That's the call of a barred owl, according to Rayna Berry, who leads the monthly night hikes at Acadiana Park Nature Station. The big woods are filled with nocturnal mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. "We see just about anything," says Berry. Other inhabitants include possums, raccoons, Luna moths (pictured), owls, flying squirrels, snakes and fireflies that twinkle like small stars under the tree canopy. "The purpose of the night hike is to see what the animals who live here see," Berry says.
She leads groups of nature lovers down the trails and boardwalks, using flashlights to look for night creatures. Mid-hike, Berry sometimes stops and tells everyone to turn off their flashlights to let their eyes adjust to the dark. That's when the weirder part of the woods shows itself; a few types of luminescence come from rotting fungus. "Palmetto glows as it decomposes," Berry explains. "At some times of year it lets off a little bit of steam as well."
Smell, sound and touch also come into play. "A lot of kids say the forest smells fresh, some say it smells yucky," Berry says. Currently, the night is fragrant with the intoxicating perfume of honeysuckle and Chinese privet. Once the group falls quiet the dark erupts with sound ' cicadas scrape a scratchy tune, crickets creak, tree frogs sing and the big owls' haunting call shivers through the treetops. And it wouldn't be Louisiana without the whine of mosquitoes.
Berry recommends bringing insect repellent and a flashlight and wearing long pants and hiking shoes on the trail. And don't touch the poison ivy.
The Acadiana Park Nature Station (1205 E. Alexander St.) hosts night hikes from 8-10 p.m. on the last Saturday of each month. Cost is $2; registration is required and must be made by 3 p.m. on the day of the hike. For more info, call 291-8448.