Black racers were thought to be extinct in Vermont until a young road-killed racer turned up in Putney in 1985. After discovering an isolated population of black racers on a routine search at a wildlife management area in the state, the Reptile and Amphibian Scientific Advisory Group, along with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) are monitoring these snakes. This isolated population of snakes is using a strip of land under a power line that passes through state-owned land as well as a projected work site for VTrans. With funding from VTrans, researchers surgically implanted radio transmitters in two adult racers to help track the habitat needs of the snakes year round. The research is a collaborative effort to ensure that the needs of the snake and the project are met. Black racers average about three to five feet in length. Some adult females can grow upwards of six feet. Young racers are gray with large brown, black or reddish blotches down the back (the pattern fades as they get older). Their skin has a satin-like sheen to it. Finding a racer is very difficult. They live in a variety of habitats including rocky ledges, pastures and overgrown fields. They're extremely fast, which is probably why they are called "racers." They're non-venomous, but will defend themselves if threatened. When startled, a racer has been known to make a run at its attacker with its head up. They'll also rattle their tails in dry leaves, mimicking the sound of a rattlesnake. The ultimate goal of the advisory group is to maintain the current racer population and increase it by managing the feeding, basking and wintering areas the snakes inhabit while keeping an eye out for evidence they are reproducing. Host Lawrence Pyne joins members of the Reptile and Amphibian Scientific Advisory Group as they attempt to locate two racers tagged with transmitters.
Perfect shots leading to quick kills are what hunters strive for. But it doesn't always happen. Sometimes a hit a fraction of an inch off means the difference between a fast drop and a long and sometimes fruitless chase after wounded prey. Not being able to recover your animal is every hunter's worst nightmare. And there wasn't much you could do to remedy the situation until now. A small group of expert trackers are coming to the aid of Vermont hunters who have lost their quarry. They're fast. They work for free. And for them, tracking is just a big game. They're leashed tracking dogs. Tracking wounded game is a centuries-old tradition in Central Europe. Leashed dog tracking was first introduced in the U.S. in 1986 when an organization called Deer Search Inc. convinced New York lawmakers to legalize it. You must be licensed to track deer with a dog in Vermont, and it's illegal to hunt deer with a tracking dog. But a licensed tracker may recover a wounded animal. The training starts when the dogs are puppies. They're introduced to the scent of deer early in life, first by following a deer tail dragged through the woods, and then graduating to the blood scent. A wound can produce a fine mist-like trace of blood scent that humans can't smell. But for a well-trained tracking dog, it's like walking in front of him with a hot apple pie. The success rate for these dogs is high. And occasionally these same trackers are even called on to find humans that have wandered off the trail. Host Lawrence Pyne joins Tim Nichols to learn training techniques for leashed dog tracking then heads out with Todd Whitaker of Whitaker's Leashed Dog Tracking on a mission to find a wounded deer during bow season.
- Whitakers Leashed Dog Tracking
Todd & Wendy Whitaker - Handlers
- Deer Search Inc.
- Leashed Dog Tracking Service
46 Brookside Lane
Granville, NY 12832
Grassland birds and dairy farmers in Vermont have a unique historical relationship. By clearing forests to create pasture for cows, farmers also have provided ideal habitat for birds such as Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows. Fifty or one hundred years ago, the birds thrived. But as dairy farms and their fields have disappeared, so has the habitat. These birds rely on open grasslands to feed. And instead of building nests in trees, they construct them in the grass on the ground. This practice can leave them open to predators as well as farm machinery. When a field is hayed, essentially all the nests fail. They're either destroyed by equipment, or crows and gulls follow the farmer to clean up. Farmers must hay. And they have to get the cut in while the hay still has some value. The ideal solution would be to delay cuts to give the birds time to hatch and raise their young. But that's a tricky timing issue for a farmer who needs quality hay. On the other hand, there are farmers who have wet fields and fields that are not productive. If these fields were properly managed, it would be helpful for the birds. And it might end up being financially beneficial for the farmers. Programs such as the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) could help. It's run by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides landowners with financial help for managing their property using wildlife management strategies. In this segment we join field researchers at the University of Vermont who are part of a study to determine the long-term effects of agricultural management on populations of grassland birds through banding operations.
