November 17, 2007
WASHINGTON (AP) - Photos taken by the Smithsonian along the Appalachian Trail are providing glimpses of wildlife - much of it hidden from visitors - in the forest surrounding the famous footpath.
Researchers attached 50 motion-sensitive cameras in the spring to trees near the trail, but a few dozen yards back to avoid being set off by hikers. More than 1,900 photos have been collected, giving a closer look at the hidden life of the forest - much of which is nocturnal, researchers found.
"We hike during the day, and they hike at night," said William McShea, a Smithsonian ecologist who has led the project.
The goal of the project, part of an effort to study air, water and wildlife along the entire trail, was to document animal traffic along a nearly 600-mile stretch of the footpath in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland. To ensure animals stopped in front of the cameras, researchers placed a mixture of animal secretions near the cameras.
White-tailed deer were seen most often, but pictures of more rarely seen animals were also snapped, including a long-tailed weasel, a flying squirrel, wild ponies and more than 10 bobcats.
"There is some wildness left out there," McShea said. "There are wild animals that are living in (and) among us."
However, the Eastern cougar, which is feared to be extinct, was not found. Researchers did see more black bears than they expected, spotting them in 75 of the 273 locations in which the cameras were placed.
The pictures also give a glimpse into the personalities of the animals. Deer often stare blankly, while bears sometimes attacked.
One series shows a bear coming at the camera, and in "the next picture, it's pointed at the ground," said Peter Erb, a former intern at the National Zoo's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va., a branch of the Smithsonian where the project was based.
Bears also tended to treat the boxy cameras as scratching posts, producing some extreme close-ups of what are believed to be bear rears.
"I don't know of anything else that's that black and furry," volunteer Trish Bartholomew said.
The occasional human was also photographed, in a familiar pose, Smithsonian intern Nicole Daurio said.
"They took a picture of the camera," she said, "while it was taking a picture of them."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)