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Crazy encounters while out observing at night

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#1 Bob King

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 01:33 PM

Hi,

Ever had something unexpected or scary happen while you were out observing? Several month ago, I pulled off the road to set up my scope in a gravel pit area. I usually leave the trunk open to access eyepieces and star charts. About an hour in, a big truck pulled up with brights on. After a minute, a fellow got out with a flashlight wondering what was going on. He was a local deputy sheriff checking around the township. After my heart stopped pounding and I could explain, he said: "I thought maybe you were burying a dead body." We ended up spending a half hour observing - his first time seeing Saturn.  

My name is Bob King and I write a weekly blog for Sky & Telescope called "Explore the Night". In the near future I'll be writing about our "night stories" and would love to hear yours for possible inclusion in the article. Thanks so much for sharing your tales!

Bob 



#2 Classic8

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 02:03 PM

Nothing too major but I almost stumbled into a skunk, saw him just in time. He looked as surprised at seeing me out there in the dark in the middle of nowhere as I was at seeing him.

 

I also had a police car pull up with that big spotlight on, cop got out, asked for my driver's license and actually called it in, but then let me stay (I'd been there many times and had seen cops drive by and not bother with me at all). Of course, my dark adaptation was history after that.



#3 chrysalis

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 02:12 PM

#1:

 

When I lived in CT, I was out one night with the telescope when I heard this very loud snarl that I was **certain** was a cougar! So I called my wife on the cell phone and said "Turn on all the outside lights right away!!!" She was startled by this because - why would I be asking her to turn ON lights? So I repeated myself, and she turned on the lights. Pretty sure I never got the 12" faster than that time!

 

Over the next couple of days and some internet research, I discovered it was actually a fox that had screamed out. I had no idea foxes made noises! 



#4 Augustus

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 02:14 PM

#1:

 

When I lived in CT, I was out one night with the telescope when I heard this very loud snarl that I was **certain** was a cougar! So I called my wife on the cell phone and said "Turn on all the outside lights right away!!!" She was startled by this because - why would I be asking her to turn ON lights? So I repeated myself, and she turned on the lights. Pretty sure I never got the 12" faster than that time!

 

Over the next couple of days and some internet research, I discovered it was actually a fox that had screamed out. I had no idea foxes made noises! 

Foxes in CT, huh? We just saw 2 in our yard for the first time.



#5 chrysalis

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 02:18 PM

#2:

 

We were in Angel Fire NM and only a few miles from Bortle BLACK skies. I had only ever been under as dark as green. So I got in the car and drove out to a pull off on the minor road, no traffic, and sat there for a couple of minutes to dark adapt, and got out. I looked up and was blown away by the vastness and blackness. 1) The clouds really did appear as blacker holes against the sky. 2) The Milky Way really DOES cast a shadow. While being completely amazed and enthralled, there came this completely unearthly high-pitched "scream" that scared the heck out of me! I jumped into the car and drove back to where we were staying. And later, it turned out that what I had heard was an Elk calling out.



#6 chrysalis

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 02:21 PM

#1:

 

When I lived in CT, I was out one night with the telescope when I heard this very loud snarl that I was **certain** was a cougar! So I called my wife on the cell phone and said "Turn on all the outside lights right away!!!" She was startled by this because - why would I be asking her to turn ON lights? So I repeated myself, and she turned on the lights. Pretty sure I never got the 12" faster than that time!

 

Over the next couple of days and some internet research, I discovered it was actually a fox that had screamed out. I had no idea foxes made noises! 

Indeed!!

 

Also: don't know if anyone will know, but there were some sort of lobster-like creatures...saw a live one scurry but could not really perceive its aspect...and found shells lying in the grass other times. Very alien looking. I suppose they could have come from the pond on our property?