- Wildlife Habitat Incentives
Program (WHIP): Vermont page
- WHIP VT Contact — Toby Alexander
In the early 1900s only a few thousand snow geese migrated along the Atlantic flyway from their nesting grounds in the eastern Arctic through Northern Quebec and the eastern U.S. By 1970 the population had grown to 100,000. Today, it's more than 900,000. A blizzard of snow geese is an amazing sight when viewed from a designated sanctuary such as the Dead Creek Wildlife Management area in Addison, Vermont. But these numbers also mean a devastating effect on habitat. A large concentration of geese can turn a salt marsh into a mud flat as they grub, ripping up large grasses by the roots and destroying habitat for other birds. And as the population grows, it has a particularly negative impact on the birds' nesting habitat — the habitat they need for the young to survive. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has now come to depend on hunters to help bring the snow goose population under control and reduce it to the carrying capacity of the habitat. Surprisingly, although the concentration of snow geese that are migrating is huge, the odds are in the favor of the birds to make it past hunters. Hunting snow geese requires dedication, teamwork and ideal weather conditions to even get the birds to look your way. And it means decoys — lots of them. And they have to be in place early. To get the 500 to 1,000 decoys in place by the time the sun comes up, the wake-up call is two o'clock in the morning for one group of dedicated hunters. It means a frantic criss-crossing in the dark, wearing headlamps to get the decoys and coffin blinds positioned in a farm field. And even with a mixture of full-body decoys, silhouettes, shells and kites, there is no guarantee the birds will come in. A sunny day can mean a long wait as light reflects off the shiny fake birds, warning the real ones to stay away. What you're looking for is high wind and dark days. But for those with the patience, good calling skills and the luck of the weather, the sight of forty or fifty birds "whiffling" in on the wind and into range is worth every minute of preparation. In this segment, Lawrence Pyne joins a group of hunters in the pre-dawn hours as they prepare for a snow goose hunt.
Skating ain't what it used to be. If your memories of ice-skating are filled with ill-fitting, cold skates that rumble over bumps and catch in cracks, then it might be time for you to take look at Nordic Skating. For speed and comfort on the ice, you can't beat it. Nordic skates are aluminum platforms with skate blades attached, that lock into cross-country ski boots. The blades are longer than conventional ice skate blades — up to 21 inches. The longer the blades, the more stable the skate and the faster you go. You can get up to 25 mph on the ice with a stiff tailwind. They're also curved in front to help glide over rough bumps without getting stuck. And because you're wearing cross-country ski boots, your feet are comfortable and warm. Add some poles for stability and you can even head out on snow-covered ice for a day of skating. Nordic skating is popular in Europe and Canada, though it is still relatively unknown here in the United States. But there are small groups of people working to change that. One of them is the Norwich-based Montshire Skating Club. The one hundred members of the club maintain a 2-½-mile stretch of ice on Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vermont, for skating — the longest groomed track in the country. They hold an annual winter skate-athon in January where people of all ages can try the equipment and get a feel for Nordic skating. Jamie Hess is one of the co-founders of the club. He says the skate-athon is for people who want to see how far they can skate in a day at any speed they want to. Host Marianne Eaton joins Jamie Hess of the Montshire Skating Club for an introductory Nordic skating lesson.
The sport of dog sledding evolved from the common use of sled dogs in harsh polar regions as work animals. The gold rush helped add a demand for powerful dogs such as the Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. And though airplanes began replacing sled dogs as carriers of supplies and mail in the 1920s, the allure of mushing continued, evolving into a sport. In 1925 an outbreak of diphtheria occurred in Nome, Alaska, requiring serum to be sent from Nenana, over 600 miles away. With temperatures reaching 50 degrees below zero, a relay team of sled dogs was set up to make a dramatic run, delivering the serum in just over five days. The event inspired the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which now covers over 1,100 miles Bruce Linton of Green Mountain Dog Sled Adventures hopes to qualify for the Iditarod. His company in Morrisville, Vt., is a great place to get an introduction to dog sledding. He has about eighty spirited Alaskan Huskies that will take you on an incredible winter ride. He says people are often surprised when they first meet the dogs. "I can't tell you how many people come up here and say, 'your dogs are so friendly. I can't believe how friendly they are.' " The popular misconception is that they're big, aggressive animals. The average female Alaskan Husky weighs only about 45 pounds. And they love to run. They sense the change in the weather and begin to get excited when it gets cold. A careful training regime is followed to allow the dogs to slowly build up their stamina and not overexert themselves. Their engines run high in winter. A single dog can burn up to 10,000 calories a day pulling in the cold, requiring a special diet high in fat and protein. At Green Mountain Dog Sled Adventures, you can learn about the care and feeding of these magnificent dogs. You can learn about the sport and how to hook up a team and drive. Or you can just sit back and go for ride in the snow. Host Marianne Eaton joins Bruce Linton of Green Mountain Dog Sled Adventures for a little introduction to the sport of dog sledding.
