By and large, the environments where I stargaze are pretty predictable. There will be cars passing by, the distant sounds of trucks and trains, night birds, and so on. In the city or suburbs, I expect to encounter dog walkers, teenagers quiet or rowdy, and even occasionally another stargazer. But every now and then I get a genuine surprise.At my country home, I'm used to hearing extended conservations among the local canid population, both domestic and wild. Often it will start with some coyotes yipping in the swamp, then the big dogs up the hill will join in, and pretty soon the neighborhood for miles around is resonating with yelps, howls, and barks. Sometimes the coyotes come closer, even walking up the road right past my driveway.
One night last summer, I was alarmed to hear a howling that was clearly heading straight toward me. Coyotes don't usually worry me at all, but I din't like the idea that one of them was actively seeking me out. Fortunately, this sounded a lot more like a beagle than a coyote. On the other hand, coyotes have a huge range of vocalizations, so you never know.
Looking toward the howling, which by then was just 20 yards away, I saw a red light. Now this was just too strange to handle. Here I have a coyote who's mimicking a beagle and has already attacked another stargazer and stolen his red flashlight. Yikes!
Right about then a car drove up the hill with just its parking lights on and stopped a little above my driveway. The red light ran over to the car, whereupon a conversation ensued between the two people in the car about how far their dog had gone.
On inquiring, I discovered that they were training the dog to hunt raccoons. They'd set it loose about a half mile away, and it eventually found not a raccoon but me. The red light is on a radio beacon that they use to follow the dog as it hunts. The owner was quite apologetic about disturbing me, and came by during daylight some time later to explain all about how he trains dogs for competitions.
It all goes to show, you never know what you'll learn when you head outside to look at the stars.
I had an equally strange experience in my local city park about a year earlier, but I'll save that story for another day. Meanwhile, how about you? What's the oddest encounter you've ever had at night?