Out of all of the relaxing things to do in an Arkansas State Park sitting around a campfire at night is my favorite. It is one of the best ways to experience nature in the park. Where else can you sit and experience such a variety of animals, and all you have to do is listen. After your ears get past the sound of a hot dog hissing or the crack of the fire you can hear how alive the park is. Night time is full of activity and there are many animals to listen for.
My favorite animals to listen for are frogs. There are about 20 different frogs that live in Arkansas and several of them are very common in our State Parks. One of the most common calls you hear this time of year belongs to the Spring Peeper. As the name implies, they make a loud peep and when several of them get together it can get very loud.
Another of my favorites is the Gray Tree Frog. These guys will be coming out a little bit later in the year and also occur at several of our parks. They can be found around the lights on buildings waiting for a tasty bug to fly in. Their call is a little different in that it is a quick trill.
Of course if you think about night time sounds you always think Owls. In most of the parks in the state you’ll be listening for three in particular the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, and Screech Owl. The Great Horned is the classic owl that most people think of. It has big yellow eyes and tufts or “horns” on its head. They have the traditional hoot sound and generally are vocal later into the night.
The next and arguably most vocal is the Barred Owl. This owl has a bar pattern on its chest and big brown eyes. Their call is very easily identifiable and most people refer to the saying “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all” when trying to remember it.
The last and smallest is the Screech Owl, which looks a lot like a small Great Horned Owl. They have a very fun call that almost sounds like the whinny of a horse.
Owls are a fun animal to listen for and are very responsive to other owl calls. Check with your favorite park about going on an owl prowl with an Interpreter. If you want to listen to these calls before you visit a quick internet search will lead you to many choices.
The last animals to talk about are the ones that you have to listen very hard for. A soft step on the leaves may be the only sound you hear as they creep up, but they will soon let you know of their presence. About the time that you are finally nodding off they will tear into the hot dogs or Hershey bars that were not properly secured. Of course I’m talking about Raccoons, Opossums, and Skunks. These animals are notorious for getting into coolers and trash bags that are left out at night. I remember one summer night camping out at Crowley’s Ridge State Park and waking up to Hershey wrappers spread out all over the campsite and an empty bag of hot dogs in the cooler. I’ve since learned to be more careful with my food storage.
So whether it is enjoying frog calls, owl calls, or the sound of a hot dog hissing over a campfire I hope you will enjoy night time in an Arkansas State Park soon. Just remember to pack those hot dogs and Hershey bars somewhere safe.
Adam Leslie is a Park Interpreter at Devil’s Den State Park. He has been there since September of 2009. Prior to Devil’s Den he was a seasonal interpreter at Petit Jean State Park. He received a degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology from Arkansas State University. His main interest is natural resource management.