#7 jimr2

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 02:46 PM

Yeah, like you Bob, while I was out about 1.5 hrs before sunrise one early cold winter morning last winter I think, trying to find a comet that morning--Holmes??--a county sheriff's car pulled up behind me w/ his brights on--thru ruining my dark-adapter vision too--and after I waved to him and after a minute or so, he got out to see what I was up to. I was out off the side of a dirt-road on the edge of our little town, out behind a Texaco station by about 1/4 mi. or so, where it's quite dark. Told him and he seemed to believe me--maybe it was the fact that I had my SLR set up on a tripod pointing skyward at the time!--anyhow, he left after a minute or so, but by then the eastern sky was showing signs of lightness, so I had to bag it in then. And the sheriff did also run my plates too before he got out of his car, as I heard him talking on his radio to headquarters giving them my license no., make of car, etc.

 

Since then, when out at night/early morning, I make sure I go a little further down that dirt road so no one can see me from the Texaco station and call the sheriff to come check my "suspicious" activities out!



#8 aeajr

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 03:06 PM

Mine is all about what goes on in your head.

 

I had gone to a local sports field which borders on a nature preserve.  I brought my Meade ETX 80 to see if it would be darker than home.   My house is in a very light polluted bortel 7 area and I am surrounded by lights.

 

So I am in this sports field, near the woods, and it was significantly darker than home.  I am over the eyepiece when I hear a crack behind me, like someone stepping on a twig.  I have on a hooded sweatshirt to help darken the eyepiece area, so I have to lift my head and spin my body around in order to see behind me.   Nothing!

 

I go back to observing, whatever, when I hear a sound to the right.  Sounds like something coming out of the woods.  My head snaps up, but there is nothing.  

 

As I go back to the eyepiece it occurs to me that this is like some scene out of some slasher movie or zombie movie or Alaska wilderness, but I am on Long Island, just outside NYC, in a fairly save suburban community.  But I can't get the image out of my mind. 

 

"Ed was a budding astronomer who went to the woods to get a better look at the cosmos.   Little did he know that Cugo, Freddie and the Midnight Slasher were having a party in the same woods that night.   Oh, it was dark that night but now quite what Ed had in mind.   Of course we will never know what he was observing that night.   The telescope was found the next day but no Ed."

 

The story in my head was far worse than anything I was likely to encounter but I could not overcome it so I packed up and headed home.  I set up in front of my light polluted house for the rest of the evening.

 

Sometimes the you just can't get past all the horror movies, murder based TV shows and wilderness shows.   I can put up with the light pollution by my house but I need to find some star buddies to go back to that dark area with me. ;)



#9 Kendahl

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 03:59 PM

The most we have ever encountered are deer and a cat that liked to hang out with astronomers.

 

One of the members of our local club was observing with his 8 inch Dob from a vacant lot. Two police officers stopped to check him out. A neighbor had called 911 to report someone with a "cannon". After realizing that it was a telescope, the cops wished him well and continued their patrol.



#10 JerryOrr

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 04:04 PM

I'm a fire lookout for the Forest Service, and spend my summers alone, except for the wildlife, on a mountain top.
 
A few years ago, I was observing outside my cabin with my 20x80's on their P-mount, just doing long sweeps of the summer Milky Way.  I was in sandals, and after I had been observing for awhile, I felt something wet touching the toes of my left foot.  I turned on the red light, looked down and there was this huge skunk licking my toes!



#11 Jim4321

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 04:23 PM

Post # 10 in this earlier thread sums up my most unexpected observing experience:

http://www.cloudynig...t#entry7013849

 

I've also found my self at reasonably short range to a large black bull one morning at our club's mountaintop observatory.  I'd spent the night there in my camper, and was stepping outside with coffee and camera to watch the sunrise.  Was a definite wake-up call!

 

Jim H.



#12 Augustus

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 04:28 PM

there were some sort of lobster-like creatures...saw a live one scurry but could not really perceive its aspect...and found shells lying in the grass other times. Very alien looking. I suppose they could have come from the pond on our property?

 

Crawfish.


Edited by Augustus, 13 February 2016 - 04:28 PM.


#13 2LiveAndDieInLA

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 04:55 PM

We had a similar thread going like this a short while ago that I believe was locked because it was side tracked by a gun debate (if a gun is needed to protect yourself in these sort of situations).  But there are a lot of interesting stories in the thread.

