DEPARTMENT OF NOCTURNAL AFFAIRS
Nocturnal Walking Tour
presented as part of the In Love With Night Exhibition
curated by Ciara Ennis and Max King Cap
15 September, 2009
6:59 p.m. official time of sunset in Orange, CA.
7:00 p.m. tour begins
Visitors gather in the gallery in front of the DNA office. A laptop computer is open on the desk. As the sun sets and night begins in Orange County, California, the Nocturnal Walking Tour has already begun, 9 hours earlier in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Tal Yizrael, one of the DNA artists has been living and working in Tel Aviv since January 2009, and she is live via Skype on the laptop in the gallery.
While the sun is setting in California, the sun is rising in Tel Aviv. Tal has just returned from a walk about the city, photographing nocturnal life in Tel Aviv, and she narrates a live slideshow over the computer for gallery visitors.
“Feral cats scavenge outside of a synagogue, humans are spotted walking in couples on the beach, late night club-hoppers are still drinking and dancing near the seaside.”
DNA tour leaves the gallery and ventures out onto the Chapman University Campus. The sky is now dark. We walk out into an open plaza to observe the night sky.
The following Sky Report is read to the group:
-The brilliant planet Jupiter, in Capricornus the Sea Goat, is the brightest object in the southeast as the sky darkens. It climbs to 42 degrees high in the south at 11:00 p.m. and sets in the west-southwest 4.5 hours later. It is accompanied by four bright lights that slowly re-arrange themselves around the planet. These are the four Galilean satellites, seen by Galileo nearly 400 years ago. Two mutual events occur tonight between Jupiter’s moons Io and Europa. From 8:41 to 8:51 p.m. EDT, Io occults Europa partially. Then from 10:12 to 10:19 EDT, Io’s shadow eclipses Europa partially, dimming it by 86%.
-The Moon appears in waning crescent phase, although it will begin to rise after 4:14 a.m. The moon was 2 degrees from the planet Mars on Sunday morning, the 13th, and is close to Venus and Leo the Lion’s bright star Regulus on Wednesday morning. Before and during dawn on Wednesday morning, look low in the east for Venus near the thin waning crescent Moon.
-Mars is in Gemini the Twins, appearing as a bright orange star. The planet rises in the east-northeast at 1:00 a.m. and is 48 degrees high in the east when the dawn starts. The planet will appear to double in size over the next four months.
-Bright planet Venus rises in the east-northeast at 4:17a.m. and is still visible to the eye at sunrise, 28 degrees above the eastern horizon.
-Southern California residents had one more chance to see the International Space Station and the departing Space Shuttle Discovery, on Wednesday evening September 9. Both crossed below the Big Dipper, only 17 degrees high in the north northwest sky, moving from left to right. Discovery should be highest at about 8:10p.m. followed by the International Space Station about one minute later.
-Also before dawn Wednesday, Vesta (magnitude 8.4) is skimming the southern edge of the Beehive Cluster.
-And, if you’re out before dawn, look for the Zodiacal Light (the “false dawn”) towering up at an angle in the east.
(A sky report is available on a weekly basis from Tony Cook at the Griffith Observatory, firstname.lastname@example.org or in a recorded phone message 213.473.0880)
7:50 p.m. The group is introduced to Joel Robinson, a local Orange County Naturalist.
One of the stated goals of this walking tour is to discover what forms of nocturnal animal life can be observed around the Chapman University campus. Armed with a flashlight and a camera, Joel will be leading the group on a wildlife hunt.
Joel begins describing the likely places that animals will be observed, such as in dark corners, and places with an abundance of bushes for hiding and nesting. The campus is noticeably pruned, landscaped, and well lit, with hardly a dark bushy corner to be found.
We spot a cricket on the sidewalk, the first animal sighting of the night. We stop and listen, noticing the loud chirping all around us. We walk into a corridor between two buildings, with vines covering both walls. This spot is an acoustically perfect place for listening to the crickets.
Joel suddenly crouches down and begins pawing through some vines growing close to the ground, pointing out that most insect life would be hiding beneath these plants. He turns over a medium-sized rock, a pincher bug is found underneath.
By now, we all have moved closer to the ground, closer to the plants and walls. This is not your usual animal-spotting safari, where animals are seen from a comfortable walking position. We must get down on our hands and knees, and more importantly, use our hands and our ears to locate the animal life. They will be small, quiet, and invisible to most passers-by.
Joel lifts up a metal drain cover in the middle of a grassy area. The inside of the drain is full of grass clippings; this area is regularly mowed, and probably fertilized, pesticided, and herbicided Joel reminds us. Inside the drain cover a few small spiders and a roly-poly are spotted. By now, we are getting strange looks from people walking by.
