For many outdoorsmen, spring in Vermont is like Christmas morning for a 5-year-old kid. You anticipate it for months, and when it finally arrives you want to jump right in with both feet. And there's a lot to enjoy. The spring woods have much to offer and the fishing is the best of the year. For at least one Vermonter, the perfect spring day is a morning spent picking morel mushrooms followed by an afternoon of casting to native brook trout. Morel pickers can be as secretive about their spots as upland bird hunters are about their favorite woodcock covers. So it was a real treat when my good friend Leighton Wass invited us to share with him a perfect spring day.
The word kayak means "hunter's boat." Developed by people in Arctic locations, it was a necessary tool for survival. It was agile, had lots of storage capacity for food and supplies and was built to withstand difficult and dangerous conditions. Its basic design has remained the same for thousands of years, but its principle use today has shifted to recreation rather than survival. Whether it's a thrilling whitewater run or the contemplative paddle of a sea kayak, it's a water experience unlike any other. And its popularity is growing. Sea kayaks are long, slender boats built for lakes, quieter rivers and ocean water. Many sea kayaks have plenty of storage space, which makes them a good choice for a paddling/camping trip. Sea kayaking can take you places other boats can't go. Paddling is a quiet, meditative experience for many that gets you close to nature. You sit low in the boat. You actually feel part of the water instead of just being on top of it. It's a sport that requires instruction, safety equipment and knowledge of changing water and weather conditions. But for those willing to put in the time to learn the proper paddling techniques and survival skills, a sea kayak trip can be an unforgettable experience. For a landlocked state like Vermont, lakes and rivers are the only option for sea kayaks. But a short trip to Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts can give the paddler an opportunity to experience a coastal sea kayaking adventure. This is a different experience than paddling out on a body of water such as Lake Champlain. On the ocean, the weather and water can change very quickly; the ocean can get nastier a lot faster than a lake and you have to be on guard more. Even though the sky can be clear and nice, the water in the ocean can be rough. You need a better skill set to go coastal sea kayaking. And you need a guide or a very experienced person to take you there. Tom Bergh has kayaked for nearly twenty years and opened Maine Island Kayak Company in 1986. The company offers classes and kayak tours around the world. Tom got taken with sea kayaking because of the sea kayak's extreme seaworthiness and its ability to land anywhere. "You have such a little imprint, both on the shores where you're landing, the communities you're moving through, and the wildlife you're experiencing," he says. Host Marianne Eaton joins Tom Bergh of Maine Island Kayak Company for a sea kayak adventure off the coast of Maine.
Wild animals and birds are injured in Vermont on almost a daily basis. Whether they are hit by cars, injured by pets or intentionally wounded by humans, they often will die without immediate care. But there is hope for wildlife from a network of rehabilitators. Licensed by the state and supported by veterinarians, who donate their time, these individuals have devoted themselves to caring for injured creatures with the ultimate goal of returning them to the wild. Helena Nordstrom is a wildlife rehabilitator. She says that there is a lot to working with wild animals. "You have to know something about ecology, natural history, veterinary medicine. You have to have common sense. You have to be compassionate, but not overly sentimental when you take in animals. And you have to have a strong sense of ethics, too." Animals released back into the wild must be able to hunt for themselves. They must be physically well enough to survive the elements. And most critical of all, they must be afraid of humans. To find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you, call your town clerk, local veterinarian or nearest State Police barracks. We visit Helena and look in on a current squirrel rehab project. We then head to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Woodstock, where Mike Pratt heads up avian rehabilitation efforts for such birds as herons, hawks and owls.
The Clyde River flows for 34 miles northwest from Island Pond, winding through Charleston, Salem and Derby before finally emptying into Lake Memphremagog near Newport. In the early 20th century the river attracted anglers from around the country, drawn to the population of land-locked salmon that would travel upstream to spawn. Trophy trout weighing upwards of ten pounds were pulled from the Clyde, making it one of the premier fishing spots in the northeast. But in 1957, the salmon run came to an end with the construction of a diversion dam, known as the Newport No.11 Dam. The dam was responsible for blocking the salmon from reaching their spawning grounds, and drying out stretches of the lower river, causing eggs to die. The self-sustaining fishery was virtually destroyed. In the 1980s a group of passionate anglers began a seven-year battle to remove the dam and restore the habitat. They organized the Northeast Kingdom Trout Unlimited chapter, and with help from the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and the Clyde River Committee, they began their David and Goliath battle to shut down the dam as its license renewal date loomed. Nature unexpectedly provided a little help on May 1, 1994 when the Clyde overflowed part of the dam, destroying it. Eventually they won their battle and the dam was destroyed in 1996. Soon afterward the salmon began spawning upstream. Today, in addition to natural reproduction, approximately 30,000 salmon smolts are stocked in the Clyde each spring and fish are now monitored to determine their health. Host Lawrence Pyne joins an old friend for a little fall fly-fishing on the Clyde for salmon. And we join a biologist electro-fishing to examine the health of salmon populations on the lower section of the river.
Llamas are members of the camel family. Like their smaller relative, the alpaca, they are domesticated animals, bred for thousands of years in South America as beasts of burden. Their fur is used for a number of purposes, including clothing, rugs and rope. But it is their reputation as legendary pack animals that has made the llama a treasured institution in South America. Known as the "ship of the Andes," the llama has been a crucial part of the South American transportation system in mountainous regions. They have been part of religious ceremonies. Mummified llamas have been found entombed with their owners; tiny bronze llama sculptures have been found at various burial sites. They are strong, agile and gentle creatures that are able to bear large loads. Their hooves are much like that of a deer, which results in less trail damage than a packhorse or a mule. And they can be trained to follow and walk with you at your own pace, which makes them the ideal pack animal to take along on a hike. At the Northern Vermont Llama Company in North Waterville, you can do just that. They offer "llama treks" — a hike in the woods with trained llamas that carry all your picnic and hiking supplies for the day. All that's required is the ability to hold a leash and walk. Llamas are calm, curious animals that behave well with children. Lindsay Chandler, from Northern Vermont Llama Company, says they are easier to walk than dogs. "They walk the same speed as we do," she explains, "so if you're a hiker, it's the greatest animal to just walk with, because generally, they walk right along with you." Host Marianne Eaton joins Lindsay on a llama trek with a few friends and a big picnic lunch that she didn't have to carry.
- Northern Vermont Llama Co.
Geoff & Lindsay Chandler
766 Lapland Road
Waterville, VT 05492
- Stowe Llama Ranch
Chris and Linda Wood
2363 West Hill Road
Stowe, VT 05672
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.