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Fireside Sans Camera

I took Frodo to Fireside tonight to do our regular trip around the “block” and was out on the trail before I realized that I had no card in the camera. I thought that maybe I could should you some word pictures instead.

The Fireside property was previously the Joy Farm. The farmhouse burned down in the summer of 1956? The drive in runs past Moody Hall which was an old barn and the old road runs up to the right and into the woods. Once upon a time the main road between Northwood and Rochester ran on the West side of Little Long Pond, continuing from what is now Daniel Cater Road. There were also other old farm roads that intersected at various points. This to say the short loop I took this evening ran completely on old roads, often with stone walls running besides.

This late in the season the Beech trees are at their prime, greens into yellows and orangy browns. These trees will hold their leaves all winter, turning browner and then fading out as time goes on. A golden Beech in a bare woods is a glorious thing. Beeches are a secondary growth tree and the Fireside woods is young. The age of the trees tells me that much of the front parts of the property were stony meadows about 1940, good for sheep. The taller trees are oaks, maples and birches and most of the beech trees are less than 30’ tall. This means that the bulk of the leaves are near ground level on these trees making them more easily visible and more impressive.

Most of the oaks in this part of the woods are tall enough that it is hard to see any color now – they just appear brown. They will also hold their leaves longer though the ground is covered with oak leaves and acorns. This is a good year for acorns, referred to by biologists as mast. The small mammals had a tough year last year and are appreciating the ability to fill their larders in preparation for this winter. The trees are banking on the fact that there are so many acorns that the critters won’t be able to eat them all and some of them will be buried in prime locations to sprout next spring. The young oaks and maples haven’t gotten the “brown” message yet, or perhaps they’re just having a final fling before they too head to the rest of their elders. The young oaks are often still green at the center rib fading out to red at the edges.

The loop I take goes around what I call Beaver Brook, today crossing it first below the Archery Course, running alongside on the Fire Road and crossing back on the old road at what I call the Stone Crossing. It is here in the fall of 1984 that the beavers built their dam causing an impoundment that caused the death of many trees that couldn’t handle the long wet feet. That forest was old enough that the trees were spread out and easy to wander between. The young trees that have grown up in their place have multiple trunks and many low branches with many birches. Here and there along the brook itself are a few young red maples who also have not got the “time to be bare” message. There was one about 20’ high that was a splendid orange and another a spectacular red.

The mapleleaf viburnum are also red, though a little different shade than the trees. They also have blue-black berries that I had not noticed before. I found information about them being popular with birds and ground critters but saw nothing about human harvest.

I look at the stone wall with “word-picture eyes” that are different than the usual photographic eye. Farmers and their sons would try to clear some of the stones out of their pastures, making boundaries to keep in the sheep as well as marking property lines. Looking at the ancient landmarks I can imagine a young man trying to place all his stones in one pattern only to have a bratty brother interrupt with a pattern of his very own. The walls along the Fire Road are loose with lots of nooks and crannies between the stones which still have substantial weight. When the snow falls it will form a shell around these habitats and the mice, chipmunks and voles will have handy little condos. They are probably working hard now filling the holes with the acorns and beech nuts to prepare the way.

A year or so ago, as part of putting part of the land into conservation trust, the Extension service came out with the goal of eradicating invasive species. They cut and pulled a large area of Burning Bush, Winged Euonymous, to the west of the bath house but left a large patch behind cabin 7. This year was apparently a tough one for this plant. The whole area seems to be a faded pink rather than the brilliant red we usually see. The blueberries on the other hand are redder than I’ve seen them before. I am once again glad my little cottage is surrounded. The extension worked hard to kill the autumn olive but it is bouncing back with its fruit earlier in the season and now maintaining its green leaves later, continuing to provide the sugar that is stored below ground to give the plant a head start in the spring.

Under my feet along the trail are the tiny little plants that tend to survive under the snow being able to also take advantage of the first warm days of spring. I can see the heart shaped violet leaves as well as the oval crinkly mayflower that will brighten my heart in 6 months more. Some of the ferns also will over winter. Sword fern has thicker fleshy leaves that stay dark green all winter though the ostrich and cinnamon ferns are now fading out.

As I am hiking the sun is setting and though I cannot see the source I can see how it is painting the tops of the trees on the other side of the wetlands. I tried to find words for the fiery tree tops but couldn’t quite get a description of the dark bases and blazing tops. The best I could come up with was paint brushes that had been put handle down in their cups without having the bristles washed out of the oranges and yellows. The line of sun-kiss stretches from left to right and I’ve never been able to capture it with my camera either. It always loses something in the translation – you just need to experience it for yourself.

