The Lyme Hill Conservation Area (LHCA) sits at the southern gateway to Lyme Village on NH Rt. 10. Its 420 acres encompass a variety of habitats including wetland, meadow, mixed hardwood and fir forests as well as the lower portion of Grant Brook.
The Lyme Hill area has an interesting history starting in 1991 when the Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT) was given 37.3 acres on the hill’s summit. According to UVLT accounts, the next two decades saw additional acreage added through outright purchase and donated conservation easements culminating with a donation of a nearly 16-acre wetland parcel from Lyme residents David and Barbara Roby.
The area has 3.7 miles of trails providing options to ascend feet to the Lyme Hill’s summit that is 1047 feet above sea level, view a wetland, walk through dense woods or follow Grant Brook to its confluence with the Connecticut River. Within the preserve, one will also find the Gilbert Cemetery, the final resting place of Lyme’s first settlers.
In the summer of 2013, I decided to commence an extended survey of the LHCA’s bird population. To my knowledge none had been done since the 2011 wetland addition. Setting out the first day had an adventure-tinged quality. Sure, not like cutting a new trail through the woods but a sense of encountering the unknown just the same.
Birding in the preserve offers a variety of opportunities due to its range of habitats. At the wetland - one near Rt. 10, the other that’s part of the Grant Brook outflow, -one likely will find red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, mourning doves, several insectivore species and swamp sparrows among others. The part of Grant Brook’s outflow to the west of the Fisher Bridge is not within the LHCA’s boundary, but being so close it might as well be. There one has an opportunity to see wood ducks, mallards, and during migration, ring-necked ducks as well as hooded and common mergansers.
The woods themselves can be particularly challenging. In some areas the tree canopy is so dense when fully leafed out, it is nigh impossible to see anything in it. This can make identifying small, active birds, think warblers, particularly difficult. You end up having to rely almost exclusively on aural ID. I can identify numbers of birds by their song, but warblers can be particularly vexing. I’m one of those people who learns or remembers warbler songs as the season progresses, then promptly forgets them when the birds leave and winter arrives.
The meadow around the parking lot can be very productive too. Song sparrows, American goldfinches, red-eyed vireos, eastern phoebes and gray catbirds are all likely sightings, and if you’re lucky, there might be a northern waterthrush along Grant Brook.
Over two seasons, the species count is 48, a number that almost certainly would be higher if I knew warbler songs better. Just the same, eleven warbler species have been counted to date and there is always the 2015 season to improve on that. As a Chicagoan and Cubs fan, I am very accustomed to saying, “Wait until next year!”
Photo:The silhouette of Lyme Hill juts prow-like into the sky along NH Rt. 10, Blake Allison/Lyme, NH