Friday, June 12, 2015

Paddle the Nashua River for a Wildlife Treat

Nashua River, accessed from near Stellos Stadium in Nashua
Last Sunday we were a little short on time, but still wanted to get a nature fix. So we headed to the Nashua River, only about 5 or 6 miles from home. It's amazing how much wildlife can be seen here, so close to the center of town. When we arrived at the launch, it was a little disheartening to find some type of invasive plant species had taken over about 30 to 40 percent of the water. We had never seen it quite it like this before.

I don't know if it was millfoil or water chestnuts or some other plant, but eventually we made our way to clear water and still enjoyed our time on this beautiful river. There was more boat traffic than we had seen in the past -- everything from canoes to kayaks to powerboats -- but for the most part, everyone was respectful of their fellow boaters. 

                                                  Look Out for Snappers!
You can always count on seeing and hearing a lively bird population on the river. On this trip, we saw red-wing blackbirds, a great blue heron and many other smaller birds. On past excursions, we've seen owls, osprey, and swans, to name a few. Other than birds, the most common critter you will see on the river are turtles -- lots of turtles. 

One of the countless smaller turtles.
Most impressive of all on this trip were the snapping turtles. One of them was HUGE. It had a shell much larger than a dinner plate. I think I startled one of the snappers (and it spooked me) when I was in shallow water and probably paddled right over it. Woops!

                                  Learn More or Paddle a Different Section of the River
There always something new and interesting to discover on the Nashua. You can read about two mini-adventures we had during a trip here a few years back in this earlier post. There's also a chapter in my book about the amazing conservation history of this river. It's hard to believe when you are out on the water today that at one time the Nashua River was "biologically dead" and was named one of the top ten dirtiest rivers in the country. The clean-up of the river was largely the work of one determined woman named Marion Stoddart -- whose work was so remarkable that she was honored by the United Nations.

If you're interested in exploring the Nashua River from a different angle, consider checking out Nashoba Paddlers in West Groton, MA. They rent canoes, kayaks and SUPs and offer some great tours.

For now, I'll leave you to discover the rest of this "hidden" gem on your own. If you get out there, please write in and let us know what you found. Happy paddling!

Directions: From Riverside Drive in Nashua, take your first left and head toward Stellos Stadium. Bear left and then right to a dirt road near the Public Works Garage and the boat launch. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Come to Island Pond for Lively Birds, Turtles and Lush Green Hills

This was our second time kayaking Island Pond in Stoddard, out in the Monadnock Region and we were excited to see and hear our first loon of the season! Our first trip here (exactly one year ago) ended after about 20 minutes on the water because of stormy weather. This time around, we enjoyed a full two hours on the pond, reveling in the many beautiful shades of green and all the birds and turtles. If you haven't visited, you may want to add this place to your list.

What I loved best about Island Pond was the great variety of the waterscape and the wildlife. There were several islands, grassy marshes and small coves to explore, as well as some lush hills in the distance. First off, it's a very easy sandy put-in right off Route 123 north. That means you'll hear some road noise while you are out on the water, but it's really not a heavily travelled road and shouldn't impact your peaceful time on the water too much.

There's also more development on the pond than we usually like to see -- but again it wasn't anything that detracted from our enjoyment. In my view, there are more plusses than minuses here.

Some of the many shades of green on Island Pond.

Aside from being treated to the haunting call of the loons, we enjoyed many other smaller birds serenading us while we were on the water. Doug spotted a snapping turtle and we saw a few Eastern Painted turtles sunning themselves. At least, I think that was the species -- don't hold me to it!

Tall marshy areas with channels are fun to explore
Two small caveats: Island Pond is a rocky place, with some very shallow areas. So you need to be on the lookout when you are paddling here. Power boats are also allowed and there's a water-skiing channel. We were lucky that we only encountered one power boat that quickly cut it's engine. So that wasn't a factor, but it might be a different story on a busy summer weekend.

Overall, I loved our time here and think you will probably agree that Island Pond is a very serene spot to spend a few hours enjoying some of the best that southwest New Hampshire has to offer. Get out and enjoy and stop back in to let us know about your experience!

Directions: From Rte. 202 in Peterborough, take Rte. 123 North to Hancock. Look for the pond on your right shortly after the intersection of Rtes. 9 and 123. There's plenty of off-road parking and a porta-potty here.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Exploring "Great Bear Pond" (a.k.a. Lake Potanipo)

We kayaked Lake Potanipo in Brookline last Sunday and also took the suggestion of Andrea (a fellow kayaker and commenter here) to visit nearby Andres Institute of Art. It was a very pleasant afternoon, thanks to some of the best summer weather we've had all season.

