My primary care physician says I need to get more exercise. From early spring through October when the gardens and yard work are in full swing, exercise is not a problem. There is plenty to keep me on the move. But once November appears, getting a meaningful workout is more problematic. Fortunately, there’s birding. If ever there was an excuse to get out and stretch one’s legs, its an opportunity to see what the local avian population is doing.
Lyme is blessed with a fine trails network in its various preserves and town-owned forests (see “Town of Lyme Conservation Areas" and Trails" and Upper Valley Trails Alliance). Fall, when temperatures are down and bugs are gone, is the best time to be out on them, but unfortunately its hunting season too. Hikers beware!
Fortunately, there is River Rd., a very scenic artery that runs along the Connecticut River a distance of 7.8 miles from the Hanover town line to its junction with NH Rt. 10 in Orford. River Rd. is one of the oldest Upper Valley's oldest byways. According to Lyme's eminent roads scholar Richard Jones “River Road was projected as a military highway by the government of Massachusetts to run from Springfield, MA to the Cowass Intervale (today's Haverhill, NH) just as the French and Indian War was about to break out” in 1754. Jones notes it began life as “a blazed trail when Lyme was settled in 1764, but was a passable road by the time of the Revolution.”
There are many scenic spots along River Road’s length, but my favorite is the stretch that begins just south of Parsons Farm heading north to N. Thetford Rd., a route I always supplement with a walk down N. Thetford Rd. to Breck Hill Rd. The road is mostly level and paved, and it has sufficient width and sight lines to enable a comfortable interaction with vehicular traffic. My round trip is about 2.5 miles, taking 45 to 60 minutes depending on how much one stops.
Along the way, the habitat is varied. Just south of Parson Parsons Farm (originally a tavern when built in 1776), a small brook flows under the road into the Connecticut. A variety of waterfowl and great blue herons can be found there in the appropriate season. Passing the farm’s fields you travel on the recently restored road segment scrubby, embankment plantings are proving to be good sparrow habitat. Approaching N. Thetford Rd. there are a few houses with fruit and hardwood trees that attract songbirds and woodpeckers depending on the season. Turning onto N. Thetford Rd. there is a tangle of shrubs and trees on the corner abutting an agricultural pond wetland that draws in all manner of warblers and sparrows. The pond itself is a regular haunt for wood ducks in the spring and fall, and I have seen green-winged teal there too. Continuing to walk away from River Rd. one passes the fields and out buildings of Berway Farm, an active dairy that is especially celebrated for its summertime offering of “coffee milk.”
The fields are not very active this time of year, but in the early spring they provide a good measure of spring’s onset as one marks the arrival of red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and brown-headed cowbirds followed by flocks of robins and a smattering of bobolinks. In the spring and summer months an American kestrel pair can be seen scouting the fields from the utility wires that border the roadway. There also is a low, marshy piece of pasture across just east of the big yellow barn that is a reliable spot for seeing Wilson’s snipe.
Today’s walk turned up about 14 species. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but I did hit a cordvidae trifecta counting a common raven, three American crows and five blue jays. The day's limited result is not indicative of the walk’s full potential, however. Consider that an outing last week turned up a 180+/- crows in the N. Thetford Rd. pastures, and that a NH Audubon Mascoma Chapter outing in July 2011 recorded 40 species over a two-hour period. Timing is everything.
But of course the number of birds counted is not solely the point of being out. The setting is beautiful, and the benefits of a brisk walk are salutary. Of course, if I see some good birds, that's OK too.
Photo credit: The Connecticut River's broad sweep just below Parsons Farm, Blake Allison - Lyme, NH