Five minutes that could change your Appalachian Trail experience

Bobcat courtesy Base Camp Baker at Flickr

Bobcat courtesy Base Camp Baker at Flickr

Over coffee one day a fellow backpacker commiserated about his recent Appalachian Trail hike.  “I really like being out there,” he said, “but I just seem to walk and walk without seeing any wildlife.  Where do the animals go?  Am I frightening everything off?”

I smiled and sipped my dark roast.  “I think I can help you change that in about five minutes…”

Here’s what those “five minutes” are all about.

Hikers and backpackers sometimes get caught up in putting down miles.  Certainly even competitiveness has arisen among long distance walkers, whose sights are on finishing trails in specified time frames or chalking up double-digit daily miles.  While reaching this goal they often miss seeing the animals who call the forest home.  Their single-minded passage alarms the greenwood ruminants, who take notice and scurry for protection.

Moose courtesy Douglas Brown at Flickr

Moose courtesy Douglas Brown at Flickr

The simple “five minute” secret to seeing the wild creatures involves breaking free of the mileage pressure and following these steps:

  • Pick a time of day for wildlife observation.  This can be during a rest break, at lunch, or after dinner.
  • Shed your pack and find a rock or tree you can sit against and become still.  If you’re in a group encourage your fellow hikers to join you in your wildlife watching time.  Conversation has no place here, just become silent and still.
  • Within a few minutes (about five) the wild things will become active again, since the disturbance and noise is over.  It usually begins with birds, whose songs may have ceased when you came near.  Take some time to enjoy the renewal of their songs.  It’s a good idea to check your bird identification skills from the calls they make.  Other forest residents will start to move, such as whitetail deer and smaller mammals.  Simply sit quietly and observe.
  • You’ll discover this exercise works best during times of good weather.  Heavy rain and threatening storms usually force animals to take cover, so you are unlikely to have as much success in your viewing.
  • When you’re ready to move on, try to ease into your backpack quietly.  Move down the trail as noiselessly as you can.  You will likely continue to be delighted by the song birds as you move through their home, and other animals may cross your path.Racoon courtesy Sherwood411 @ FlickrRacoon courtesy Sherwood411 @ Flickr


Filed under Appalachian Trail, Backpacking, Long distance backpacking, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Watching wildlife, Wildlife

2 responses to “Five minutes that could change your Appalachian Trail experience

  1. Great! Friends are always surprised at the wildlife I see, but it’s mainly because I spend so much time just sitting. I took a friend with me one day, and she was just too antsy to do it – she had to get to the top of the mountain, pronto!

  2. Wildlife is great, but a few months ago I was chased by a full grown Mountain Lion in San Diego. You should check out my post on it. It was a pretty traumatic experience.

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