The Winooski River, from its headwaters in the foot hills east of the Green Mountains near Cabot to its mouth at Lake Champlain, provides a rich habitat for many wildlife species. Birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians interact with the river and with each other to create one of Vermont' s most visible and beautiful natural areas.
In spring, summer and fall you may see sandpipers probing the shallow waters for food, or bank and barn swallows catching insects. Other birds often seen along the river include great blue herons, ring-billed and herring gulls, and goldfinches. Kingfishers may also frequently be seen diving into the river after fish.
Watch for American osprey nests in the snags of large mature trees. With luck, you may see this water-loving, eagle-like hawk plunge feet first for fish. In the hopes of attracting more osprey pairs to sections of the Winooski River where large nesting trees are scarce, Vermont' s Nongame Wildlife Program has worked with the Green Mountain Power Corporation to set up man-made nesting platforms in the Intervale area. Look for two platforms at the Winooski Valley Park District' s McCrea Farm and Heineburg Wetlands Parks in the Intervale.
Where adjacent lands are forested, you are likely to see deer. Moose have also been sighted along the North Branch and other tributaries in the Winooski River Basin. As you canoe down the river, you will probably spot frogs, snakes, turtles and toads. Species such as muskrats, beavers, water shrews and otters, all of whom depend on the river for their food, are also frequently seen. Keep an eye out for raccoons, foxes, skunks, fishers and coyotes, who may use the river as their source of water.
For the wildlife enthusiast, areas that abound in a rich diversity of wildlife are the Winooski floodplain. Many species of waterfowl, including Canada geese, mallards, pintails, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, hooded mergansers, ring-billed gulls and buffleheads use the wetlands during migrations and some species make the wetlands their year-round home. Along with the mammals already mentioned, there are field mice, gray squirrels, chipmunks, mink and weasels.
There are several particularly good observation points along the floodplain. Year-round waterfowl can be seen at the island just below Salmon Hole. Migrating waterfowl use the sand knoll north of the Central Vermont Railway track near the McNeil plant. Half Moon Cove is home to the mink, as well as waterfowl and muskrats, who live in the cattail and buttonbush-filled marshes. Many migrating songbirds can be found in the Derway Island floodplain, and the Intervale floodplain, located between Burlington and Colchester, has over 50 nesting bird species.
In addition to the animals normally found along the river, woodchucks, starnosed moles, short-tailed shrews and meadow voles have been found in the Intervale. The garter, milk, water and redbellied snakes are among the reptiles living in this area, and some of the common amphibians include American toads and spring peepers, as well as green, leopard and pickerel frogs.