Along the Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, which runs the length of the Connecticut River from northern New Hampshire to the Long Island Sound, sits the Montshire Museum of Science. Montshire is an amalgam of the last two syllables of Vermont and New Hampshire. It's a place where people can learn all year round about the outdoor world around us. There are four aquaria at the museum that showcase aquatic life found in both cold water streams and warm ponds. There are nature trails that contain exhibits of insect life, flora and fauna of Vermont. The museum's Science Park is a collection of dozens of hands-on experiments that uses the outdoors as a living experimental library. There are programs for school groups, teachers, children and families. And it doesn't close down in the winter. One of the events the museum held this past winter was an igloo building day. Bert Yankielun is an engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. He lent his expertise in cold weather snow to help kids learn about how frozen water and air can be used to build a shelter. But, Bert says, it's not a survival class. "I'm more interested in teaching people how to have fun with winter," he explains, "[how to] make friends with winter, do something that's extremely inexpensive that you can do as a family or with friends." In this segment, we join Bert Yankielun at the Montshire Museum of Science for a day of igloo building.
Shed hunting doesn't get the press of deer or other types of hunting. There is no official season. You don't use a gun or bow. In fact, the only equipment you use are your legs and eyes. Shed hunting refers to the finding of antlers that animals have shed. Animals such as deer and moose shed their antlers in winter so they can grow larger ones in the spring. Moose antlers can grow very fast — as much as an inch a day. When they are fully developed they can weigh as much as sixty pounds. Deer and moose will shed their antlers anytime between November and March. The best time to hunt for sheds is either in early December before there is a lot of snow buildup or in late winter early spring as the snow melts away. Steve Foster has been hunting sheds for 45 years. He says that some of the best ones have been found in November. Though he's not ready to give up on rifle hunting season yet, Steve says hunting sheds has become an obsession with him. He heads out as soon as deer season is over. "There's nothing like it. I just love doing it. I love being outside in the winter. It's a beautiful time of the year." Hunting for sheds is like looking for a needle in a haystack. It requires some of the same skills regular hunting does. You have to look for the signs, such as the rubs on the trees, tracks and beds. You have to be familiar with the type of habitat of your animal. And this is a silent prey. A shed doesn't bolt when you approach it. It will let you walk right by without moving. It requires keen eyes, woodsmanship and a passion for being outdoors. Host Lawrence Pyne joins Steve Foster on a moose shed hunt in winter.
The brook trout is the official cold water fish of Vermont. It is the only native trout in Vermont streams. Their body is a dark olive color and their sides are pale with small red spots surrounded by light blue halos. Their backs have wavy lines that aid in camouflaging the fish. Brookies like cold, clear water. They are one of the most cold tolerant of trout. And with Vermont's small spring-fed brooks providing thousands of miles of habitat, they are often found in densities rarely seen on larger mainstream rivers. These very waters are collectively the last stronghold of wild trout in the state. Fishing for brook trout can take you deep into the woods for a solitary nature experience. Sometimes there is a lot of hiking and exploration involved. It's not uncommon to park your car and hike a couple of miles through dense woods to find your spot. Once you find the cold, clear water that they love, the rest is up to you. Brookies can be forgiving as far as bait presentation goes. You can fish for them with a spinning reel and worms, but flies are probably the bait of choice. The brook trout's love of cold, clear water is also a good indicator of habitat conditions. Their populations are relatively stable compared to fifty years ago. However, the streams where they live are endangered by development and land use practices that threaten to degrade habitat and take away one of the Vermont angler's favorite fish. In this segment, host Lawrence Pyne joins avid fly fisherman Peter Burton for a day of fishing for brook trout in the Green Mountain National Forest.
Usually Conservation Camp at Buck Lake in Woodbury is filled with kids ages 12 to 14 getting hands-on experience in things such as fishery and wildlife management, hunter firearms safety, fishing techniques and wetland investigation. But for one week in July, it's the teachers who are at camp learning. It's a program called "Wildlife Management for Educators." For one week, teachers learn firsthand about fish and wildlife management issues, ecology, conservation and forestry. Combining classroom studies and field trips into the woods, wetlands, lakes and streams of Vermont, the aim of the program is to infuse fish and wildlife conservation messages into teachers' classroom curricula. In this segment, Outdoor Journal spends a day with a group of teachers as they venture into forests and streams to measure fish populations, examine insects, visit deer wintering yards and collect various plant and animal specimens.