Night Hike at Middlesex Fells

by Corey Husic

On the evening of December 15th—amidst final exams and term papers—Harold Eyster and I led a trip to Middlesex Fells, a state park situated just north of Boston. The naturalist club had led several trips to the Fells before, but this was the first time we would be exploring the park at night. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect: maybe we’d hear an owl, or perhaps we’d encounter some nocturnal mammals or nefarious humans.

Several of us gathered in Harvard Square, and then rode the T all the way to the Oak Grove station. From here, we walked two blocks north to the trailhead. We clambered up the slope and some rocks and soon found ourselves gazing at the bright city skyline to our south. We gazed at constellations like Orion and Cassiopeia—features of the night sky barely visible back on campus.

We made our way back to the main trail and walked deeper into the park. Eamon Corbett had brought along a makeshift pitfall trip designed for the live capture of insects and small mammals. Eamon, Michael Genecin, and Sarah Ward dug a small hole for the trap, and covered the top with leaf litter hoping to fool an unsuspecting mouse or vole.

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digging a pitfall trap (photo: Jarrod Wetzel-Brown)

 

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the pitfall trap crew (photo: Jarrod Wetzel-Brown)

Once the trap was in place, we continued down the trail looking and listening for wildlife. The woods were extremely quiet-nary an owl or insect decided to vocalize.

We soon found ourselves in front of another rocky hill, so we climbed to the top, of course. This peak provided a view of Melrose, Massachusetts in full Christmas decoration glory. Two hundred feet down the slope from where we sat, one particularly bright holiday display was blasting tunes from the Jackson 5 Christmas Album. Even from this distance, we could hear the lyrics so well that some members of our group were prompted to sing along. Now the resident owls were sure to remain silent.

We elected to turn back, taking one final stop to enjoy a view of the city. At this vantage point, we stood in a circle and wrapped our arms around each other singing along to Adele’s Hello. More like Middlesex Feels.

Invigorated, we started on the last leg of our hike back. Some observant members of the group spotted a bunch of moths on a decaying tree. They turned out to be Winter Moths (Operophtera brumata), a nonnative, invasive insect that has become common across the northern United States. Finally some wildlife, albeit in the form of a small, plain, brown moth…

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checking out some moths (photo: Jarrod Wetzel-Brown)

Eamon checked his pitfall trap before we left the park. Not even a confused centipede. Oh well.

We found our way back to the Orange Line, and unlike our last trip to the Fells, everyone in our group made it onto the same train…

Although we didn’t see much on this first ever night hike, it was a fun night of constellations, gaudy Christmas decorations, some brown moths, and Adele. The best kind of study break from final exams.

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Thanks for taking pictures, Jarrod!

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