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More Trail Tales
In the Summer 2007 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: What is the most exciting wildlife encounter you've had on a rail-trail? We never anticipated we'd get so many interesting and unique responses. We only had room for one "Trail Tale" in the magazine, but here is a selection of additional tales that make it clear humans aren't the only ones who enjoy their local rail-trail.
Jim Fama of McLean, Va., writes:
My friend and I had ridden on the central Florida Withlacoochee Trail many times, and had always enjoyed seeing the blue herons, snakes, gopher tortoises and other wildlife along this corridor. This day we were in for something a little different. We were on the last five miles of a 30-mile ride when we saw something standing in the trail far ahead of us. It looked like a dog, but it was somehow different. We were always a little wary of dogs protecting their territory, so we slowed and I moved forward to check it out.
Suddenly, my friend starting yelling for me to stop. It was not a dog blocking our way—it was a Florida panther. It was standing dead in the middle of the trail, and was certainly close enough to chase down either of us. Knowing I had no chance to outrun the panther on my bike, I stopped and remained as still as I could, given that my adrenalin was peaking. As frightened as I was, I was fascinated by the panther's beauty and grace. It turned and looked at me lazily, as if to say "you are barely worth my time or attention"—which was fine with me. After less than a minute, the panther turned and walked slowly into the woods. We waited a few minutes, and then kept going, looking over our shoulders nervously for a couple of miles.
Steven Tepper of Monkton, Md., writes:
Several years back, my wife and I awoke to a full moon at 3 a.m. We live very close to the Northern Central Rail Line in Monkton, MD. We know that the trail is only supposed to be open from sunrise to sunset but both of us wanted to take a stroll basking in the bright moonlight and moon shadows. We walked about three-fourths of a mile and came to one of the beautiful old rail bridges. While standing on the bridge looking out over the Gunpowder River, we saw a deer forging through the river. The ripples of the deer's venture through the river were spectacular. Flying above the deer but below us was a Great Blue Heron whose wings brightly shown in the moonlight. The moon seemed to tinge everything a silver-blue color (similar to a Monte Dolack print). Our breath was taken away. This moment will forever be burned into our memories.
Barbara Laverick of Wolfeboro, N.H., writes:
Touring the Black Hills, you get used to seeing bison, mountain goats, wild burros and deer. But usually the car door is between you and the fauna. However, get out on your bike and ride the 114-mile Mickelson Trail through the heart of the Hills and you can get up close and personal. I joined my husband and brother to coast the last section of the trail from the parking lot at the Minnekahta Trailhead to trail's end in Edgemont (we had pre-parked a vehicle at the town park there).
Minutes after peddling onto the beautifully packed sand and gravel trail we watched a dozen wild turkeys trot, truly, across from one side to the other in front of us. Taking this as a good omen, we kept our eyes peeled. On the ridge above us we caught the profile of a cow elk dropping down and out of our sight into an arroyo well off the trail.
We were almost to our planned stop in Sheep Canyon when we spotted something "snake-like" in the middle of the trail. Glancing as we each maneuvered around it we confirmed that it was not only a snake but a small rattler. We did not examine it carefully enough to determine whether or not it was the shy and somewhat rare native Prairie Rattlesnake. Pulling into the town of Edgemont we counted ourselves lucky to have shared the trail with the wilder residents of southwestern South Dakota.
John Kuhlmann of Villa Park, Ill., writes:
I am a runner. I've run pretty much every day for the last 30 years, most of it on the Illinois Prairie Path, which is a half-mile from my home. From 1902 to 1957, the Prairie Path was the route of the Aurora and Elgin Railroad. As a teenager, I rode this train almost every summer day from Maywood to Glen Oaks Country Club to caddy with my friends. All those pre-dawn train rides have left me with a special feeling about the path.
While running through Elmhurst one early morning last spring, I heard a rustling sound approaching quickly from behind, and then felt something part my hair, back to front. I saw then that it was a blue jay and he circled back repeating his attack. Then again. And again. By then, apparently I was out of his territory and he landed in a tree and watched me go as if to say, "And don't come back!" This was repeated very morning for three weeks. At one point I watched from a safe distance as runner after runner passed unmolested. I don't what I had done to offend him or why he singled me out
unless there was a sign on my back that said, "Eat a Bird."
Harold Paschal of Rochester, N.Y., writes:
I bicycle commute on a rail-trail[—the Genesee Greenway]. Morning on the trail is the highlight of my work day. Glimpses of wildlife make me feel sorry for commuters incarcerated in their cars. Common sightings include song birds, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, woodchuck with an occasional deer or raptor. Until the [following] incident my most exciting encounter was two turkey hens that ran down the trail in front of me before taking off and flying into the woods.
But the most exciting encounter was a red fox. It was sitting in the middle of the trail. I thought: "What a beautiful animal!"
"What a wonderful trail!"
"What a lovely way to commute!" As I got closer, I expected the fox to scurry off into the nearby underbrush. Imagine my surprise when the fox did not budge; when it defiantly stood and glared; when it bared its teeth and hissed; when it chased me, nipping at my ankles! I peddling as fast as I could; thoughts of painful rabies shots dancing in my head. The fox abruptly broke off and I scurried away. I believe it was a vixen with cubs in a nearby den because I encountered her several times over the next few weeks. I gave her a wide berth and a great deal of respect. After I got over the shock, I started thinking: "What a beautiful animal!"
"What a wonderful trail!"
"What a lovely way to commute!"
Jeffrey Heil of Falls Church, Va., writes:
My wife just stared at me in disbelief as I told her about the flying sunflowers [on the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park]. She was skeptical of my encounters with deer on the trail and this story was no different. (Those weren't stories: one foggy morning I really did cycle into a herd of deer as they grazed on the trail and was charged by one irate buck, and on another ride a deer paced me for what seemed like miles as I sped along the trail.) "But, dear, I really did see sunflowers fly."
All summer long I watched the patch of sunflowers grow along the tail near Smith's Switch Station Road and stopped many times just to admire their majestic blooms. In the late summer the flowers started to droop and seemed sad with the passing of the season. However, during one early morning bicycle ride I noticed that the sunflowers had taken on a new life and were moving despite the fact that the air was still. As I got closer I saw that the flowers were actually hovering above their stems. I did a double take as I stopped my bike and wondered what was happening. Moving closer I saw that the hovering yellow flowers were actually a large flock of Gold Finches eating the sunflower seeds.
Richard Svensson of Tonawanda, N.Y., writes:
Most times on the early morning trail, as the warm moist air hangs clouds on the cool rolling meadow, there is not much to see save the various intrepid joggers, bikers and walkers. Our long narrow playgrounds run smack through the front yards of the forest wherein live deer and turkeys. Our animal brethren mostly ignore our intrusion unless we make a ruckus or get too close. They are usually content to mosey in the other direction without a care but they certainly do not extend an invitation to tea.
So when I happened upon a couple gazing at turkeys in the meadow I also stopped to observe. The colorful tom and the mundane hen were involved in a circular ritual that has been practiced over and over for many, many years. Tom teased and pecked. Tom strutted about in his full regal colors. Tom cried out in his distinctive gobble. She mostly ignored him, turned away and approached warily. Their dance lasted maybe 10 minutes. It had started before I arrived. Then, when tom managed to approach the hen from behind, he stepped on her wings. After a flash and without much of a sound, the courtship was over and the birds moved on quickly. The lovely birds vanished into the trees and we three spectators exchanged just a few words for the first time that morning, commenting about the wonder of nature in slight embarrassment.