One of the Upper Valley’s best-kept secrets sits tucked away in the woods atop a hill that fronts busy NH Rt. 10 coursing along the Connecticut River at Wilder Dam. Boston Lot Lake Park is owned by the City of Lebanon. Those who make the effort to ascend the sometimes steep and stony access road to it are afforded a remarkable experience of calm and beauty that is reminiscent of a hidden White Mountains retreat. Yet, most people drive by, as I did for seven years, never suspecting such an idyllic getaway is so easily achieved.
I first was introduced to Boston Lot Lake through a May “Warbler Wednesday” birding outing sponsored by the Mascoma Chapter of NH Audubon, an organization whose steering committee I now chair. I was totally unprepared for what I saw when we cleared the rise at the top of the access road and gazed out upon a modest-sized lake whose wooded shoreline was not despoiled by any kind of settlement or development. Who knew, and with W. Leb’s mall sprawl barely a mile away?
Boston Lot Lake was the site of W. Lebanon’s first settlement in the winter of 1762-63, according to the City’s website. The land was heavily logged and farmed throughout the ensuing decades into the 1950s when the W. Lebanon Fire District purchased the 493-acre parcel and built the dam that created the lake. The name Boston Lot was the legacy of a group of late 19th century Boston-based investors who had hoped to quarry the area’s abundant granite. That venture failed, but the name lives on.
The woods within the park’s boundaries are a typical regrowth mix of hardwoods – birch, maple, oak and others – along with conifers such as white pine and hemlock. It attracts an interesting variety of wood warblers and songbirds such as scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks. A power line cut about 50 yards up from Rt. 12A provides a habitat of brushy scrub favored by certain warbler species like the common yellowthroat, chestnut-sided warblers and other, as well as songbirds such as the gray catbird and members of the flycatcher family. Up at the lake one will encounter waterfowl and members of the sandpiper family.
May is the best time to experience this birding bonanza. During spring migration, one might see as many as 50 species on a visit. That’s why on a recent chilly, windy, Wednesday morning, fourteen birders made their way up to the lake stopping along the way to look and listen. Unfortunately, a strong wind and a temperature reading that hovered in the mid-40s, drove many birds to shelter. A season low 35 species was recorded.
Disappointing? Yes, but we did enjoy a splendid view of an indigo bunting, its blue plumage luminescent in a brief moment of bright sunshine. And there was the lake, whose tranquility was well worth the climb regardless of the birding outcome.