Night in Nature
Our author rounds up the best ways to explore the North Shore’s nocturnal landscape.
When night falls, nocturnal creatures leave their dens, the full moon shimmers on the ocean, and meteors streak through the inky black sky. Want to experience that firsthand? There’s lots of ways to explore nighttime in nature here on the North Shore.
Hiking is a great way to get close to the land, but when it’s done at night, it takes on a whole new dimension.
“You never know what you’re going to hear or see,” says Kristen Swanberg, director of education and public programming for The Trustees of Reservations, which hosts monthly “Full Moon and Folklore” hikes at Castle Hill at the Crane Estate in Ipswich through October. The 2.5 to 3-mile hikes—which usually start around 8:15 p.m. in June and July—meander through the Castle Hill property, including the dunes and beach.
“People are always amazed at how bright a full moon can be,” Swanberg says. “They often think they will need flashlights…but they can see just fine.”
Hikers hear about natural history, the history of the estate, and folklore, and replenish with refreshments like lemonade and cookies.
Also check out this summer’s full moon night hike with Andover Trails Committee’s Jeffrey LaFountain on July 28 at 8:30 p.m., which will explore the Shawsheen River Trail from Central St. to Ballardvale and back.
To get even closer to nature at night, try one of the family campouts at Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield. Each of this summer’s three scheduled campouts in July, August, and September has a different theme, says Ipswich River field teacher Angela Walsh. For instance, July’s “Tracks and Scat” campout teaches attendees about wildlife tracking skills during evening and morning hikes, while the “River Campout” includes an evening canoe trip down the Ipswich River. Families pitch tents and sleep right at the sanctuary.
“There’s frogs and toads calling at night which is a neat sound to go to sleep to,” she says, not to mention owls hooting, coyotes howling, and beaver tails slapping the water.
And not to worry: There’s plenty of marshmallow roasting and even a continental breakfast provided the next morning.
The North Shore’s beaches, rivers, and ocean are beautiful during the day, but have a different kind of magic at night.
“It’s quite spectacular,” says Ozzie Osborn, who owns Essex-based Essex River Basin Adventures (ERBA) with his wife, Sandy. Throughout the summer, ERBA hosts a variety of sunset and moonlight kayak tours. The moonlight tours, for instance, run during four consecutive nights each month to coincide with the full moon. Osborn says the tours take paddlers through the Essex River Basin to Crane Beach, taking a break along the way for s’mores, hot cocoa, and coffee on the beach. Paddlers will not only enjoy the natural nighttime beauty, but also hear about history and wildlife from guides.
Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary also hosts family dusk paddles, which explore the Ipswich River with different themes, including summer solstice, river mammals, owls, and discovering wetlands.
“It’s such a slow-moving river,” says Walsh. “It gives people a little bit of information without overwhelming them.”
Of course there’s a lot going on underwater, too, which is why experienced divers who want to test their nerve will connect with the North Shore Frogmen, a local scuba diving club, for night dives.
“A lot of people truly love night diving. That’s when all the animals come out and eat,” says Vinny Egizi, current president of North Shore Frogmen. He says if someone wants to go on a night dive, the club will send out a notification to one of the roughly 100 people on its “buddy list” to coordinate. He adds that good night diving spots are places that are “easy in and easy out,” like Pebble Beach, Back Beach, and Front Beach on Cape Ann.
IN THE SKY
One of the night sky’s best shows is the annual Persieds meteor shower, and what better way to watch it than at the Crane Estate? This year’s viewing party will be held on August 12 from 10 p.m. until midnight. A new moon that evening will make it especially dark: perfect for viewing the meteor shower, which, at its peak, will send about 60 meteors an hour streaking across the sky, says Swanberg.
To get even closer to the stars, check out the North Shore Amateur Astronomy Club, which hosts public stargazing events on Wednesday nights at Merrimack College’s Mendel Observatory starting at dusk or 7 p.m., depending on the time of year. Check the club’s public Facebook page for event updates, says public outreach coordinator Brewster LaMacchia. It also hosts events within the community like the “One Night, Four Planets” educational and viewing event on the evening of Tuesday, August 7, at the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library.
Of course, you don’t need to join an organized event or even leave home to stargaze. In fact, many local public libraries, including ones in Andover, Beverly, Saugus, Hamilton-Wenham, and many others, have telescopes that patrons can borrow. And there’s a lot to see. LaMacchia says in July and August, for instance, Jupiter, its moons, and Saturn (not to mention its rings) are very prominent.
“You forget there’s a whole universe out there when you can’t see it,” he says.