A Walk in Wild Westchester
by Dick Budnik
Chestnut Ridge Road
July 09, 2001
It was a clear cool comfortable afternoon for early July in Westchester.
The humidity was low, the sky was blue and sunny. I missed my morning
workout on my NordicTrack and needed some exercise. An hour hike in
the woods would meet my daily needs nicely.
As a concession to summer, I wore a short sleeved t-shirt instead of
my normal long sleeved camo shirt. The latter has been drenched in DEET
and Permathione to ward off mosquitoes and lyme ticks. Unfortunately,
it's unbearable in summer. Using some discretion, I donned heavy blue
jeans instead of my more comfortable shorts. I threw out my too tight
hiking boots several months ago and have been hiking in sneakers ever
since. On my way out the door of my co-op, I grabbed my rucksack containing
one of my cameras, binoculars, a hat and a water bottle.
I rarely plan my hikes ahead of time. Today was no exception. I drove
my van to the exit of my parking lot and let my instincts take over.
The van turned left towards the heart of Mt. Kisco ruling out potential
hikes to the Mt. Holly / Ward Pound Ridge area. At the end of Carpenter
Ave., the van turned left and headed south on Rte.117 eliminating Teatown,
Bald Mt., Turkey Mt. and the Audubon sanctuaries along Rte. 133. At
Rte.172 my choices became clear. Take a short uphill hike through Butler
or a longer hike through Westmoreland. The van chose Westmoreland.
A rabbit greeted me as I entered the parking lot. She posed patiently
for several photos before scampering under a pine tree. At the trail
head for Easy Loop Trail, both a hairy woodpecker and a red-bellied
woodpecker were working the upper portions of two tree trunks searching
for insects under the bark. From the trail, I slowly scanned the tree
tops above the meadow for any other bird activity. A male bluebird was
perched on a limb just above a blue bird box in the upper third of the
meadow. I watched for a couple of minutes to see if he would approach
the nest box. He was content to sit quietly until I left.
As I began to move down the hillside trail, I heard a rustling in the
brush at the top of the meadow. A half dozen wild turkey hens walked
in a line through the middle of the meadow and then fled out the lower
end of the meadow as they spotted me taking their picture. A couple
actually went airborne as they crossed the rock wall at the bottom of
the meadow. By the time I got to the bottom of the meadow they were
long gone. I managed to get a very blurry shot of the turkeys in flight.
I stopped at the top of Cat BirdTrail to admire the horses in the corral.
A woodchuck and a small flock of robins had joined the horses. The chipmunks
on the stone wall protested my appearance. I quietly moved down Cat
Bird Trail searching for deer. The upper brush lot yielded only two
squirrels. However, as I moved past the lower pasture, I spotted a small
doe in the middle of the pasture and a large doe in the woods on the
left side of the trail. I photographed the large doe and talked to her
for a few minutes before she moved off in the opposite direction. The
mosquitoes were becoming a major problem by the time I reached the lake.
I took the main trail following the left side of the outlet stream
away from the dam. Hiking is my form of meditation. It clears my mind
and heightens my senses. By now I was becoming attuned to every sound
and movement in the woods. As I neared the cliffs on the trail I spotted
another doe browsing on the hillside between me and the stream. When
she located me by the sound of my camera's shutter, I sat down and began
talking to her. She approached to within fifty feet of me, crossed the
trail and moved uphill past me. At about a hundred feet, she stopped
and began browsing again. I moved off the trail and approached her to
within a distance of about fifty feet. She tolerated me for about five
minutes and then she scampered up the hill.
I though I might see her again as the trail circles around the hillside
and eventually climbs the ridge line for which she was heading. I moved
slowly along the impressive rock faces overlooking the trail in hopes
of finding more deer. At the trail head to Lost Pond, I turned left
and followed the Wood Thrush Trail. I moved steadily but quietly as
I approached the steep uphill trail. Small toads were leaping off the
trail throughout my hike. As I turned to start the steep uphill section,
a small toad leapt off the trail just ahead of my sneaker and then leapt
back onto my sneaker. I found this behavior very unusual. I've never
had a toad leap onto my foot before. I looked around to see what it
was fleeing from. In a few seconds, I spotted an eighteen inch garter
snake lying about three feet off the trail. I stopped to take several
As I was taking the photos, I heard a movement on the hillside above
me. I looked up to see the doe I had met earlier climbing the hill.
She paused and posed for another photo and then froze and stared intently
at something on top of the hill. I quickly moved up the hill to see
what had caught her attention. As I climbed the steep hill she completely
ignored me and focused her attentions to the top of the hill. As I reached
the top of the ridge line, she raise her tail and snorted at the top
of the hill.
I spotted a movement behind a boulder on the top of the ridge line.
The doe suddenly fled side hill and a dark gray dog shaped head popped
up above the boulder.The animal looked straight at me for a second.
I could only see the top of the nose, eyes and ears. My initial thought
was a gray fox. I had encountered several gray foxes in my years of
hunting and hiking in upstate NY but I have never seen one in this area.
The head disappeared behind the boulder and I heard some
rustling in the leaves. I assumed it had moved off in the opposite direction.
I stood my ground and waited to be sure. In about five minutes I heard
movement beyond a rock wall on the trail ahead of me. The animal was
walking down the trail ahead of me. As it passed through an opening
in the rock wall for the trail, it paused and looked back at me. I took
one fuzzy photo before it jumped off the trail and ran down the steep
hillside. By the time I got to the opening in the wall, the animal was
no where in sight.
On reflection, I think the animal must have been a coyote. I don't
think a deer would snort at a fox since a fox is no threat to an adult
doe. If the animal was a gray fox, it would have climbed a tree at the
sight of me rather than moving downhill across my line of view and it
certainly wouldn't move onto a hiking trail in front of me. If it was
a red fox, I would have seen the bushy tail that it hold highs when
moving. The most likely choice is a small coyote. They move with their
tail tucked down between their rear legs and often use human trails.
Deer often snort at coyotes.
I continued hiking along the ridge line. At the end of the ridge, I
spotted a movement in the shallow valley below me. A "red fox"
(reddish fur) ran across the shallow valley and up the steep cliff opposite
my ridge line. I got another blurry photo. It was too small for an adult
deer and it wasn't leaping like a fawn. It had a choice of running on
the level into a swamp or running down the valley in the opposite direction
but it chose to run up a very steep cliff. A deer would have gone for
the swamp. It's unlikely that this animal is the "coyote"
that I saw a few minutes earlier. The coyote had gone down hill and
several hundred yards into deeper woods in the larger valley. I can't
imagine it returning to the ridge area while I was still there. My photos
were taken with a 260mm lens at f4.5 at a shutter speed of around 1/8
sec handheld accounting for most of the blurring. The trees may be recognizable
but I can't hope to stop the movement of the animals.
I worked my way past the swamp and downhill to the lake. I saw a wood
thrush, four chickadees and a phoebe near the swamp. I stopped at the
leanto on the lake to watch the nesting house wrens and the hunting
tree swallows catching bugs over the lake. The fish were also feeding
heavily. A towhee was flipping over twigs looking for insects next to
the leanto. After cooling off for a couple of minutes, I hiked up the
hill to the museum and returned to my van.
This hike lasted 55 minutes. I shot two rolls of film and encountered
twenty three species of animals. Overall, an excellent alternative to
my Nordic Track skier.