 

http://www.cloudynig...mote-locations/



#14 Bob King

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 05:11 PM

These are some great stories. Jerry - a skunk licking your toes?? - that would make me jump 10 feet with some bad consequences! Thanks 2Live and Apollo for the links. Keep 'em comin'. I love reading these 'tales from the wild'. Whoever feels comfortable giving me your name, so I can use real people, please e-mail me at: nightsky55@gmail.com and tell me who you are (connected to your screen name or story). I hope that's not asking too much. Thank you!



#15 mccarthymark

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 06:48 PM

I was alone on a local state park's parking lot near Mount Hamilton which overlooks San Jose's lights. Close to midnight a car pulls into the lot and parks about 20 yards away from me. I half expect the people to come out to see what I'm doing, but they don't. Pretty soon their car starts a rockin'... It dawns on me the site is a lover's point, not just a good spot for astronomical observing.

I keep doing my thing, with more to listen to than the usual crickets and coyotes. After 20 minutes they started up their car and left. I don't think they even noticed I was there.

Edited by mccarthymark, 13 February 2016 - 08:12 PM.


#16 tchandler

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 07:50 PM

Nothing too crazy has happened. I was serenaded by a trio of coyotes one evening. They seemed to be about a 1/2 mile away but at night and in that setting, sound carries so it was hard to tell. If I had been observing alone, I might had thought differently of the experience.

 

I observe at a number of different sites, some private and some public. Every single time that I observe in a public area, which is about twice a year, I get a friendly visit from the long arm of the law.

 

I'm a little astonished by the reports above. The cops in my neck of the woods, it would appear, know what a telescope looks like. As soon as the cruiser pulls up, the officer almost always makes an immediate U-turn and then makes track; sometimes there'll be a quick "hello" or a friendly nod, but never have they "called it in" or asked to see identification. It is a public area after all.

 

Even when the men in blue have come face to "face" with a weird-looking truss tube dob that bears no resemblance whatsoever to a telescope in the classical sense, they quickly clue into the scene. This sort of thing has happened so often in fact, that I am beginning to think that they see people with telescopes all of the time. Wouldn't that be refreshing.


Edited by tchandler, 13 February 2016 - 07:52 PM.


#17 DoctorNoodle

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 08:04 PM

My most notable encounter was with a state trooper while observing with friends in a park in upstate New York. He advised us that we weren't supposed to be in the park and to be out of there by daylight.


Edited by DoctorNoodle, 13 February 2016 - 08:05 PM.


#18 jonkjon

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Posted 13 February 2016 - 08:08 PM

Years ago, I was sitting outside in my rural driveway trying to setup my Meade Pictor. After much muddling about trying to obtain focus, I finally was able to relax in my chair and begin to attempt my first exposure. Something just didn't seem right and I looked down and a copperhead snake was making its way (directly beneath my chair) to my open garage door. I jumped (about 5 feet) up and ran to try and head it off. My garage is, let's say "cluttered". Fortunately he stopped and I was able to trap him under a 5 gallon bucket and toted him a couple of acres away.

I have never set up my equipment in that location again!

 

--Jon



#19 kfiscus

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Posted 14 February 2016 - 09:48 PM

My most memorable/I-hope-it-doesn't-happen-again moment occurred several winters ago.  Drifts kept me out of my dark sites and I set up at a lakeside boat ramp by a frozen lake.  I had a VERY drunk driver stop by to see what I was doing.  I showed him the scope (he stayed in his car) and he left.  I called 9-1-1 as soon as he left to see if they could find him before he hurt someone.



#20 iKMN

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Posted 14 February 2016 - 10:16 PM

Not really an encounter but every now and then I hear packs of coyotes nearby when out with the telescope.  Truthfully, though never seen a coyote that wasn't road kill.   OT, but honest truth spend many years hunting in the woods and swamps in Florida - seen X 3 FL Panthers (not bobcats but real panthers) which is amazing considering the population is less then 100 or so.  But there are literally thousands of coyotes and black bears in FL and I've never seen a single one out hunting - nearly 45 years old never seen one!   

 

cheers

 

k



#21 izar187

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Posted 15 February 2016 - 12:58 AM

Hearing coyotes is one of the most fun things there is that compliments being out with a scope.

