Saturday, August 16, 2014

Green Eggs and Sand on Great Bay

UNH scientists are studying the American horseshoe crab in Great Bay.
I was fortunate to have a private tour of the University of New Hampshire's Jackson Estuarine Lab (JEL) at Adams Point in Durham today, thanks to Helen Cheng, a young scientist studying American horseshoe crabs here.  I connected with Helen while researching my book and found her enthusiasm for her work so contagious that I included a short segment in the book about the fascinating research going on at JEL.

Helen and her colleagues actually dive the bay each summer looking for juvenile horseshoe crabs. With the strong current and amount of mud found here, she describes it as very disorienting and like "diving through chocolate milk." You can get some research updates and learn some great facts about horseshoe crabs on Helen's blog and a little further in this post, too.

Queen Anne's Lace and blue flowers
line the path to the shore. 
For now, I'd like to encourage you to visit Adams Point in Durham just for the unique beauty of this quiet spot on Great Bay. (There's also lots to do here, which I'll cover in a minute.) Adams Point is a peninsula between Little Bay and Great Bay. We snowshoed here along the shore last winter; today, I found a whole different landscape, as you might imagine. The path to the shore was lined with an explosion of Queen Anne's Lace. (Unfortunately, these small photos were taken with an older low res phone, but I hope you get the general idea.)

The shoreline on this part of Great Bay doesn't resemble a soft sand beach in any way, but it's a beautiful natural spot just the same. There are some very large rocks, even larger than what you see in this photo. Great Bay was formed by glaciers that came down from the Arctic, so I'm guessing the big boulders found here were pulled up from the bedrock by those giant ice sheets more than 10,000 years ago. Today the shore is filled with trees, rocks, grass, and seaweed, but is still quite walkable.

A Short Primer on Horseshoe Crabs
Before delving into the features around Adams Point, I want to share a little of what I learned about horseshoe crabs today. The first interesting fact is that while horseshoe crabs resemble crustaceans, they are not crustaceans at all. They belong to a phyllum that is more closely related to spiders. Also young horseshoe crabs molt, shedding their shells about every two weeks, to accommodate their growing bodies. Once they reach maturity (age 5 to 7), they no longer molt. This fact explains why you can find so many empty shells on the shore. And that spiky looking tail they have? It's not used for self-defense, but simply to flip themselves over. Who knew?

Each spring, the crabs make their way to shore to spawn. The females lay up to 4,000 olive green eggs in a sandy nest on the shore. (Hence the title of this post, which I borrowed from a Jackson Lab brochure.) This spring, the lab harvested some of those eggs and "hatched" them in the lab. I saw tiny, tiny crabs, no larger than a small seed.

Finally, UNH researchers here can use your help. If you see a horseshoe crab near Great Bay (especially if it has a tag on it), please take a moment to report the sighting at this online survey.

Things to Do At and Around Adams Point
Why should you head out to Adams Point...if you can't get a tour of the lab? Well, the Adams Point Wildlife Management area offers a 1.5 mile trail with many water views. People come here to walk their dogs, take a nice gentle hike or to snowshoe in winter. You can learn more about the trail on Hike New England. 

There's a very active bird population as well. I saw a heron today, as well as many other birds. There are osprey in the spring and bald eagles in winter. If you're a birder, I'm sure you can identify many more than I can.

Adjacent to the Jackson Lab is a boat launch suitable for both trailered and car-top boats. A sign on-site says it's usable only three hours before and after high tide and there's a caution for shallow draft and larger boats. Just up the road from the Jackson Estuarine Lab is the Great Bay Office of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which has a number of walking trails that provide access to some unique marsh, creek and forest habitat. The Cy and Bobbie Sweet Trail is fairly new and offers 4 miles of hiking. You can learn more about TNC trails and property here.  (This one is still high on my "to do" list.)

Last but not least, I saw a sign on Bay Road for a Heron Sanctuary. I didn't want to venture down this wooded dirt road alone, but it's on my list for next time. So you can see, there's a lot to explore in this corner of Newmarket and Durham. If you have a chance to get out to this part of Great Bay, write in and let me know what you find!

Directions to Adams Point: GPS 85 Adams Point Road, Durham NH OR from the south, take Rte. 101E to exit 10 towards Exeter. Turn left on Route 85. Stay straight on 85 for several miles until you reach Route 108 toward Newmarket. Turn left on 108 and follow it through town for another three miles or so to a right turn on Bay Road. Stay on windy and narrow Bay Road for about 4 miles to the sign for Jackson Estuarine Lab. There are a couple of parking lots here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep

Photo courtesy of The Nature Conservancy
We visited Sheldrick Forest Preserve in Wilton recently -- a simple place of quiet beauty not far from busy Route 101.  I love this type of place! No one has "packaged" it into an experience; No one is telling you where to look and what to see -- although I'm going to offer a few suggestions that I hope will enrich your visit and not intrude on it.

