I recently wrote about camping and hiking in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest, but I failed to mention something that makes camping out at Starrett Lake such a singular experience. I’ve been camping there for nearly 20 years, and almost every night at dusk you’ll hear the unmistakable call of the Eastern whip-poor-will. This call is unmistakable in large part due to the fact that it’s eponymous, extremely loud and usually incessant.
Eastern whip-poor-wills used to be considered one species along with the Mexican whip-poor-will, but DNA analysis shows they are instead closely related. They have a special place in my heart because I associate them with my years as a camp counselor in Brown County, Indiana, where they were a companion and an annoyance on campouts and night-watch duty. One campsite in particular was thick with whip-poor-wills that sang in the pines for hours. At one point, the singing stopped and we could hear a faint buzzing sound coming from one of the birds. “What was that?” I whispered to my friend Brandon. The singing started back up and Brandon said ominously, “It was rewinding!” Other adventures with whip-poor-wills include having one under my rainfly at dawn in the Black River State Forest and one that came through camp on a record cold spring night in the Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier National Forest. And, despite having been warned, my exhausted husband’s reaction on his first night at Starrett Lake was to moan, “Someone turn off the car alarms!” and put his pillow over his face.