When you’re out and about in spring and summer, you’ll be sharing the outdoors with a wide variety of wild animals and birds. Here are some suggestions to help you enjoy nature without danger to you or the critters.
Raccoons, Skunks, and other small furry animals
Remember that rabies is in Vermont and pretty much throughout the Northeast. It’s treatable if you get medical attention soon after you’re bitten; otherwise, it’s 100% fatal. Be suspicious of any animal that doesn’t seem afraid of you. Never touch a dead animal. If you’re bitten, wash the wound with soap and water, leave the trail and see a doctor immediately.
It’s a good idea not to share your trail mix with the cute little chipmunks who show up the minute you sit down for lunch. It doesn’t help the animals to get them used to handouts, and it goes against Leave No Trace wilderness ethics to be throwing food around.
Something interesting might be happening with Vermont’s bobcat population. They’re packing up and moving down into the valleys. For hundreds of years, bobcats have preferred rocky mountain areas. More and more frequently, they’re becoming “flat-landers”. One theory is that the decline of the snowshoe hare has caused the cats to switch over to cottontails, which are the rabbits of hedgerows, farmland and suburbs. You probably won’t be lucky enough to see a bobcat (and they’re certainly no threat to you), but you might see tracks or even hear its loud “MrrrOWewww!”
There aren’t any poisonous snakes along the Long Trail or the Appalachian Trail in VT. (Limited numbers of rattlesnakes inhabit some cliffs in southern Vermont, but their range doesn’t overlap hiking trails.)
In Vermont and the Adirondacks, clouds of tiny, biting blackflies can drive hikers nuts. They’re around starting in late May and usually disappear in July. (Old timers say blackflies leave on the Fourth of July. Don’t believe them.) If you want to hike during these weeks, wear long pants and long sleeves and put on insect repellant. Long pants also help guard against the possibility of ticks.
Loons start looking for places to nest in May and June. They prefer the edges of shallow water but have also done well with floating man-made islands. On some lakes, nesting areas are roped off with signs and buoys. Other nesting areas aren’t marked, but paddlers should always watch from a good distance away. The fluffy little dark babies start appearing in late July. If you’re boating and see an adult loon, slow down. Adult loons can dive under water to avoid your boat, but loon chicks cannot dive deeply enough nor swim quickly enough to get away and might get hit or pushed under.
In recent years, peregrine falcons have nested on Arrowhead Mountain in Milton, Bolton Notch, Bristol Cliffs, Mount Horrid, Mount Pisgah, Nebraska Notch, Snake Mountain in Addison, Hazen's Notch and Smuggler’s Notch and at over a dozen other high, rocky sites. They nest on high cliffs that they think are inaccessible but several of their nesting sites are close to hiking trails. Peregrine falcons are apt to abandon their young if they’re disturbed, especially if hikers are above their nests. If you come across a trail that’s closed because of nesting peregrines, it’s your responsibility to go elsewhere.
Nesting hawks are very territorial and can be a real threat to people who venture too close to their nests. Several years ago, an unfortunate hiker in her last hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail was raked across her scalp by an angry goshawk not a good thing to happen miles from help! Hikers and rock climbers should steer clear of obvious nests and should back off if a hawk screams close by.
If you’re walking or paddling in the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison, keep an eye out for bald eagles. Last year, several transplanted chicks were brought to the area and raised in “hacking boxes”. More chicks will be raised this year. (Look for the hacking boxes from the goose viewing area on Route 17 on the way to the bridge to NY.) The hope is that the eagles will return to the area each year and will eventually nest and raise young. The adult birds have the characteristic white head and tail. The dark immature birds are more difficult to identify, but they’re noticeably huge and tend to soar with flat wings.
When you’re paddling in Vermont, keep an eye out for otters. There’s at least one family of these playful mammals at Dead Creek, often in the area of “Brilyea Bridge” (at the end of the dirt access road leading off Route 17, just west of the goose viewing area). You’ll have the best chance of seeing an otter when there haven’t been a lot of cars over the bridge for several minutes. Families with kits have been seen playing on the rocks below the bridge, and large adults have been spotted many times poking their heads up to check out the human visitors, floating along on their backs while noshing on carp, and very busy at otter tasks in the reeds near the water.
These big animals usually don’t attack people, but mothers will protect their young and both males and females can be dangerous during rutting (mating) season. Calves are born in May and June, and bull moose are in rut from late August till October.
There are many black bears in Vermont, although chances are you’ll never see one while hiking. If you do, stand still and make some noise. Don’t turn and run.