There's an interesting conservation story about how Sheldrick Forest came to be protected. While researching my book on southern New Hampshire, I was lucky enough to connect with Swift Corwin, the private forester who started the "Save Sheldrick Forest" campaign in the late 1990s. You can read more about this grassroots effort on The Nature Conservancy's website and in the book, of course.

                              Big Trees and Glacial Features
For now, let's talk about what you might see here today. You'll start by parking your car in a field off Town Farm Road. The grass was almost knee-high when we visited a couple of weeks ago. If you take Helen's Path, after a short walk you'll come to a 5-acre stand of old-growth trees on your right. There are white pines, hemlocks and oaks as tall as 150-feet high and some as big as 30-inches around.

To a casual observer, they look like ordinary trees. But if you stop to think that most of our forests had been cleared by farmers in the mid-1800s, this five-acre parcel stands out. Some of the trees here are almost 200 years old!

It was this discovery that first led to the effort to save this 260-acre parcel from development. (Secretly I was proud that I could pick out these trees without any signage...only from knowing that they were there to begin with. You'll be able to recognize them, too.)

I learned from Swift (the forester) that Sheldrick Forest also has some geological features left by the glaciers, including kettle holes and an esker ridge. I had no idea what an esker ridge was...but I've since learned that it's a ridge carved by melting glacial streams.

Illustration  from the book courtesy of Nancy Murphy
While we were there, we climbed to the top of the ridge, which overlooks Morgan Brook and gives you a nice glimpse into the beauty of the forest below. It's kind of neat to stand there and think about the glacial streams that carved it. We didn't see any wildlife while we were in the preserve, but we did hear the hammering sounds of a pileated woodpecker echoing loudly through the trees.

To be honest, I'm usually a little fearful about hiking this type of forest, since I always think about bears, bobcats and other wild animals that call this place home. What would I do if I came face to face with a bear? I don't know! But in the end, I'm glad we ventured here. Sheldrick Forest Preserve is calm, peaceful and beautiful in a very understated way. If you have a chance to visit, write in and tell me what you thought.

Things to Know Before You Go: There are three miles of well-marked trails through the preserve; these trails connect with the Heald Tract which offers another 8 miles of trails. When you come here, definitely use insect repellent and dress in long pants and preferably long sleeves. The parking area looks like the perfect habitat for deer ticks. There's a small information kiosk with trail maps, I believe. It's probably best to download one before heading out, though.

Directions: You can find those on The Nature Conservancy website.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Beautiful Day in Pillsbury State Park

This was our first time at Pillsbury State Park in Washington, located in the Monadnock Region -- it's definitely worth the trip! There are four connected ponds here, but we only explored two of them today: Butterfield and May Ponds. This place has been on my list ever since guest poster Matt Hoffman wrote about it in 2009. You can read his write-up and see some awesome pictures here. Hard to believe it's taken us five years to get there!

Beautiful summer day. We want to return in the fall.
Pillsbury State Park has a ranger's station right off Route 31. From there, it's an easy put-in to Butterfield Pond, which connects via a small channel to May Pond. There are a number of rolling hills/small mountains -- all of them at least 1900-feet tall. Don't you love the reflections in the water? We saw two loons here, but they kept their distance. It's that time of year when there may have been loon chicks around.

Just relax already! There's only one grassy area like this.
Butterfield Pond is pretty shallow and rocky, but still navigable. Sometimes we get so enthralled with the scenery that we forget to watch for rocks right below the surface. Of the two ponds, May Pond has more water and more areas to explore. Doug caught two small pickerel; And a camper we talked to said he'd caught a five-pounder earlier in the day. If you want to continue beyond May Pond to Mill Pond, you'll need to portage your boat about 1/4 mile. We didn't explore that one today, but Matt wrote about in his earlier post.

An interesting feature in the Park is the wind turbines (barely visible on the hill at right in photo left). They are part of the Lempster Wind Power Project. There are 12 turbines capable of powering up to 10,000 homes. Public Service Company of New Hampshire purchases and resells all the energy produced here.

I could write so much more about Pillsbury State Park, but I want you to get out there and explore it for yourself! Aside from four ponds, there are also walking/hiking trails, little bits of history and campsites (some only accessible by canoe). A section of the 43-mile long Monadnock Sunapee Greenway Trail also passes through the park.