If I'm being honest (and you DO want me to be honest, right?), I would recommend both the lake and the Institute if you're in the area. I'm not sure I would drive a long distance to get here. I hope my reasons for saying that will become obvious as you read on.
First off, there's a chapter on Lake Potanipo in my book, Exploring Southern New Hampshire.  Despite my best effort, I made some factual errors in the book about the lake and I'm hoping this blog post will help to set the record straight. The most important point is that there is an easy access boat launch open to the general public all season. My book says it's only open to town residents in season and out-of-towners during the off-season. Oops!

Secondly, we had kayaked this 136-acre lake about five years ago and I recalled one shore of the lake being crammed with summer homes. I didn't get the same crowded feel this time around, possibly because the trees have grown up and are shielding the view of the houses dotting the shore.

So what can you expect to find here?  An easy-access lake, a Jewish kids' camp near the town beach and some power boats. There's no reason folks who own lakefront property should be prohibited from tubing and all those fun things...we just prefer not to deal with their sometimes erratic driving and the wake they create. In reality, there were only two boats out the day we were there, but on a small lake it makes a difference.

We had been told that Potanipo has a channel on the far shore, so we headed out to find it this time around, which we did, to the right as you're leaving the boat launch. Ah...peace and quiet! No power boats to dodge and there was an interesting glacial boulder, along with some folks quietly fishing. I loved all the reflections in the water. (The photos are a little grainy due to my water-logged camera.)

Before too long, the channel was blocked by downed trees (a beaver dam?) so we couldn't go too far. But we're told that some people carry their boats over the dams and keep on going, especially when the water is higher in spring. Something to think about if you are exploring here earlier in the season.  

In the end, we spent an enjoyable two hours on the water. And just for the record, the history about the lake included in the book is accurate. Potanipo was once the site of the "largest icehouse in the world." The Fresh Pond Ice Company came here from Somerville, Massachusetts in 1890, after their water source in Somerville became a town reservoir. 

There were only about 540 residents in Brookline at the time. The Company not only brought 300 jobs, but also brought the railroad to this sleepy little corner of New Hampshire. There's more to the story...but I'd love you to get your hands on the book to read about it. 

Sculpture Park atop Big Bear Mountain

Next, we headed to the Andres Institute of Art, an outdoor sculpture park with walking/mountain biking trails, located off Route 13 in Brookline. After two hours of kayaking we didn't spend a lot of time here, but we did walk about one mile of trails. I had been forewarned that we should expect a bit of an uphill hike to see the sculptures -- thanks, Andrea...you were right! Let me also add that the trail maps and signs are quite confusing. Neither one of us could really make much sense of them.

Anyway, each year the Andres Institute invites sculptors from around the world to create permanent installations on the 140-acre site. This year's symposium (coming soon) will bring artists from Bangladesh, Germany, Zimbabwe and Texas. I'm not an art critic and certainly didn't love everything we saw in the park, but I do appreciate the mix of art and nature. I also appreciate that the artists are working with some difficult materials (huge stones in some cases) or found objects, in other cases.

My husband Doug enjoyed the walk and said he'd like to come back another day...so that's an endorsement from someone who's usually tough to impress. For now, I'll leave you with a couple photos of the sculptures we saw.

Footnote on the Lake:  I just read there's a channel to the far left side of the boat launch. We headed right. Are there two channels? If you're familiar with Potanipo, please write in and set me straight.

Directions to Lake Potanipo:  Take Route 101W (toward Keene/Peterborough) to Rte. 13 south toward Brookline. After several miles, turn right at the blinking light onto Mason Road. The put-in is almost immediately on your right and is well-marked.

Alternate Directions: From Everett Turnpike in Nashua, take exit 6 to Rte. 130 west until you come to Brookline Center (maybe 8-10 miles?). In front of Daniels Academy in Brookline Center, stay straight on Meetinghouse Hill Road. At red blinking light, continue straight across Route 13 to Mason Road. Boat launch for Lake Potanipo is the second right, just before going over the bridge.

Directions to Andres Institute: It's best if you GPS the address - 98 NH 13, Brookline NH. We had a little trouble finding it, but it's on the west side of Route 13. Look for a "low to the ground" stone sign. Drive in a couple hundred feet to the parking area. There is no admission fee.

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.