Sunday, March 26, 2017

My Town

2010 sketches from life using binoculars showing
Great Blue Heron, Cormorant, Osprey and Gulls
at the base of Squamscott River.
Exeter, New Hampshire is a New England coastal town that has invested a lot of time and money in preserving large amounts of public open space.  With miles of single-track trails and over 2,300 acres of protected land, Exeter, has become a draw for people who cherish their time in the woods.  On any given day, year-round, you’ll find hikers, dog-walkers, mountain bikers, Nordic skiers or runners enjoying the trails that cross through public and private lands, around and over ponds and vernal pools, alongside streams, under power lines and even under a major highway.  This open space is not contiguous, however.  There are many smaller conservation easements and several large parcels at different corners of the town.  The two I am most familiar with are the Henderson-Swasey/Fort Rock woods and the Oaklands Town Forest.  These two parcels are connected by a tunnel under route 101 and cover nearly 453 acres.
While I enjoy walking and snowshoeing through the forest with my Boston terrier, Oreo, it's the flora and fauna that keep me coming back.  These woods are very popular so it can be difficult to see the evidence of wildlife activity.  But it’s there if you look.  In fact, I find it to be one of the best places within town to view plants and animals of all sizes and varieties.  And despite this active use by humans you can definitely find yourself alone and not see or hear another soul.
Both Henderson-Swasey and the Oaklands are beautiful anytime of the day and through all seasons.  It’s a mixed-woods-riparian forest filled with hardwoods like beech, maple, hickory and oaks intermingled with pine and hemlock.  The landscape is similar to the foothills of the White Mountains, which is why it's so popular among mountain bikers.  Trails lead across ridgelines and along ledges.  Boulder fields cover the acreage and old rock walls crisscross the trails.  There’s plenty of water here, too.  Norris Brook flows through the Henderson-Swasey Town Forest, arising from a beaver pond and emptying into the Squamscott River.  Sloan’s Brook has its watershed deep in the Oaklands.  There are a great number of small wetlands and vernal pools, too, which frogs and other amphibians frequent.
Henderson-Swasey and the Oaklands may be the town “gems” but other public access properties offer an outdoor escape many of us crave.  Phillips Exeter Academy owns and manages approximately sixty acres of forested land with public access.  There’s also Rayne’s Farm, Jolly Rand/Riverwoods Nature Trail, Little River Conservation area, Connor Farm and many, many parcels of town land and easements managed by the Exeter Conservation Commission.  To top it all off, the beautiful Exeter and Squamscott Rivers run through town.  Along the length of the freshwater Exeter and the saltwater Squamscott Rivers the wildlife viewing has been astounding!  Meeting right in the middle of town, the two rivers are life sustaining for all sorts of wildlife and offer many recreational opportunities for us humans.  It’s a great spot for birding, as is the Phillips Exeter Academy fields and woods.  Everything from shorebirds to ocean birds to raptors, ducks, nighthawks, herons and migratory songbirds have been seen along, over and in it.  And it’s not just birds.  Red fox, fisher cats, river otters, mink and beavers make this area home.
2016 sketches from life using a bird scope showing Cormorants,
Gulls and Mallards along the Squamscott River.
In my 15 years as an Exeter resident there have been many amazing wildlife sightings in these open spaces.  So much so that, for the remainder of 2017, I will write a new post each month relating to the wonderful natural resources here in town, illustrated with my sketches.  I hope to bring some delight and wonder to a broader audience who might not already be aware of their surroundings.  Maybe I can introduce someone to the plants and animals surviving living alongside us in our neighborhoods; or pique someone’s curiosity for natural and cultural history.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll motivate someone to act on this new knowledge and curiosity by becoming acquainted with our abundant open space and inspire within them a sense of stewardship.
Let’s see where this takes us.