Last updated: February 19. 2013 4:20PM - 152 Views

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When the sun sets – earlier every day this month – don't let your heart sink along with it.

Extra darkness gives you more time to stargaze, maybe even to spot meteors in the night sky.

And, if you visit Nescopeck State Park in Drums for this evening's guided night hike, you can turn off your flashlight and let your senses kick into high gear.

In a few minutes people's eyes adjust and they have night vision, park naturalist Diane Madl explained. They'll get the feeling of what it's like to be an animal at night. Your senses heighten.

So maybe the cool night air will feel extra chilly. Maybe the sound of a breaking twig will reverberate. Maybe a crushed pine needle will smell extra pungent.

Maybe an owl will give a hoot that echoes along the park's Woodland Path.

Environmental education specialist Megan Taylor, who will lead the hike, has an iPod with a bird-call app, with which she hopes to attract an owl and get an answering call.

But don't expect too many more wildlife encounters than that, Madl said, because groups of people tend to make noise, even when they're trying to be quiet, and forest creatures tend to flee.

Still, even if they're not close at hand, it's interesting to know how nocturnal animals could be spending the night in the 3,550-acre park.

Porcupines might be busy gnawing tree bark while snowshoe hares eat shrubs, bobcats pounce on mice, coyotes sniff out hares, flying squirrels search for nuts and furry, long-bodied fishers look for porcupines they'll flip over to access the stomach area, which has no quills.

A fisher will eat a porcupine, Madl said earlier this week as visitors admired stuffed specimens of both creatures, along with other examples of Northeastern Pennsylvania wildlife in a newly installed diorama at Nescopeck's Environmental Education Center.

If you miss tonight's hike, which is designed for ages 8 to adult and for which you should call to register in advance, you may want to sign up for a Junior Bird Club night hike.

That hike, set for 6 p.m. Nov. 16 at Nescopeck's Wood Frog Trail, could give you a chance to hear a barred owl's distinctive who-cooks-for-you.

While you're outdoors, preferably far from city lights, you might try to see some meteors.

Just after Sunday night gives way to the wee hours of Monday is supposed to be an ideal time to view the North Taurid meteors, which appear to come from the constellation Taurus the Bull.

Next weekend, from the evening of Nov. 16 to the dawn of Nov. 17, could be your best chance to view a Leonid meteor shower, which will seem to emanate from the constellation Leo the Lion, according to earthsky.com.

If you'd like to see the night sky through a telescope, the Friedman Observatory at Penn State/Wilkes-Barre's campus in Lehman Township is open on Wednesday, but faculty member Tim Sichler cautioned the 9 to 10 p.m. hour of public viewing this week doesn't coincide with the best time to see something.

Around midnight, he said, Jupiter should be a bright light in the sky and a few hours later, Saturn should be very noticeable. With a small telescope of your own you might see Jupiter's moons and Saturn's rings, he said.

And, you don't want a telescope when you're looking for meteor showers. For that, you want to see a broad expanse of sky.

So your backyard might be a better vantage point – unless you plan to be in Centre County this weekend or next. That's where a group will gather at Black Moshannon State Park, outside Philipsburg, on Sunday and again on Nov. 16 in hopes of seeing meteors together.

if you go

What: Night Hike with games and activities

Where: Nescopeck State Park, 1137 Honey Hole Road, Drums

When: 6 tonight

Registration: 570-403-2006

What: Junior Bird Club Night Hike to listen for nocturnal birds

Where: Nescopeck State Park, 1137 Honey Hole Road, Drums

When: 6 p.m. Nov. 16

Registration: 570-403-2006

What: Meteor shower watches

When: 8 to 10 p.m. Sunday for North Taurids shower and 8 to 10 p.m. Nov. 16 for Leonids

Where: Boat launch no. 2 at Black Moshannon State Park, 4216 Beaver Road, Philipsburg

More info: 814-342-5960

What: public viewing through telescope

Where: Friedman Observatory, Penn State/Wilkes-Barre campus, Lehman Township

When: 9 to 10 p.m. Wednesday. No appointment is necessary

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