Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Green Hills

Yesterday I took part in a "bioblitz" on The Nature Conservancy's Green Hills Preserve in Conway, New Hampshire. The goal of a blitz is to gather a few dozen volunteers and staff to inventory a property or properties for all things living: plants, birds, mammals, insects, frogs, snakes, and the rest. For this event, experts in various taxa gathered to hike about different parts of the Green Hills, recording (either on paper datasheets or now more commonly on ipads or smartphones) whatever we saw or heard.

Seven of us woke in the wee hours of Wednesday morning to start bird surveys at 4:30 am. My team of two started at the Thompson Road/Pudding Pond parking area and hiked 2 miles (listening for birds along the way) to the top of 1,857' Middle Mountain. Except for pesky mosquitoes, it was a beautiful morning with a light breeze and blue sky. Our route was entirely closed canopy forest, so the birds we heard were suited to that habitat: ovenbird, black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers, scarlet tanager, pileated woodpecker, hermit thrush, red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, among others.

We heard nothing unexpected, but this was my first visit to Middle Mountain. We reached the top at 6:30 am and paused to listen to an eastern wood pewee and take in the lovely views.
Red pine dominates the mountaintop and the whole ridge between Middle Mountain and nearby Peaked Mountain to the north supports a red pine rocky ridge plant community. Lowbush blueberry and other small heath shrubs and herbs and grasses blanket the understory.
As the birds grew quiet by 8:30 am (hence the need to start bird surveys early), we started looking down at wildflowers rather than craning our necks into trees in search of warblers. Pink lady's slippers and Clintonia (blue bead lily) were still in striking bloom.
After a coffee break and snack, we re-grouped and all taxa experts headed out to their respective survey spots. I joined a group on the 1 mile hike to 2,369' Black Cap Mountain off Hurricane Mountain Road, another first for me.
On this hike we noted American toads, tiger swallowtails, blackburnian warblers. Pam Hunt, our bird and dragonfly expert, showed us a dainty female sedge sprite damselfly.

From here I joined up with friend and colleague Emma Carcagno and we headed to the southern region of the Green Hills and into a completely different habitat--a gravel pit. Not as ecologically pristine and aesthetically pleasing as the high ridges, but we saw some neat stuff. In a depression filled with water--such that it was serving as a vernal pool (a type of intermittent wetland)--we saw many things....moose, deer, and raccoon tracks in the soft sand around the pool; predacious diving beetle larvae with their large, long pincers in search of prey; and American toad (small and black) and wood frog (large and brown) tadpoles.....
In the surrounding woods we found both adult toads and the well camouflaged wood frog with its beige body and black mask.
By mid-afternoon, as the sun grew hotter and the mosquitoes thicker (and my early morning start catching up), I began to fade. I did not record anything uncommon on my various walkabouts, but I did help document what was present and felt privileged to join this group of knowledgeable experts into some new territory for me.

4 comments:

  1. What a gorgeous place to walk!

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  2. Hi Misti,

    Yes, and I am surprised I've not hiked the ridge before. I will return.

    Ellen

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  3. Ellen, believe it or not, I thought about you when hearing the NHPR radio broadcast about this "biolblitz" which aired this morning (13-June-2014). I wondered if you might have been one of the participants. Now I know! You were indeed!

    And yes, the Green Hills Preserve is a true treasure. Even though it is so close to the hubbub of North Conway, you still get a feeling of remoteness while hiking the trails. I guess if I had to choose a favorite spot within the Preserve, it would be Black Cap peak.

    Excellent report and fantastic photos!

    John

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  4. Hi John,

    Thanks for nice comments. It was fun to be out--gives one a little more feeling of accomplishment than just being on a hike. And we lucked out with a beautiful day, not like the heavy rain that we are getting now! I definitely want to go back and explore the whole ridge with Srini and the dogs. So glad more than 5,000 acres protected in that area.

    Happy hiking, Ellen

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