"Boo" isn’t the only sound that conjures up spooky thoughts of Halloween. There’s also "Hoo."
Owls have their place in Halloween lore as nocturnal creatures with large, round eyes, sharp claws and heads that seem able to spin. So what better time to meet up with some in person than during the fall season, when, incidentally, their screeches are likely to be loudest?
The Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown is offering Owl Prowl sessions this fall — a Full Moon Owl Prowl on Oct. 30, when the moon adds to the ambience, and a Friday the 13th Owl Prowl, on Nov. 13, when the superstitious date enhances the evening’s allure. Those dates are sold out, but due to the popularity of the program, Sweetbriar will be putting more on the schedule. "Rest assured, we will offering more owl prowls this fall," says Janine Bendicksen, director of wildlife rehabilitation.
Participants will meet some of the nature center’s 16 owls, which live on the grounds in enclosures. The center cares for barred owls, barn owls and screech owls that have been injured and can’t be released into the wild, says center program coordinator Veronica Sayers. "Almost all of them were hit by cars," Sayers says, usually while swooping down to try to catch prey such as a squirrel or rat they spotted running across a roadway, not realizing that the blacktop isn’t an open field.
An educator will explain about the lives of owls. "We’ll talk about how their eyesight sees differently than you do in the dark," Sayers says. Then the group, which will be limited to 25 people for coronavirus safety reasons, will practice making owl calls in anticipation of taking a 20-minute hike to entice owls in the wild to hoot back at them.
"It’s the season when they tend to be the loudest outside," Sayers says. "There is a white pine tree on the walk, and a great horned owl very often will be sitting up at the top of it."
The activity is meant for families with children ages 5 and older, Sayers says. It’s $10 per person and advance registration is required on the website; the program tends to sell out, Sayers says. Participants should dress warmly, wear bug spray and bring a flashlight. Masks and social distancing are required, and no bathroom facilities will be available.
The October session begins at 6:30 p.m.; the November session begins at 6 p.m. because by then dark falls earlier, Sayers says. The nature center is at 62 Eckernkamp Dr., Smithtown. To purchase tickets, visit sweetbriarnc.org. For more information, call 631-979-6344.