A Day of AMC Shenanigans

The group at the summit of Mt. Willard.

The group at the summit of Mt. Willard.

A group of blindfolded adults smelling trees, pretending to be squirrels dueling it out over acorn stashes, and singing songs about alligators in French accents were spotted along the Mt. Willard trail in Crawford Notch on Saturday, April 18th.

Observed from afar, it might seem their only goal was to laugh and have fun. But in addition to loving an excuse to behave ridiculously, everyone present – a Plymouth State University instructor and two environmental science students, and ACT staff – were learning about environmental education. The workshop was offered by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and its “Mountain Classroom” coordinator Mike Dufilho, who expertly presided over the day.

We had a straightforward mission: step into the shoes of fifth graders and let go of any adult self-consciousness. Rebecca Brown, ACT’s executive director, set the tone for the day with a sudden death contest against a PSU student in vegetable impersonations, doing a great job of channeling her inner beet. After learning a few clever ice breakers, including butts ‘n’ noses where we stood toe-to-toe leaning into our circle trying to shoot a ball through our opponents legs. When the ball made it past our legs, we gave a fact about the White Mountains before turning around with our butts in the air as we peered through our legs once again not allowing the ball through. It was a lot of butts ‘n’ noses. After these irreverent ice breakers we set off to hike Mt. Willard because it was the best place to mimic a lesson that might be taught in the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest.

This spring ACT’s Cooley-Jericho Community Forest in Easton is being turned into an outdoor classroom. Dufilho and other educators from the AMC will be teaching elementary school students from SAU 35 about basic forest ecology. They will also be teaching future teachers. Plymouth State students will join them to learn how to excite kids about the natural world.

The theme of our day on Mt. Willard was “consumers, producers and decomposers.” Mike had a simple flow chart that tied each activity to the lesson plan. Every silly song we sang, game, game, and contest had a specific teaching purpose. If you’ve ever taught, you know how much trial and error goes into good lesson planning.

One of the first activities of the day was being blindfolded, spun around, and disoriented before a partner led us to a tree. Then we used our senses – sniffing, running our hands along the bark, even tasting, to deduce clues of texture, mosses and other irregularities.

Rebecca finding her balsam fir.

Rebecca finding her balsam fir.

Rebecca located her balsam fir in record time, while a PSU student was frog marched by his instructor Rachelle Lyons through deep snow so he could not locate his tree. It was refreshing using specific senses to hone in on a specific tree, when we spend most of our days inside or looking at a computer screen. This activity reset our minds to notice our surroundings, think about plant identification, and the abundance of producers in NH’s forests. It was a good reminder that plants are inextricably linked to the entire cycle of producers, consumers and decomposers.

Rachelle frog marching her student away from his tree.

Rachelle frog marching her student away from his tree.

At certain moments I did roll my eyes silently. Seriously, you want me to use a terrible French accent and sing about alligators? I caved to the peer pressure and dutifully joined in on the camp-y tune. At the end of it the alligator ate the singer’s friend, and thus the idea of predators was sneakily introduced in our consciousness. Later on Mike pointed this out to us and it was an ‘ah-ha!’ moment where you began to realize every activity had a purpose.

About half way up the mountain we stopped and duked it out as red and gray squirrels, plundering acorn reserves (black beans we hid on the forest floor) and trying desperately to survive until April and spring weather. It was a playful example of competition with real world applications.

MtWillard

View from the summit of Mt. Willard.

Mike will be leading groups of students from SAU 35 through the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest this spring and teaching them about the forest of NH. It will be an exciting adventure for everyone involved, and there will definitely be a great deal of laughing and shenanigans during each outdoor classroom visit.

If you have questions or would like to learn how you can participate in bringing kids outside and exploring the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest, please email ACT Outreach Coordinator Lianna Lee, outreach@aconservationtrust.org or call our office at 603-823-7777

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Last Sunday Hike

IMG_0367Join us on Sunday, April 26th to meet new friends and enjoy the beautiful spring weather. At 1 p.m., we’ll start at the log landing at the Foss Forest on Pearl Lake Road,  located 1.3 miles west of the intersection of Route 117 and Pearl Lake Road in Sugar Hill. Going from Sugar Hill toward Lisbon, the access is on the left, and will be identified by the hike leader Rosalind Page’s red Toyota Prius. Coming from Lisbon, the access is on the right. The hike is moderate with a good amount of hills. 

