Experience Bernheim Forest after the sun goes down

By Amy Joseph Landon

Source: Insider Louisville
July 22, 2018


Bernheim Forest is worth a look at sunset. The group met from 9-11:30 p.m for the night program. | Photo by Rebekah Alvey

On a Friday night at dusk, a group of about 20 people gathered at Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest in Clermont, Ky., to experience a new side of the forest through the “Creatures of the Night” program.

For years, Bernheim has been hosting programs that take guests into the research forest at night, with volunteer guides to teach about a specific topic. Other programs include laser tours and full-moon hikes. On this tour, we were seeking luna moths and chuck-will’s-widow bird, elusive animals we were warned we may not find.

The group piled into two long vans, driven by guides. The road to our destination started down the typical path through Bernheim. As the sky became darker, the road became more wild.

Luna moths are one of the biggest moths in North America. | Courtesy

We drove on with our guide Bill Napper telling us facts about Bernheim and the wildlife we were hoping to find, with the background of trees smacking the van and pings of gravel jumping up. This was definitely a road less traveled.

Napper warned us to look ahead for any large moths, hoping they would be the elusive luna moth we were searching for. Occasionally, Napper would stop the van and point out a deer or other wildlife with a bright spotlight resting by his right hand.

Over the six years Napper has been volunteering for night programs, he said he’s become attuned to the smallest movements and details of the wild path surrounding him. To prepare for the events, he spends hundreds of hours scouting the path, trying to record the best time and location to find certain creatures.

Napper, who works at a technology company during the day, said he always has been a “nature junkie.” He started as an endurance hiker and climber but began to focus on his surroundings.

“It stopped being about how many miles I can go but how many things can I identify,” Napper said.

Volunteer Bill Napper demonstrates a variety of owl calls on his iPad. | Photo by Rebekah Alvey

Bernheim is located about 30 minutes from the city but provides a completely different view than the Louisville skyline. Napper said the night programs are a way to experience nature as it existed years ago, which is something you can’t do in a suburb or city.

Luisa Satterly attended the program on Friday, July 13. She said she has been a fan of Bernheim but often doesn’t get to visit. She noticed the program and thought it was a great opportunity.

“I live in the city — I can’t see this from my driveway,” Satterly said. “I just kind of miss being out in the woods.”

Dan Pascucci, a nature-based educator with Bernheim, said the “Creatures of the Night” program is just one part of the expansive education program. Normally guests are able to explore on their own, however the night programs let them experience a different aspect of the forest.

Pascucci said during the night programs, it’s not always about what you see but about what you hear. From programs like this, he said Bernheim hopes to connect guests with nature and promote conservation.

After about 10 minutes of driving, we arrived at our first destination where we would try to hear a chuck-will’s-widow. Deep into the forest, the group stood out in complete darkness in a field. You could see stars and hear insects and birds chirping away.

A chuck-will’s-widow | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Napper came equipped with an iPad and a bluetooth speaker, and after showing photos of owls, he demonstrated specific owl calls with a recording. The first call rang out and we waited. After a few minutes of silence, we heard a distant sound echo the call. Everyone in the group expressed fascination and delight.

We continued to stand there, looking at the stars and waiting for a series of owl calls. Finally we attempted to get a response from our target, the chuck-will’s-widow. After a few calls from our end, we still heard nothing.

Before we had even boarded the bus, Napper warned us the chuck-will’s-widow was unlikely to hear, and he had only heard a call a few times at one specific location. After a few more minutes of hopeful waiting and learning about constellations, we packed back into the van and drove to our next stop.

We parked at another field in the forest and faced a set of trees that, once your eyes adjusted, flickered nonstop with a variety of fireflies.

Napper gave a mini lesson on luminescence in nature, describing different varieties of fireflies, worms and plants that glowed at night. He told us he was positive there were species of fireflies and luminescent wildlife in Bernheim yet to be discovered.

He also demonstrated how certain animals view color and nature, showing photos and even using a UV light to depict a series of face paint that had been hidden on his face. Guests laughed and expressed wonder and amazement as the night went on.

Bernheim’s night programs continue this summer and fall. | Courtesy of Bernheim Forest

After our firefly detour, we headed back to our meeting point. The night was over, and we hadn’t seen a luna moth or heard a chuck-will’s-widow. However, we got to experience nature in a unique way, see the stars and get away from the noise of the city for one night.

Upcoming night programs include the “Full Thunder Moon Hike” on July 27, “Summer Sky Watch & Star Stories” on Aug. 11, “Laser-Guided Star Tour” on Oct. 8, “Creatures of the Night: Screech Owl” on Oct. 14, and “Quarter Moon Hike” on Oct. 15.

Our Newsletter

Sign up for the Bernheim Buzz

Get the "buzz" of Bernheim activity weekly in your inbox by signing up below.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.