Keystone WILD! Notes

WINTER 2007-2008

eyeshine highlights wildlife's nocturnal habits


--by Heidi Boyle

Brilliant, silvery-yellow spots flickered among cornhusks as my car’s headlights flashed an autumn field. Several does in the withered stalks were startled, revealing their signature eyeshine. I slowed to a crawl as the does and their young threaded their way across the road in front of my car, their eyes eerily glowing in the headlights.

Trying to coax my heartbeat back to normal, I continued on carefully, looking for the telltale eyeshine of various night creatures that can make night driving on back roads an obstacle course.

Late summer and early fall, with its abundance of food and cover, is a busy time for many hunters across the state. The camouflage comes out, along with the equipment and spotlights. The gist of spotlighting is to pile in the truck on autumn nights and drive into the country to search for deer using a powerful spotlight.

It is a familiar sight to see pickup trucks trundling along country roads with spotlights searching for the familiar eyeshine of grazing deer. Spotlighting in its varying degrees has long been a necessary tool of both hunters and naturalists alike.

The idea of seeing eyes in the dark raises many emotions, but as spooky and mysterious as eyeshine may seem, the science behind the shine allows for interesting illumination, if you will, into the nocturnal world.

I was introduced to this “sport” while spotlighting for elk near Benezette. After seeing about 50 pairs of eyes glowing and blinking in the fields, while hearing the pure, high sound of bugling in the chilly autumn air, I was hooked. After that, I was careful never to call it a hobby, for it is a serious annual ritual, this seeking out of nighttime hangouts for creatures.
Light allows us to view nature in all of its colorful splendor. But as evening descends and available light diminishes, the color vision we are used to recedes and we see things in shades of black and gray.

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