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Enjoy summer wildlife during cooler hours
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Most Mississippians look for activities that include shade or air conditioning to escape the heat during the dog days of summer. For those who enjoy wildlife watching, the summer heat can force us to alter our plans to the bookends of the day.
Thankfully, wildlife also avoid the heat of the day by being more active between late evening and early morning hours. Another bonus is that there are many nocturnal animals that can be seen or heard at night with just a little effort.
A fun pastime for many Mississippians is calling up “hoot” owls, which are often great-horned or barred owls. Today, this hobby is made even easier with smartphone apps that have owl sound recordings built into them. Just make sure not to engage too long with any one particular owl, as calling can cost them energy from other activities.
Another species of bird active during the cooler hours are chimney swifts. They can be found in most locations by listening for their chattering as they fly above residential areas while feeding on insects. Around dusk, they will begin to form into larger groups and head for the roosting site. Just before dark, they will begin to circle the entry into the roost -- typically a chimney or other elevated opening in a building -- and quickly funnel in.
Similarly, common nighthawks can be heard and seen feeding on insects above the streetlights just after dusk. While looking for chimney swifts and common nighthawks, make sure to keep an eye out for bats as they emerge from their roosts in search of insects.
Other mammals like raccoons, opossums and armadillos can be seen in residential yards. Increase your chances of seeing them at night by looking during the day for their tracks, scat and other signs to locate high activity areas. After dark, spotlight these and other areas, such as under birdfeeders, to observe these animals searching for food.
In rural areas, spotlight large, open fields to see deer, coyotes and much more. Before you spotlight a field, make sure you have permission from the landowner. In Mississippi, it is legal to shine wildlife at night on private lands as long as you have permission from the landowner and there are no firearms in your vehicle. It is illegal to shine wildlife at night on state and federal lands.
Summer nights are also excellent times to listen and search for frogs in your backyard. As with birds, there are several smartphone apps to help you identify frogs by their calls.
Lastly, let’s not forget insects. Simply leaving on a porch light will attract hundreds of insects, including colorful moths, beetles and many more. Better yet, suspend a white sheet in your backyard, and illuminate it with a spotlight. That setup will attract more insects and put on a good show for whole family.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.