Frodo and I finish out our hike today with a walk down to the Firebowl where I sit and look over Little Long Pond as Frodo discovers what types of critters may have been passing through. The only sun-kissing remaining tonight is far to the north so we head back to the main campus. As I walk up over the hill by the pine grove I notice a long green flag along the right of the trail that is new to me. As I look closer I see that it is along what appears to be a deer trail that leads back toward the brook. I follow it and see a couple of small orange ribbons that may be signs for some hunter that plans to return. This is one of the places on the property that I am most likely to see deer if I don’t have a dog in tow. I follow the trail for a short distance and then head back toward the boys area. This woods was logged a couple of years ago and now sprouts a thick crop of little white pines. Compared to the greens and the browns of the forest this crewcut almost looks blue. A new variation on the theme.Fireside Sunset

Frodo and I mosey on out, back to the car where I am able to find a camera card in time to capture the sunset which is good since I don’t have words that could do it justice. We enjoy for a short time and then head on home, which is another photo story all its own.

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Everybody Hikes Mt Major!

Mt Major 10-25-14N SPNHF-83

Everybody Hikes Mt Major! Or at least many of us do at least once in our lives and that is the idea behind a fund raising campaign by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF, also known as the Forest Society). Most people don’t realize that though the State of New Hampshire owns the top of the mountain and the parking lot, most of the land between is privately held. Those owners have the right to post the land, blocking travel. SPNHF is working hard in cooperation with several other organizations to purchase land, protecting portions of the trail and conserving views and wildlife habitat.

On Saturday, October 25, 2014, I was one of a number of people allowed to explore the Mountain in a more intimate way than usual. Dave Anderson from the Forest Society and Dave Mallard & Erin Mastin from the Lakes Region Conservation Trust taught us about Mt Major’s hidden history. We learned about Mr. George Phippen who purchased 75 acres at the summit in 1914 from the state of New Hampshire for the sum of $125. He built a stone hut to shelter hikers in the fall of 1925 but that the roof blew off the very first winter. Mr Phippen did his homework and rebuilt the structure more aerodynamically with sturdier materials including spruce poles and corrugated iron. This second roof took two years to fly but is still in good shape several hundred yards down the slope. The remaining building has been altered over the years by well-meaning hikers as well as vandals and the walls are still appreciated by anyone wanting to get out of the wind.

When times got tough Mr. Phippen tried to sell his property to the State but they decided they would not purchase it because they could not also purchase the other properties between the summit and Route 11. Phippen lost the property to the town of Alton in the ‘30s for back taxes. In the ‘50s the town voted to give the property back to the state for recreational use.

Mt Major 10-25-14N SPNHF-7The first stop on our hike was a Granite Quarry. Previous to this trip when I thought of a granite quarry I thought of stone cliffs along the side of a hill. This quarry was glacial erratics, large boulders in the middle of a flat area in the forest. Dave explained that these rocks were split to provide stone for culverts and crossings in the 1890’s when the Lakeshore Railroad was being developed. Masons would use bits and wedges to work the stone until it split. He showed us marks on these rocks where pieces were broken off and carted away for use along the tracks. The Lakeshore Railroad brought up tourists from Boston before automobiles were popular. One train left the station, possibly Back Bay, at 8 am and arrived at Ames Farm at 11 am where a launch could take them to Diamond Island and its hotel.

We hiked back toward the parking lot and up along the stream to see an impounMt Major 10-25-14N SPNHF-22dment that collected water to pipe down to a aaccommodation near the lake called the Boulder Lodge. The cistern was a sweet little spot in the woods where we learned of the tourist trade along the lake. Dave told us about the roads and how the parking lot was first built in the 1970’s along with the current Route 11. The state purchased enough right-of-way to build a 4 lane highway.

We also learned some of the geology of this area. The core of the Belknap Range of Mountains is Conway Granite. This is intrusive igneous rock which worked its way as magma up through the cracks in the ancient volcanoes. More different types of rock show themselves as bedrock in the Belknaps than any other place in New Hampshire. The intrusions are about 60 million years old with the lake bed dating about 400 million years. There is soil in the lowlands which has washed down from above and deciduous trees thrive here. Nearer the summits the soil is thin and only conifers can gain a foothold.