Things to Know Before You Go: The entrance fee to the park is $4 per adult and $2 for children ages 6-11. You can rent canoes/kayaks from the ranger's station here.  Plan to bring your own food or stop at the Taste of Texas rib shack in Hillsborough; there's not much else in the area in terms of places to eat.
Nearby Historic Site:  The President Franklin Pierce Homestead in Hillsborough looks like a great historical stop. New Hampshire's only President lived here for the first 30 years of his life. We stopped in briefly to the gallery/barn/mini-museum and there was an art exhibit going on. Guides give 45-minute tours of the main house in season from Memorial Day through October. There's also a short self-guided walking tour of the Pierce neighborhood, including a family cemetery.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Biking the Derry Rail Trail

Beavers are responsible for most of the wetlands here.
The first day of summer and the weather was gorgeous in New Hampshire -- the perfect day to explore the Derry Rail Trail which has been on my "wish list" for a while. (My apologies upfront if I don't have all my facts straight on this one; the Derry Rail Trail Alliance website seems a tad outdated, so I can only share the little bit I know.)

I definitely loved this trail! It has easy access, is completely paved and almost 100% flat. Now I know some bikers would say that all sounds pretty "boring." But I enjoyed the scenery, the coolness of the woodlands, and the bits of history along the way. Best of all, there's a new section of trail (opened in 2012) connecting it to the Windham Rail Trail. The Derry portion is just under three miles and the Windham Trail is about four miles, for a round-trip total of 14 miles. We probably biked about 8 miles of it today.

Along the Way
The Derry Trail starts in downtown near Sabotino's Restaurant, which is located in an old rebuilt Depot Station. The trail follows an abandoned Boston & Maine railroad bed and has a few well-marked road crossings. During one stop, we saw a big snapping turtle's head moving in the water.

There was a great breeze as we biked through the trees and a few stone cut-throughs. On our right (headed to Windham), there was a miles-long stonewall in the woods. At one point, we even saw a stonewall that ended in a small wetland (below).

Now for some quick bits of history: There's a nicely restored train depot where the Derry and Windham trails connect, as well as a restored caboose at the end of the Derry Trail. None of these have indoor access, but at least they're neat to look at. There's also an old cellar hole (state archeological site) with an informative marker. I'll leave those details for you to discover on your own! If you venture here, be sure to write in and let us know your thoughts.

Look closely and you'll see a stone wall in the water!
Things to Know Before You Go: Parking is available in a municipal lot behind Sabotino's. From Broadway Street, take a right on Abbot Court. You can also park in Hood Park; Take a left onto Manning Street just after crossing the red crosswalk in front of Sabotino's. Follow Manning Street past the courthouse to where it ends at a stop sign. Hood Park is right in front of you.

Approved Uses: Like most NH trails, this one is mixed use. It appears to be a great place for families. We saw bikers, runners, in-line skaters and a sign saying that snowmobiles are allowed. I believe ATV's are not allowed.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Best Time to Kayak Hoit Road Marsh is Now

Beautiful Reflections and lots of birds

We headed to Hoit Road Marsh in Concord last Sunday for some quiet and relaxing time on the water. Why do I say, "head here NOW" (as in the next seven to ten days)?  Because in just a few weeks time, the vegetation will choke out some of the open water and you won't be able to paddle very far. We first paddled Hoit Road Marsh in 2008, when we spent time watching a great blue heron. It's hard to believe that six years have elapsed since our last visit here -- this place is pretty awesome!

The 101-acre marsh is managed by NH Fish and Game, which has placed quite a few wood duck boxes in the water and along the shore. This seems to encourage a lively bird population. Each one of the boxes was occupied, though we're still trying to figure out the bird species. They were very small with a swallow-like body. The tops of their heads were a shiny green/blue. Could they be tree swallows? I'm not sure.

Doug took out his fishing rod and caught a 12-inch pickerel and we sat for a while and watched a graceful osprey soaring overhead. This is the type of place that invites you to just sit back and relax. It's shallow and marshy in a lot of places so you won't be doing too much strenuous paddling. But if you are content to meditate on all the shades of green and bright yellow water lilies...all while watching the birds...then this is your spot! 

Things to Know Before You Go: Hoit Road Marsh is easy to get to and offers an easy put-in. If you're traveling from the south, take I-93 North to exit 17 in Concord. Head east (left) off the exit onto Hoit Road. Travel about 2.5 miles to the marsh on your left. There are no facilities here, but there's a small parking lot across the street and what looks like some trails through the woods. We may be back to explore those another day.