Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Long Lunch at Longmarsh

Yesterday I spent much of the day indoors researching documents for two different work projects. As I drove from The Nature Conservancy office to the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge around mid-day I was casting about for a place to stop for a picnic lunch, where Bella could stretch her four legs. I drove on Durham Point Road along the shores of Great Bay and turned off on Longmarsh Road, a dead end dirt road that leads to one of my project sites. As I parked, a local passed by in her truck warning me about the ticks, beware of the ticks she repeated. I am always prepared for ticks and as it turned out we did not see a single tick on this walk.

Longmarsh Road, an old town road that is now closed to vehicle traffic in the middle section, is aptly named as it passes by (and sometimes through) a series of wetlands, influenced by beavers. This wetland drainage is known as Crommet Creek, a focus of land protection efforts by public and private groups. As a result, much of the area is permanently protected.

I read once that many old town roads pass across wetlands where beaver dams provided a narrow and somewhat flat place for horse drawn wagons to cross. Along the base of one of the longest beaver dams in Crommet Creek the town built a boardwalk. The dam and the boardwalk lie over the old road.
On the impounded side of the dam, a band of light green, that looks like scum, is actually thousands of tiny plants commonly called duckweed, the smallest flowering plants in the world. They are free-floating and eaten by ducks, hence their name.

Spirodela polyrhiza, common duckweed

In this same wetland I caught a snapping turtle napping, with all four legs draped around a floating log.

Bella and I walked on to the next large wetland. Here we rested and watched an osprey carry a fish to its mate and young in a nest on the far side of the wetland. The osprey called and soared, appearing to give the fish, clutched in its talons, a ride around the wetland before dropping to the nest. Just behind and above the osprey nest sits a rookery of 8 or more active great blue heron nests. I could hear the young herons, their croaks carried across the water. The rookery is visible in the photo below, the osprey nest is atop a dead white pine just in front of the herons.

Stonewalls abound in New Hampshire. As beavers alter water levels over time the stonewalls lead into the water, where once they bounded a pasture.

By now it was well past the time that Bella and I should retrace our steps. We passed back by wetland after wetland. Just as my mind started to wander back to my afternoon work I looked up and saw a red fox trotting toward me on the woods road. She was probably on her way to catch some frogs at one of the ponds. She darted back into the woods once she caught sight of me.

At the next wetland I caught the movement of a beaver swimming along the wetland edge. He crawled over stones and logs to get to a stand of sedge. Shortly he swam back with a beautiful bouquet of fresh green sedge in his mouth and swam off, I assume to present the fresh food to his young and mate. As I peered through my bins an object rose up out of the water like a spaceship; it was a painted turtle covered in duckweed. At the same time a red-shouldered hawk screamed and soared overhead.

As we passed the last wetland a symphony of animal sounds accompanied our last steps to the car. A scarlet tanager scratched out its five notes, a pewee whistled a plaintive pee-a-wee, a chipmunk chipped from the stonewall, and the baritone bullfrogs croaked out their rum-rum-rum.

Now that was a fine long lunch at Longmarsh.

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