This post was written by Margaret Fowle, Conservation Biologist with Audubon Vermont.
For many of us, getting outdoors and on the trails this spring has been a huge relief from the stress surrounding the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the increase in use of some of our recreation areas has had an impact on some sensitive wildlife species, namely the Peregrine Falcon. Peregrines nest on cliffs throughout Vermont, and there are several that nest near the Long Trail. Many of these areas are far enough away from the public so that people can use the trails and not disturb the falcons. Other areas, however, are often closed to hikers and/or rock climbers during the time of year when the birds are most sensitive to human disturbance.
Peregrines begin their breeding season in late winter, and are usually incubating eggs by late March or early April. They are most likely to be disturbed by people above their nesting site or near it when rock climbing. Biologists from Audubon Vermont and Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department work with landowners and managers each spring to determine which areas are appropriate to close and which can remain open.
In the case of Prospect Rock in Johnson, Audubon staff and volunteers, the Green Mountain Club, and the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation worked together in March to reroute the Long Trail to keep hikers from going to the overlook at the top and closed the area to climbing. Peregrines had returned to this cliff to nest in 2019 and successfully raised three young with the same restrictions in place. Unfortunately, the birds chose a new location on the cliff to nest this year, one that is close to the hiking overlook and on a climbing route. Volunteers documented evidence of rock climbing just below the nest site and observed people at the overlook in April, and disappointingly, the birds appeared to have abandoned the cliff by early May. Peregrine volunteers have been observing similar situations at other cliffs throughout the state, with at least two more sites that appear to be abandoned.
While it’s important for all of us to be outdoors, it is also important to respect the physical distancing our wildlife needs to be successful. Please respect the signage you see and do not hike or climb in closed areas.
*As of 5/28/2020, the Prospect Rock cliff area is open again after verification that the birds have abandoned the area for the season.
For more information on additional closures, please see this list.
For more information on Peregrine Falcons and their recovery in Vermont, visit the Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project.