Everything Animals: A wildlife treasure hunt for the family - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Everything Animals: A wildlife treasure hunt for the whole family

The view from Hoyt Lookout. The view from Hoyt Lookout.
Eagle Mountain Natural Area in Milton. Eagle Mountain Natural Area in Milton.
Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker holes in a tree at Eagle Mountain Natural Area. Downy Woodpecker and Hairy Woodpecker holes in a tree at Eagle Mountain Natural Area.
A millipede on a tree at Eagle Mountain Natural Area. A millipede on a tree at Eagle Mountain Natural Area.

Milton, Vermont - June 14, 2011

The hills are alive with the sound of wildlife.

"You can hear a lot of birds so you'll see a lot of birds and also a lot of small stuff like salamanders," wildlife expert Laurel Neme says of the Eagle Mountain Natural Area.

The Milton mecca is a 226-acre treasure trove of living creatures, making it the perfect place for a scavenger hunt for the entire family.

Just a few seconds into the simple hike a distinctive sound bursts from the treetops. Turns out it's the Ovenbird.

"It says that very prominent 'teacher teacher teacher,'" Lake Champlain Land Trust Executive Director Chris Boget says. "It's a small warbler that will nest in refuges like this."

Refuges that are becoming more important by the day.

"As we develop the countryside this is a spot for them to thrive," Boget says.

The trick to spotting a bird is to observe, which means looking for signs of them even if you can't see the bird itself. One tree alone bears distinctive markings that show three other birds are living on the Milton land.

"The Downy Woodpecker typically have a very round hole when they're looking for insects and the oval tends to be a Hairy Woodpecker," Boget says, indicating different markings on the tree trunk.

"That's a Pileated Woodpecker," Boget says, pointing to a large oval-shaped hole. "They love to dig, they'll go deep inside."

Don't overlook the trees on the ground. Turn them over and who knows what you'll find.

"You might see millipedes or centipedes, salamanders, in this case a cricket just sitting under there," Boget says.

Boget and Neme suggest bringing nature guide books so kids can figure out what bird, insect or plant they're looking at.

"You can start to deduce and be a detective, like Sherlock Holmes for animals," Neme says.

Even the most recognizable of critters are anything but elementary.

"Grasshoppers are really interesting because they'll eat any kind of plant, including poisonous plants," Neme says.

And some creatures, like the millipede, aren't nearly as scary as they look.

"They can't hurt you," Neme says. "They're very non-aggressive and when they get threatened what they do is they curl up."

After about a half mile of hiking you come to Hoyt Lookout, which offers an awe inspiring glimpse of Vermont.

It's a vista normally populated with swooping birds that can send kids imaginations soaring.

"If they have trouble focusing on that bird far away binoculars can help to make sure they're observing it but not bothering it," Boget says. "It kind of teaches them that lesson right off."

A view so breathtaking it's easy to forget that you're learning at the same time.

If you want to do this hike you can even have a virtual guide. The Lake Champlain Land Trust website has a podcast for Eagle Mountain that can be downloaded for free. Along the trail there are various podcast markers to indicate that you should listen to the next segment to find out what trees and wildlife you're surrounded by.

Rachel Feldman - WCAX News

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