Yes, people, I’m still talking about the Appalachian Trail. I’ll get it out of my system in another couple of days, maybe!
I figured with all of my posts about hikers and photos of groups of people, you might be misled into believing that I was surrounded by people the whole time. But in truth, just like in my 2009 thru hike, I was alone for most of the time every day of my little week on the AT.
I slept alone one night – a night where no one stayed at the shelter or camped near the stream where I was camping. I hiked alone every day, all day. So I only saw hikers in camp or on the trail when they passed me. If they had time (I always had time and was always happy to stop and catch my breath!) we might chat briefly.
Hiking alone means seeing lots of wildlife. I try to hike quietly and look around while hiking, and usually I’m lucky enough to notice at least one special critter every day. I’m pretty easy though – I think most critters are special.
Here are some photos of cool animals I saw while hiking last week. Let’s start with the invertebrates.
Butterflies. Zillions of them. Hundreds, anyway. Butterflies flitted up in the trees and along the trails. Black swallowtails, tiger swallowtails, and these little guys who liked to hang out at shelters. This one is licking up dried sweat from the wood on the shelter floor, right at the edge where hikers sit. The butterfly deposits a drop of liquid (sounds nicer than pee) from its abdomen onto the wood, then mixes it around with its super-long straw-like tongue and then sucks it back up. Cool, eh? I love that these little butterflies look like they have AT white blazes painted on their wings.
I saw plenty of other invertebrates, including a bunch who drew my blood (lots of mosquitoes, hundreds of mini blackflies and one wood tick – ack!), but I didn’t take the time to photograph them.
On to amphibians (I took no photos of fish, so we’ll skip that category.)
My favorite trail amphibian – the red eft. The juvenile of the eastern newt, red efts look like little play doh critters and they move slowly, usually, so they’re easy to photograph. I saw about a half dozen of these last week, and hundreds of them on my thru hike!
Looks like this post is going to be amphibian-heavy. See the newt resting in the rock crevice, just above the flowing creek water? I had a grand time just watching this one and a couple of other newts hanging out by the creek. That’s one of the perks of not being a thru hiker and extremely mile-focused.
Onward to reptiles. Bunches of the hikers I met last week saw rattlesnakes. Many rattlesnakes, in many different places. A copperhead or two as well. I missed all snakes last week. I didn’t even see a nice big long black snake! Only this sunning lizard.
Ok, on to the birds – reptiles with wings, you know.
Most birds didn’t get photographed – they’re small and up in the trees and flitting around. I saw tons of tiny warblers and juncos, plus loud woodpeckers. I heard an owl and had some bird of prey swoop down to investigate me when I was taking a pit stop in the woods. He must have mistaken the rustling leaves for a little mouse. I bet he was disappointed to see a giant human instead! I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak – a super treat! And this ruffed grouse who flew up at me from the trail, trying to distract me from her little peeping babies hiding in the ferns.
Oh and the scarlet tanagers. Beautiful birds. The brightest red you can imagine, with black wings. One morning I saw one close to the trail, making a loud call and zipping back and forth near me. Then I saw his olive-colored mate, and finally I noticed the babies flitting around in the underbrush. No wonder he was so anxious!
Here’s my blurry scarlet tanager pic. I recommend you do an image search if you really want to know what one looks like!
Best of all, a mother bear with her two cubs. I was on the trail early, by 6:30 a.m., and as I hiked along a wooded hillside, I heard a commotion downhill. I looked and saw the big mama black bear taking off down the hillside, and watched the two cubs hightail it up a tree, completely silently. How can such huge creatures move through the woods so quietly? I didn’t stay long, out of respect and awe of the mother who could come barrelling back up the hill at any time, but I watched the babies for a minute or so. Sadly the only photo I have is Sasquatch-quality, but really, that black thing on the tree trunk is a baby bear. See it?