Please bring water, sunscreen, your camera and wear good hiking shoes.

For more information, please call Outreach Coordinator Lianna Lee at 603-823-7777 or email outreach@aconservationtrust.org

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Woodcock’s Rite of Spring

woodcock

It’s known to pull some North Country people out of their homes at dusk, often with favorite libation in hand, to sit and wait, listening intently.

And when they hear the first sign, to cheer and toast the arrival of spring!

What is this event that so fascinates us? The mating display of the woodcock.

While the size of a very plump robin, streaked brown and black to blend in to the forest floor, the American Woodcock (Scolopax miner) is actually a shorebird.

Describing the woodcock’s mating ritual predictably causes a “you’re pulling my leg” response from the uninitiated. (Or, they could just be laughing at us. You know, the folks who think we’re crazy for living up here in the first place.)

But it’s true. For a bird that’s extremely circumspect the rest of the year, they do go a bit crazy this time of year. Maybe like your shy Uncle Charlie hitting the dance floor after a few toasts at your wedding. Who knew?

The flight pattern of the male woodcock's mating dance.

The flight pattern of the male woodcock’s mating dance.

The woodcock dance goes like this. On his stumpy little legs, the male starts strutting about, bobbing his head, and making a distinctive noise, a loud nasal “peeent!” about every 30 seconds or so, for several minutes. Then he launches himself into the air, gaining altitude and zooming around in wide circles. You can track him by the twittering sounds of the wind vibrating through his outer wingtips. He reaches his apex, then plummets in a corkscrew pattern, all the while emitting warbling and whistling sounds in an ever-increasing pitch. He hits the ground, and then starts all over. Presumably, a female has been judging this display from a modest distance.

Woodcock like early successional forests where there is a good mix of cover and areas where they can probe for food. They also need meadows or fields, or even edges of lawns, where they can perform their mating rituals. At night they will sleep tucked against a tree trunk or beneath a bush where the shelter is good. Tracing back to their shorebird roots, the female hens make indentations in the leaf litter to lay their eggs (clutches of four) much like a plover will along sandy beaches.

If a hen is disturbed early on the risk is high that she’ll abandon the nest. Once the chicks are born, a hen will feign dragging a broken wing along to lure predators away from her brood. Being a plump bird that makes its home on the ground can be risky. Dogs, cats, skunks, raccoons, coyotes, and foxes are all predators of woodcock.

The woodcock’s long bill is specially adapted to rummage for grubs, worms, and insects in the leaf litter and in the ground. They also rock up and down before plunging their bills to extract squiggling worms from the ground. It is believed that their rocking motion creates vibrations that make it easier for them to pinpoint where bugs are hiding.

Brontosaurus cuts down an overgrown area of ACT’s MacCornack-Eveylyn Forest in Sugar Hill in 2012. New growth that is better for woodcock is now growing.

Brontosaurus cuts down an overgrown area of ACT’s MacCornack-Eveylyn Forest in Sugar Hill in 2012. New growth that is better for woodcock is now growing.

Woodcock are an important migratory game bird in NH. They are hunted in the fall, and there is a strict bag and time limit as their numbers have been decreasing for years across the northeast, most likely due to habitat loss. NH Fish & Game has offered cost sharing to landowners who improve habitat for woodcock. Several years ago, ACT took advantage of this to hire a brontosaurus – a cutting head mounted on excavator body – to chop through an area that had gotten too dense for the ground dwelling birds. Now, the young alders that woodcock particularly like are growing again. And we’re hearing several of the birds peenting and doing their dance every evening at dusk.

 

 

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Earth Day Planting and Activities for Kids!

earth-dayJoin ACT in a family-friendly Earth Day celebration with activities that are great for little hands.

