display for the local females, but since “display” suggest the visual, perhaps performance is a better term, since the sounds dominate. (And remember, the dark thrum of Flatbush Avenue and the Belt Parkway provide the backdrop to all this.)

Passing Return-A-Gift Pond from the runway side, we listened to the frogs. More than a few, but not a thunderous chorus.

Turning out, our astronomer spotted the Moon just rising, a fat orange blob cut off at the top by low cloud. It was just past full and quickly disappeared behind the clouds, but that third of a sphere of sun-ripened, perceptually-distorted Moon made it look like we were standing on a whole other world.

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