Red pines sometimes start lower down in deciduous territory when the forest is hit by lightning. Bears like to use these trees and will mark their territory by rubbing and Mt Major 10-25-14N SPNHF-45scratching. Power companies will use red pine as telephone poles and we learned of two black bear boars that destroyed the utility poles in a remote area where their territories met. They over-marked each other by chewing and scratching to the point the poles needed to be replaced.

We then headed up the main trail and off-trail to the north where we explored a cave, more of a rocky overhang that may have been used as shelter by the shepherds who cared for the flocks that were kept in the meadows on the mountain. Another cave a little further up was more substantial and had been walled in to create a more weather tight area.

We traveled back to the main trail where our group then split, some to head back to the parking area and some to ascend the mountain. The trip then became more hike than history. We went up the blue trail across many ledges, past many other hikers to the summit where we ate lunch and learned a little more about the conservation efforts of the Forest Society and the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. We headed back down the Brook (Yellow) Trail taking a detour to Mt Major 10-25-14N SPNHF-101explore the old Ames Farm Cellar Hole.

One of the purposes of this hike was to learn about the “Everybody Hikes Mount Major” campaign to raise the $1.8 million needed to protect this land. On Sunday, October 26 the Forest Society officially announced that the goal had been attained.

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“Deer practice”

Once upon a time someone told me that when deer stand still in the road at night they are fixated on your headlights.  If you can shut your lights off for a split second it breaks their attention and they can get out of your way.  For years I had “deer practice”, turning off my headlights and turning them back on when I wasn’t stressed in the hopes that someday when I needed that “skill” it would come automatically.

Some years later I was driving home on route 495 in Massachusetts late at night when I saw headlights in front of me. Route 495 is a divided highway; there aren’t supposed to be lights in my lane.  I realized that someone was driving the wrong way.  I switched lanes and they came right along with me.  Because of my “deer practice” I realized that he too was fixated on my lights.  I shut off my lights, changed lanes, and he passed on my left going at least 55 mph the wrong direction.  Thank God the car behind me saw what I did and did the same thing.  He then turned on his blues, pulled a U-turn and chased the guy down.

“Deer practice” probably saved my life.  Maybe telling my story can save another.

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GBHs and GHOs

Beaver lodges  generally look like piles of logs, most commonly standing out in a marsh Vetters 5-2-10 27 beaver damsurrounded by water. Often beavers will create these piles, hollow them out, then build dams to raise the level of the water around the lodge. The standing water will eventually kill the trees living within its boundaries, and Great Blue Herons (GBH) love to make their nests in these standing dead trees. The problem with dead trees is that they eventually cannot stand any more.

For many years I have been watching the Great Blue Heron rookery on Quail Road in Rochester. When I first started watching, in about 2004, there were about 10 Vetters 5-2-10 39 owl in nestnests but as time has gone on, the dead trees have fallen, and last I saw there were only 3 nests left standing. The herons must go somewhere else to nest and I wanted to find them (to take pictures of course). What does a computer nerd do when they want to find something? They Google it 🙂 So I googled “Great Blue Heron Rookery Rochester NH” and found that there was one on Dry Hill Road. I have a friend who lives on Dry Hill Road so I asked him about it. He said they were on his property and gave me directions to find them. Once upon a time Fireside used to hike campersVetters 5-2-10 39 owl in nest_crop through Dry Hill Road from the Washington Street side to Pond Hill Road. I, being curious, had checked it out. When I was given directions, I tried to fit them into my mental map and ended up getting totally lost. I walked around, over hills and through wetlands for hours but eventually found some herons. I noticed there was a steep little hill quite close to the marsh and climbed it, figuring I could just about take pictures right down into the nests. I was very excited when I took the pictures but not as excited as I was when I got them home, opened them on the computer, and realized they were not herons but owls, and Mama had a baby (Great Horned Owls – GHO).

I found the nest at the beginning of May last year and hiked back at least once a week, taking pictures of the owls, herons, and anything else that caught my interest. I watched the babies as they grew, saw them as they began to get real feathers and practiced flapping Vetter 5-16-10C 073 mom with red squirreltheir wings. Then one day there was only one. The next time the nest was empty. I went back a few times after and saw what I thought was a young owl in a tree nearby each time.

During the winter I went out to the marsh and measured the distance between the tree and the hill. I was frequently accused of being too close to the nest but it was about 250′.