We notice a fibrous tree trunk that is blanketed with spider webs. We move close to the tree and watch the spiders retreat deeper into their funnel-shaped webs.
We decide to look for bats over the football stadium, as the flood-lights are lit for a game. Unfortunately, their brightness is blinding, and we are completely unable to see anything flying near or around the flood-lights. A University employee is shampooing and scrubbing the sidewalk with a mini street-cleaner.
Our next location is a café near the Business building. Dumpsters are out back, and there are significant amounts of food crumbs and wrappers on the ground near the tables. A search of the dumpster area turns up nothing, very little food appears to be thrown away, and there is hardly a noticeable smell in the garbage area. We spot a black widow in a corner along a fence.
As we walk along a landscaped path, constantly scanning and combing through the bushes, a group of young male students ask us what we’re doing. We reply, “We’re looking for nocturnal wildlife.” They ask us if we’ve found any and we say, “No mammals, just insects. There’s a black widow over by the café.” One of the guys tells us that he’s afraid of spiders, especially black widows. He asks Joel if you can die if you get bitten. They acknowledge that the campus is indeed very tidy and this would keep most wild animals away.
We finally arrive at a large open plaza in the oldest part of the campus. The area is circled by a number of lampposts topped with enormous glowing glass bulbs. Around each lamp appears a halo of swarming insects. Tiny gnats and mosquitoes, a praying mantis, a grasshopper, and a seemingly confused bee were found crawling and flying near these moon-like lanterns. We begin inspecting the plants surrounding the plaza, and we notice tall red lilies, tiger lilies, and some ornamental lavender look-alike flowers. Joel mentions that we might see a hummingbird moth, and that they often can be found feeding on lilies at night.
As we walk under a morton bay fig tree Joel stops to listen to a different sort of chirp, unlike the common crickets we’ve been listening to all night. He says that this single shrill peep sound is coming from a tree cricket, and that it’s unusual to hear them in this environment. Apparently they prefer oak groves. At that moment, I decide that I must visit an oak grove some night, because the sound of the tree cricket is exceptionally beautiful.
A few large orange and brown spiders are spotted on large net-like webs around the plaza, we marvel at how they manage to build these extraordinary webs in just one evening. One web was suspended between a lamppost and the second story of a building at least 20 feet away.
We start to walk towards the edge of the campus and we notice that the immaculate landscaping, pruning and mulching is somewhat reduced. We find an old trashcan full of water under some overgrown trees, and we spot a rat-trapping box beside an auditorium. There is a plastic baggie half-filled with a sugary cereal (Fruit Loops it seems) that has been left on a low marble pedestal beneath a bronze sculpture. Joel mentions that he saw this baggie the night before, and though it’s been moved around and the cereal has spilled out around it, most of it hasn’t been eaten. This either points to a serious lack of animal life around there, OR it is simply the Fruit Loops that are so repulsive and unhealthy that even the rats, raccoons and birds won’t touch them.
We approach another planted area with a large tree at the opposite end, and while we’ve been wading through vines and ground cover for a while, we notice an increased crunching sound and sensation under our feet. As we walk towards the tree, we begin spotting snails EVERYWHERE. Snails on the wall, snails on the sidewalk, snails in the plants, snails crunching under our feet, and ESPECIALLY, snails gathering en-masse inside a large open scar down the tree’s trunk. Apparently, this part of the tree had been chewed out by termites, and the strange corrugated mass that was left behind has become a major pilgrimage site for all the local snails. We had no idea what they were attracted to in this tree trunk, but I was really starting to wonder where the local opossums were, because this would certainly be a feast for them.
As the tour heads back towards the art gallery, we stop by the dumpsters behind the science building. Nothing is found here, the bins are mostly full of recyclables. Next to this is the largest cafeteria on campus, so we go to inspect their dumpsters. Again, very little food garbage is present, and there’s no sign of animal life. Beneath the windows of the cafeteria kitchen another rat-trapping box is discovered. A large steel drum filled with used cooking oil is leaking a tiny stream of shiny grease down the sidewalk. Empty milk crates are stacked near a stairway.
While we walk back towards the street we notice whole walnuts, still in their skins and shells, littering the street. Earlier that day, the ravens were dropping them from the telephone wires above to break them open. I wondered if there were any owls nesting in the enormous (and not recently pruned) walnut tree in a neighboring yard.
Tour ends back at the gallery. Piano playing and opera singing can be heard from the music rehearsal rooms across the walkway. At 9:30 p.m. a fireworks show will begin at Disneyland and will be visible from any 2nd story building on campus. The football game continues, and the sky is completely beige if you look north.
Chapman University at Night