Things change after dark in the summer.
A scorched earth that had been pounded by relentless heat during the day breaths a sigh of relief when the sun goes down. The air cools as darkness settles in, the trees stand still and the hectic pace of the day comes to a halt.
It’s also the time for a daily transition.
The creatures that ruled the summer day — from songbirds to woodchucks, are replaced by those nocturnal creatures who prefer to come alive in the darkness.
Chances are you won’t see them, but if you take a walk into a wild place they can be heard.
A pond is a good place to start.
On a recent night I listened to the shrill, vibrating calls of Eastern gray tree frogs from their perches on the vegetation surrounding the water. Interspersed with their chorus was the booming bellow of a bullfrog as it sat in the shallow water trying to attract a mate.
But topping them all is the call of the American toad, which ventures to wetland habitats in the spring and early summer to breed. The toad can carry a note better than any singer, holding it’s high-pitched, ringing tone for an eternity. I once heard a toad call for almost 20 seconds without a break, and when they get vocal everything else in the pond becomes subtle background noise.
Frogs aren’t all you’ll here in a pond on a summer night. They are a favorite prey of largemouth bass, and the big fish will slam into the shallows to chase them down. The splashing of bass is often accompanied by the popping of bluegills as they smack the underside of lily pads for insects.
But nothing outdoes the fierce ruckus created by what I think is one of the top predators in any lake or pond - the chain pickerel. Shaped like a torpedo with a long snout full of sharp teeth, the pickerel has a voracious appetite and stops at nothing to satisfy it. You can hear them at night, patrolling the weedy edges of a pond chasing after frogs, fish, snakes and anything else it can grasp in its jaws.
The sound of a pickerel feeding at night is different from a bass, who usually make a single splash in a quick attempt to snatch their prey. A pickerel won’t quit and will chase a leaping frog or a school of fish relentlessly, resulting in a series of violent splashes in the dark.
In the woods and fields there are the common sounds of insects, such as crickets, that are easy to overlook because they’re heard so frequently.
On a warm, summer night, the chirping of crickets provides a deceivingly calm tone - background music if you will, to the other sounds that fill the air.
Nothing shatters the cacophony of crickets like a den of red fox pups. The juvenile foxes like to announce their presence as they emerge from their den with a boisterous round of yips, yelps and barks. Sometimes you’ll hear one of the adults howl, but it’s not your typical canine sound. The howl of a red fox at night is actually quite eerie - a high-pitched wail that steadily wavers for several seconds.
Coyote pups are just as vocal, but often the adults join in with a few long howls that distinguishes them as a top predator of the night. Coyote howls are different than a red fox because they are much louder, longer and often the entire pack joins in.
Fox and coyote pups aren’t the only creatures that are vocal on a summer night. Young raccoons, in all their curiosity, explore the nighttime landscape while emitting a series of calls that sounds like a cross between a monkey and a the purr of a turkey.
While not much can be seen in the outdoors after dark in the summer, there is plenty to hear. Sometimes, all it takes is the sounds to make a pond, field or forest come alive after dark.