Mid April this year I headed back out. I had purchased a GPS and took readings as I hiked. Once again as I approached I saw an owl fly but when I reached the hill the nest appeared empty. The next time I headed out I used the coordinates of the hill to hike through the empty woods from Camp Fireside to the south. This time I climbed the hill and saw no sign of owls but hiked ‘round the shore and watched the herons. As I took pictures of what appeared to be heron nests I was greeted by a familiar shape. Mama owl had changed nests. She sat tight hiding her babies but I got good nest pictures.Owls 5-13-11 106 crop

Last week I returned to the marsh to find Mama gone and two chicks, probably about 6 weeks old! Last year the birders told me that May was very late to find a nest of young chicks. Last year Mama must have had a nest that didn’t hatch and so eventually laid a second clutch. This years nest seems to be right on time. I will need to start hiking more frequently as it won’t be long ’till the nest is empty once more.

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Owl Marsh

owls 4-22-11 30Recently I purchased a “real” GPS, one that I can use for bushwhacking and geocaching. I got a great deal on a Garmin etrex Venture HC complete with US topo maps. Last Friday I hiked into the owl marsh using my normal route, tracking and marking it using the GPS. Last year I orienteered it using map and compass but ended at a point to the East. Today I used the GPS coordinates to travel cross country and ended up at Owl Rock. Today I planned a little better and avoided mountain tops but still recognized some of the same areas I had map-hiked last year.

Last Friday I spooked an owl and saw it fly off as I arrived but saw no sign of activity in the nest. Today I sat on the rock for 15 minutes without any sign of owls before I decided to take pictures of the heron nests. I was amazed to find one of the nests commandeered by the owls. I cannot photo shoot the new nest from up high but still think I should be able to get some great shots, especially with my new dSLR camera.

As I headed out today I found fiddlehead ferns starting to come up, I found a pile of turkey feathers of all kinds but no blood or meat left, I found hooded mergansers and wood ducks on the water and warblers in the trees and I got a decent photo of a yellow-rump. On my way back I spooked a doe and arrived at my house to find a tom turkey displaying in my side yard. I will need to practice with manual focus in the camera to be able to shoot through tree branches – no photos of the courting display. I’m always excited by the owls but also love the discovery of the journey.

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Friends of Casco Bay

101_0481One of the great things about being a docent is the fun people you get to hang around. One perk of being a volunteer at Laudholm is the field trips. Last Tuesday a bunch of us headed up to Portland and visited the “Friends of Casco Bay”. FCB was founded about 25 years ago when locals began to be concerned about what they were seeing in the harbor. They started meeting regularly to listen to speakers who could tell them what was going on and what might be done about the problems. The “Troubled Waters” report published in 1990 showed various trouble points. In 1991 FCB hired Joe Payne. Joe is officially the Baykeeper but is also known as the Lorax of Casco Bay. He became part of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international organization of waterbody stewards. In 1993 FCB volunteers began water quality testing, an important step in monitoring change. They began with 116 sites but narrowed their focus to 40 key areas of the Bay.

They soon discovered that one of the primary problems in the bay was that of increased nutrient levels. Although industries had to decrease waste due to government laws, two other trouble areas came to light. Sewer channels within the watershed are open at the top and sometimes overflow, flushing through the storm drains directly into the bay. There was also no regulation of “head waste”, the septic waste from boats. Cruise ships would often leave their lines open, discharging in the harbor as

101_0472well as the open ocean. This waste was not only sewage but also other chemicals from photo processing and dry cleaning. FCB encouraged marinas to have reasonably priced pump-out stations available. Since 2005 Casco bay is now a “no discharge zone”. A harbor pilot meets incoming ships three miles out, assures that their valves are closed and escorts them into harbor. This is especially important considering the traffic that uses Portland Harbor as the second largest oil port on the east coast.

Another economically important focus in the bay is that of lobsters. FCB has assisted the monitoring of juvenile lobsters on cobble beaches. They also assisted in the trapping of lobsters during the channel dredging to the oil ports. Although the dredging was done in the winter, the lobster monitors were prepared to tag the 3,000 lobsters they expected to trap in the area. They were not prepared101_0478for the 30,000 that they actually caught. We discussed the fact that Cod are no longer preying on the lobsters and that humans are now their only real predators.

Its easy to think that Casco Bay is far away and what happens there has no effect on New Hampshire but lessons learned in maintaining water quality and Stewardship can be applied anywhere.

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