Nothing’s better on a Saturday night than sitting around a campfire, basking in its warmth and light, listening to it crackle and pop, taking turns feeding the flames. On one such night, past the time of wieners and marshmallows roasting on sticks, into the time where talk and laughter intermingle, conversation was flowing easily around the fire. In the far background a cow’s unearthly bellow. Nearer, the howl of coyotes. The conversation carried on. The coyotes called again, unusually close, seemingly from our neighbors yard. We usually hear their song up in the hills.
Conversation stopped as I asked, “Did you hear that?” Near at hand but indistinct I half-heard, half-sensed movement. I grabbed up my cellphone and shone the light out in to the night. Nothing. Then, a sound between the fire pit and the house, maybe 40 feet from where I sat, a low growl. A rustling in the goldenrod to the southwest, sounds of movement in the northeast. We were being flanked.
The marshmallow stick was in my right hand then and the light was back out in my left. I shone it into the trees. At first nothing. I patterned the light from left to right and back again. Then eyes. Golden eyes turned towards me. They didn’t move or waver, just stared, as I stared back. “Do you see them?” I asked my companions. They were behind me, eyes straining to see what my dim light had revealed. “No, wait…yes,” came the reply. Twin golden orbs turned away but my light caught another pair several feet in front of the first. These seemed to glare at me from a low limb as my mind tried to puzzle out what they were. The coyotes were howling nearby, but they usually avoid people and we weren’t being quiet…we get fox on the hill often, and deer come through the goldenrod regularly…but there are also bear…and what about the mountain lion our neighbors reported to come down from the far hillside? The eyes turned away and the standoff ended. What had been staring back at me from those bright, golden orbs?
The lambent colors of animal eyes aren’t fixed. They vary amongst individuals and also according to angle, type of light used, age, health, diet. From the wide spacing and height (checked after the fact) it could have been coyote, deer, fox, or bear. After listening to bear, deer, fox, coyote, and mountain lion growls, I say coyote.
At the risk of confounding things further, I will give one last bit of potential evidence, which is an interesting story in itself. One morning a few days after our fireside animal encounter, my husband Andrew was accosted by a fox while walking to the car. The fox was hanging out near a bird’s nest and growling at Andrew as if to say, “stay away from my omelet!” It hung around even after he tossed a stone in its direction as a warning shot.
If you have recorded animal sounds and need help with identifying what made them, just let us know! If you can’t identify those nocturnal animals by sound, why not try by track? Thanks for reading and be sure to check out MyWoodlot.com for pertinent content. We think you’ll like our Wildlife Viewing content, which includes websites for recording and sharing wildlife sightings from your woodlot.