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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Dark

Air Date: Week of

The landscape of Monte Vista, Colorado. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

As night falls many animals rely on sound to find each other and communicate. In the dark, sound is sight. Living on Earth’s Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender tells of a nighttime chorus in southern Colorado.


CURWOOD: When night falls and animals can no longer see many instead rely on sound to find each other and communicate……. As Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender found in the mountains of Colorado.

LENDER: Two bald eagles come through the woods, a last shadow in the failing light. All afternoon, not far from here, eight of them perched in the same tree. They were waiting for the slough to thaw, to feed, upon the carp beneath the ice. The thaw never came. Now the eagles are headed home.

There is no moon… Moments later it is too dark to see.


A flight of sandhill cranes crosses over, towards the shallow marsh where they will sleep, hidden between cattails coated and crystalline with frost. Their flight song and the woosh of their wings trails behind them, dimming as they speed.


The great horned owl sounds, a patina of deep strong notes which carry through the canopy to where his mate guards their nest. At a deserted farmhouse not far from here I’d seen another owl return at twilight. A dark shape.


The silent semaphore of his wings. He hooted. Then again.His mate would not answer. Because I was there. He flew away.

But now among aspens and oaks in this quiet and secluded place and with the safety of a moonless sky, this time the female replies, and the owls talk, back and forth, her voice thin, his low and smooth as butterscotch and rum.


Horses come through the gate. Branches snap as they mill among the trees. The great horned owls change place, the female gone off to hunt.

It begins to snow…

Sandhill cranes soar through the Colorado skies. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Beside these woods is a thicket, then furrowed fields sown with corn and wheat. Wild geese are bedded down there, and across the section fence, cattle.

A yelp. Then again from a different part. Short. Clipped - Coyotes, hunting. The farm dogs hear it too and bark. Indignant. Pretending. Though not chained they stay put.




A high thin whistle like the bugling of an elk....


Now, all the coyotes know where everyone is and perhaps from that alone what they are about to do.

The geese call out.


The bulls along the boundary line bellow loud and long and deep, Greek chorus in this vital play.


In the Dark, Sound is Sight.

CURWOOD: That’s Living on Earth’s Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender.



Learn more about Mark Seth Lender's stories and adventures

Read the Field Note for this essay


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