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Hawk watch on proposed conservation land yields varied sightings

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Members of a guided walk stop to hear from guide Matt Murphy and enjoy views of Merrymeeting Lake (Bonnie Dodge photo)

NEW DURHAM - More than 30 outdoor enthusiasts attended a Hawk Watch and Guided Walk presented by Moose Mountains Regional Greenways (MMRG) at the future 2,000+ acre proposed Birch Ridge Community Forest in New Durham.

Purchasing, conserving and stewarding this Community Forest is the goal of the newly founded Partnership for Birch Ridge Community Forest, a collaboration of Moose Mountains Regional Greenways, Southeast Land Trust and Merrymeeting Lake Association. The Hawk Watch was the first in a series of events that will introduce the public to this project over the coming months.

Participants admired the scenic views of surrounding hills at the hawk watch site, which was chosen for its elevation (almost 1,100 feet) and excellent visibility to the north and west, the best directions to look for migrating hawks. The weather was cool with intermittent sunshine and winds out of the northwest, giving hawks a tailwind as they headed south. During a couple hours of viewing, six species of raptors were observed. Twice, a small kettle of about eight Broad-winged hawks gathered overhead, circling higher and higher on a rising thermal of warm air, then headed off fast, flying south. A bald eagle paused in its migratory flight, apparently to hunt for fish in Merrymeeting Lake below. Repeated sightings of a red-tailed hawk suggested that it's still a resident of the area, not yet ready to migrate. A couple turkey vultures soared gracefully by and an osprey, a probable Coopers hawk and an unidentified falcon were also seen.

An optional guided walk took advantage of snowmobile trails accessible from the site. MMRG Executive Director Patti Connaughton-Burns led a walk with the help of Matt Murphy, who serves on the Birch Ridge Partnership Steering Committee representing the Powder Mill Snowmobile Club and is well acquainted with these trails. Reported Connaughton-Burns, "The footing was tough but we were able to see the east, north and west sides of the Lake and its many little coves as we traversed a mile loop walk. Preserving the water quality of Merrymeeting Lake is just one reason this project is so important. Other benefits include recreational and educational values of the land, top tier wildlife habitat protection, and watershed protection to Coldrain, Chalk and Marchs Ponds." Those interested may find more information about Birch Ridge Community Forest and Partnership at www.seltnh.org/birchridge.

After the outing, part-time Milton residents Larry and Linda Boise articulated the enthusiasm that many showed that day. Wrote Larry, "We had a wonderful time Saturday at the Hawk Watch. It was a great chance to hear what MMRG is doing in the way of conservation and to appreciate the birds in nature that we often take for granted."

The Partnership for Birch Ridge Community Forest envisions Birch Ridge as a community forest, managed to promote conservation, community, and economic development through community participation in the management of the land. Upcoming outings to introduce the project include 'Mushrooms at Merrymeeting: A Fungi Foray' on Saturday, October 13 and a Foliage Hike on Saturday, October 20. In addition, a Community Visioning Session is scheduled for 6:00 PM on Thursday, November 1 at New Durham School to get public input on the best uses of the land; there will be a concurrent children's program. More information is available on MMRG's website: http://www.mmrg.info/.

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