Saw a pack in my headlights once crossing the road perhaps a 1/4 mile from my chosen observing site that night.

Once a very large and kinda shaggy one crossed a trail ahead of me one spring day out on public land.

In past years heard up to five different sets calling back and forth to each other, from various directions and distances, all around me and my scope.

Very much less so recently, which makes me suspect that local farmers have been waging war pretty fiercely upon them.

 

The shadows of flights of geese flying over me when out scoping under moonlight, those were two of my all time favorites.

The first time about jumped out of my socks, until I heard them calling quietly to each other, after their shadow passed.

Second time heard them coming, then so low over the top of me I could hear their wings.



#22 tomykay12

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Posted 15 February 2016 - 12:55 PM

Well, I wasn't observing, but was at the Observatory Campground on Palomar mountain, just below the Hale telescope. We had gone for a little walk just before dusk, and returned to our campsite to find a large black and white bull standing by our picnic table. Colette thought someone was playing a prank and it was fake; then it turned it's head to look at us and the sound coming from my companion startled the bull and it wandered off. Semi observing related, lol.



#23 rocco13

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Posted 15 February 2016 - 02:36 PM

Wasn't really observing per se, but...

 

I used to be a Land Surveyor back in the 80's and into the early 90's. We were up toward the far west end of the Grand Canyon, actually Havasupai Canyon. We were shooting angles & distances from point to point. Even though the as-a-crow-flies distance was only about 2.5 miles across the canyon, because of our location along the canyon my partner had about an hour's drive to get to the other side. So, I had plenty of time to sightsee.

 

I was set up with the instrument (30mm objective) literally on the eastern edge of the canyon, approximately 1300' above the canyon floor.. As the sun was setting, I could begin to see the brighter stars and a planet or two. I'm completely off in my own little world doing some impromptu stargazing, waiting for my coworker to get to his next point. All of a sudden I hear a snort, turn around, and lo and behold, less than 100' away stood about a dozen wild mustangs. They were slowly grazing the desert scrub, but always keeping an eye on me, as if I was the one to be watched. It was an awesome sight, but at the same time I'm thinking to myself if they charge me I got nowhere to go but down off the side of the cliff!

 

They kept slowly ambling along, grazing away, and I relaxed as they didn't seem threatening. Took in that site for a while longer, then had to go back to work.

 

Cool thing is, on the drive back into civilization later that night, we saw a handful of elk blocking the road. I'd never seen one in the wild, and was amazed at how easily and gracefully they would hop that safety fence on the sides of the road.



#24 Augustus

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Posted 15 February 2016 - 02:47 PM

Wasn't really observing per se, but...

 

I used to be a Land Surveyor back in the 80's and into the early 90's. We were up toward the far west end of the Grand Canyon, actually Havasupai Canyon. We were shooting angles & distances from point to point. Even though the as-a-crow-flies distance was only about 2.5 miles across the canyon, because of our location along the canyon my partner had about an hour's drive to get to the other side. So, I had plenty of time to sightsee.

 

I was set up with the instrument (30mm objective) literally on the eastern edge of the canyon, approximately 1300' above the canyon floor.. As the sun was setting, I could begin to see the brighter stars and a planet or two. I'm completely off in my own little world doing some impromptu stargazing, waiting for my coworker to get to his next point. All of a sudden I hear a snort, turn around, and lo and behold, less than 100' away stood about a dozen wild mustangs. They were slowly grazing the desert scrub, but always keeping an eye on me, as if I was the one to be watched. It was an awesome sight, but at the same time I'm thinking to myself if they charge me I got nowhere to go but down off the side of the cliff!

 

They kept slowly ambling along, grazing away, and I relaxed as they didn't seem threatening. Took in that site for a while longer, then had to go back to work.

 

Cool thing is, on the drive back into civilization later that night, we saw a handful of elk blocking the road. I'd never seen one in the wild, and was amazed at how easily and gracefully they would hop that safety fence on the sides of the road.

You should've taken a photo! :)



#25 rocco13

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Posted 15 February 2016 - 03:11 PM

Wish I could have. Unfortunately that was back in the days before cell phones. :(




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