We’ll be tending to seedling sunflowers, and planting scarlet runner beans in recycled containers. Everyone will have the opportunity to decorate a container and take home a baby sunflower and a bean plant for planting in your own garden. This is a great opportunity for kids to have fun, and go home with a plant that they can nurture from a tiny seedling into a big flower.

We’ll also walk along the Ammonoosuc River loop in Littleton to help clean up the parking lots and areas near the river. Gloves and bags will be provided to everyone who wants to participate.

This event on Saturday, April 18 is at the Loading Dock in Littleton from 3:30-5:00 p.m. Cost of attendance is $5 per person including all art supplies plus healthy snacks provided by ACT. Recommended ages are K-6. Directions to the Loading Dock, which is on Mill Street, can be found at www.theloadingdocknh.org. ACT staff and volunteers and Jason Tors of the Loading Dock will lead the festivities.

Earth Day began in 1970, and it is an important day that is celebrated worldwide to protect the environment. As the North Country’s land trust, forever conserving farms and forests, ACT invites you to join us in celebrating this exciting day.

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Community Forest Management Presentation

View from the Forest across Pearl Lake, Lisbon.

View from the Forest across Pearl Lake, Lisbon.

This meeting will take place on Thursday, April 9 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Franconia Town Hall. The Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust is hosting a public discussion to present the 840-acre Cooley-Jericho Community Forest (CJCF) draft management proposal. ACT Executive Director Rebecca Brown, consulting ecologist Jesse Mohr, and other CJCF Stewardship Team representatives will give brief presentations on forest management, wildlife, educational use, and trails.

We welcome anyone who is interested in learning more about the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest. This will also be a great opportunity to learn how the Community Forest can be used as an outdoor classroom at your school. Light refreshments will be provided by ACT.

For more information, e-mail outreach@aconservationtrust.org, or call 603.823.7777

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Johnson Farm Project in the News

We recently closed on a historic dairy farm located in Monroe, NH. Owned by Richard Johnson, the farm has been in his family for six generations. This beautiful 311 acres property is located along the scenic Connecticut River, and is full of rolling fields and excellent agricultural soils.

During the closing ceremony on Tuesday, March 17, 2015 several members of the press were in attendance. Here is a link to a piece done by NHPR. An article was published in The Caledonian-Record, the The Union Leader, and an article and editorial in the Littleton Courier. This article in the White Mountain Record was written by Robert Blechl. For further reading here is a brief fact sheet with more information about the property and a full list of our project grantors compiled by ACT.

Farm from river closeup

The historic Johnson Farm, in Monroe NH. Picture taken from the CT River.

 

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Johnson Farm and Islands Forever Conserved!

In an exciting bi-state partnership between ACT and the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC), we are pleased to announce that we have conserved a historic farm in Monroe, NH.
johnsonfarmfromisland
Richard Johnson is the owner of this 311-acre property that includes riverine habitats, islands, forests, and great agricultural soils. A dairy farm until the 1990s, today the rich bottomland is used for corn and hay.
This land has been in the Johnson family since about 1800. Mr. Johnson wanted to honor the legacy of his ancestors and ensure that the land stays open and not turned int a development or trophy home site. It’s an excellent example of how ACT can preserve New Hampshire’s landscape and tradition of farming. We did this with a ‘farm-friendly’ easement, meaning farming and forestry are encouraged in the future.
Rolling fields, forests, and riparian zones provide habitats for rare plants, animals, and shorebirds making this land highly ranked by the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan. In total2,248 feet of CT River shore land are protected. On a clear day you might glimpse bald eagles or osprey that nest in the area.
The two islands included in this property will be managed by VRC, to further promote recreation on the river and create a new campsite for the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail.
Farm from river closeup
Funding:

We are thankful for the generosity of our funders who have made this project possible:

Save the date Sunday, July 12th to tour the Johnson Farm and Islands by kayak!

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Learn more by reading this fact sheet: Press Sheet Johnson Farm

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Creature Feature: Mad as a March Hare?

 
Remember the March Hare and his pal the Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?
 
Both were a bit crazed – or “mad” as the Cheshire Cat said. The hatter, we may surmise, from mercury poisoning (used in felt making for hats) and the Hare, well, blame it on March.

