Spiders and snakes and bears, oh my! We have seen these critters and a whole lot more…
We frequently make too much noise to see many critters while backpacking: boots tramp, fallen leaves crunch, poles skitter on rocks. In addition, we often talk or sing while we are hiking. Most forest-dwellers are shy and prefer to avoid contact with humans. Even when we notice them, critters often move too quickly or are too well camouflaged to capture in a photo.
Spiderwebs are the most common sight along the trail. The variety of architecture is surprising. Walking into invisible threads across the trail is irritating; but large webs lit up by the sun are beautiful. Usually the spiders are tiny but some are quite magnificent!
Other insects (which tend to ignore humans) are also common sights. There are plenty of beetles and stinkbugs. Our favorites were a fantasy-land of caterpillars. When we get home we hope to figure out what kinds of butterflies or moths these colorful creatures will become.
Yes, we have seen snakes (all harmless, thankfully). This slender green one fell out of a tree, landed near daughter’s feet, and paused long enough for a photo before sliding away. A number of large black snakes slithered across the trail in front of us, most as eager to stay away from us as we were eager to avoid them. (True confessions: each time we saw a fast moving black snake, the person in front jumped and squealed. We felt silly but just couldn’t help it!)
We saw a number of deer along the trail. They are especially tame in Shenandoah National Park where they have learned that even the dogs (which must be leashed) are harmless. Although many hikers encountered black bear on the trail itself, we only saw this one young bear near a shelter.
And the ones who got away? We saw tiny lizards and a reddish orange salamander. We watched chipmunks skitter away, even climbing a foot or two up tree trunks before disappearing into underbrush. We were scolded by squirrels and croaked at by crows. One evening, I watched a grey fox trot past, pausing only long enough to stare at me for a long moment before continuing on his way.
These woods are certainly not empty. I wonder what the silent watchers think when they see and hear us blunder by?!