Hares are normally shy and timid creatures. But suddenly, come March and their breeding season, they’ll be out boxing other hares, hopping about quite heedlessly looking for their true loves, and thumping the ground just because. In other words, acting a bit mad.

March Hare and Hatter stuffing Door Mouse
into a teapot.

The snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) is common in the North Country, particularly in brushy areas and forest edges. Usually not easily seen, they are experts at concealment and often freeze at the approach of a person or predator.

Ecologists use the term crypsis for the ability of an organism to avoid detection. The hare’s cryptic strategy is chromatic: its fur changes color in response to the environment. As daylight decreases, its coat becomes the color of snow for winter.

As daylight increases toward spring, its coat becomes a forest-floor reddish-brown.Year-round, snowshoe hares have coal-black eyes. In snow, you may spot a hare motionless beneath a small evergreen when the snow weighs its boughs down like a little tent. Just look for those black eyes.

Snowshoe hare tracks.

The best telltale for hares are the tracks. The toes on their large, furry feet open wide like snowshoes as they bound along. Their big feet keep them buoyant in the snow, and their powerful haunches can propel them an impressive 27 mph on a high speed getaway from the jaws of lynx, bobcats, coyotes, and dogs.

And yes, hares do breed prolifically. From March until August it is open season for breeding and a female can have 2-3 litters per year of 3-5 leverets (baby hares). For hares it is possible to be ‘mad as a March hare’ for six months of the year.

 

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ACT Hunting Roundtable

ACT is committed to having the public enjoy the land we own in as many ways as possible. Hunting is one of those uses, and keeping land open for hunting is one of our goals. Hunting is part of the heritage of the North Country, a traditional use on many lands, and it is an important contributor to our economy.

Join us on Sunday, March 22nd to participate in this Hunting Roundtable. This conversation will be facilitated by ACT Executive Director Rebecca Brown, County Forester David Falkenham, and Bob Mancini of the NH Fish and Game Dept. This event is free and open to the public. 

ACT has conserved over 3,300 acres for the benefit of North Country communities. About two-thirds of that land is privately owned, and ACT holds conservation easements ensuring that the land is always there for people and wildlife. Some of that land is permanently open for hunting. On other properties hunting may or may not be allowed, according to the wishes of the landowners.

We would appreciate hearing the views of hunters and those who enjoy our lands in other ways, including hikers, mountain bikers, and nature watchers.

Among the issues we will be looking at is whether some of our lands are best hunted with permission, whether some, for safety reasons, should not be hunted at all, and whether we ought to allow only certain hunting practices on our lands.

We will give an overview of the lands we own or have under easement where hunting is allowed. We will also look at how we can best work with hunters in our region to conserve lands that are important for game species.

When: Sunday, March 22nd from 4 p.m. onward

WhereWendle’s Deli, Franconia

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Tour of Sugar Hill Maple Farm

Join us on Saturday, March 28th to visit the Sugar Hill Maple Farm on a snowshoe hike of this beautiful farm. The Hunt family and ACT staff will lead the snowshoe hike in the morning. During the afternoon the Hunt family will be giving sugarhouse tours. If the weather is warm enough and sap is running, there will be guided gathering bucket tours in the upper fields. This event is family-friendly and free to the public. 

Gathering sap.

Gathering sap.

Owned by the Hunt Family, and forever conserved by ACT, the Sugar Hill Maple Farm is a land rich in the history of maple sugaring. The Sugar Hill Maple Farm is a real time example of how land conservation plays an important role in maintaining the heritage of the North Country. The Sugar Hill Maple Farm has been home to an operational sugarhouse for over a century, and the Hunts continue this legacy. The farm was conserved by Charlie Stewart in 2004.

When: Saturday, March 28th. Snowshoe hike of the farm fields led by the Hunt family and ACT staff from 10:30- 12:00 noon. Guided sugarhouse tours 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m.

Driving Directions: 719 Easton Rd, Sugar Hill, New Hampshire. Link to map.

This event is being held in conjunction with the 2015 NH Maple Producers weekend.

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