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Ecology

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An important facet of Graylag’s mission is protecting and preserving the ecology of the forests, soils, and waters of the nature preserve and its watershed.

To ensure the land’s protection from future development in perpetuity, Bear-Paw Regional Greenways, a local land trust, holds a conservation easement on most of Graylag’s land. The goals of that easement include protecting Graylag’s productive forests, undeveloped lake frontage, wildlife habitat, and quality of groundwater and surface water.

Forests

Forests

Most of Graylag’s 300+ acres is forest. Our stewardship of that forest is guided by the understanding that to maintain the health and integrity of the landscape, it is important to understand its ecological setting beyond its legal property boundaries. Our forest management plan, developed in 2016 by Dalton Mountain Forestry, examines the property within its larger ecological context and identifies forest management techniques to support the forest health, wildlife habitat, water quality, and recreational access.

In the fall and winter of 2019-2020, we conducted a logging operation based on this management plan. This logging operation supported the health of the forest and provided revenue for Graylag Nature Preserve’s operations and ongoing conservation efforts, as well as lumber for our new barn.

Water

Water

Adapted from “Land Stewardship Plan for Graylag” by Ellen Snyder, Ibis Wildlife Consulting, August 2008.

Graylag has a series of vernal pools, headwater streams, and wet meadow/shrub wetlands embedded within a hemlock-hardwood-pine forest nestled on the shores of Wild Goose Pond. The various wetlands at Graylag support a rich biological diversity. The upland forests, by contrast, are less rich biologically, in part because of past land uses that include logging and land disturbance.

Freshwater Wetlands and Water Bodies

Freshwater wetlands are grouped into several general categories in New Hampshire: open water-emergent wetlands, scrub-shrub wetlands, forested wetlands, peatlands, and vernal pools. Emergent wetlands are marshes with a mix of open water, floating-leaved vegetation, and herbaceous growth in standing water. Shrubs such as highbush blueberry, maleberry, speckled alder, winterberry, and nannyberry, and a few saplings of red maple or other trees typically dominate scrub-shrub wetlands. Forested wetlands are often associated with slow-moving streams and beaver flowages and support trees, particularly red maple. Peatlands are a wetland type with low nutrient content and higher acidity caused by limited groundwater input and surface runoff. Vernal pools are ephemeral wetlands that dry up sometime during the year.

Graylag supports vernal pools, scrub-shrub wetlands, wet meadow, and open water-emergent wetlands. In addition to these wetlands, the Property supports perennial and intermittent streams that flow into Wild Goose Pond. These wetlands and water bodies are the least disturbed natural communities on the Graylag property and should be considered as areas sensitive to disturbance.

Wild Goose Pond and Shoreland

Graylag has more than one-quarter mile of frontage along Wild Goose Pond. A relatively small area in the central portion of this frontage includes a beach, canoe/kayak storage, and dock used by visitors to the nature preserve. The pond frontage to the northwest of the beach is in a relatively natural condition and includes emergent plants such as pickerelweed, yellow pond lily, white water lily, water shield, and pondweed. Shoreland vegetation includes red maple, speckled alder, winterberry, arrowwood, royal fern, and buttonbush. To the south of the beach the land rises steeply to a hemlock-hardwood forest.

The open water habitat of Wild Goose Pond supports common loon, mallard, Canada goose, great-blue heron, beaver, otter, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, brown bullhead, bluegill, green frog, red-spotted newt, among other species. In summer, the vegetated riparian area along the pond shore supports song sparrow, swamp sparrow, cedar waxwing, American goldfinch, common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, Baltimore oriole, red-winged blackbird, tree swallow, Eastern kingbird, Eastern phoebe, and common grackle.

Wet Meadow/Cranberry Bog

A unique wet meadow community is located near the shores of Wild Goose Pond to the north of the developed beach/cabin area. This plant community is part of the larger wetland complex that forms the inlet and outlet to the Pond. The wet meadow was used as a baseball field when Camp Graylag owned the property. Considering how wet the area is today it is difficult to understand how the fields were kept dry and mowed. The nearby stream that flows into Shinglemill Brook appears channeled near the edge of the wet meadow, so perhaps they used some drainage system to dry out the “field.”

An old basketball court is located at the edge of the wet meadow; other courts were removed several years ago using a WHIP grant.

Highbush blueberry shrubs are growing in around the edges of and scattered throughout the wet meadow. Small cranberry, sedges, rushes, mosses, and other plants are found within this meadow. With time and lack of further disturbance, this wet meadow may recover to a more diverse and unique plant community. Wet meadows, along with marsh and shrub wetlands, are considered critical habitats in the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan.

Scrub-Shrub Wetland

A diverse mixed tall graminoid-scrub shrub marsh is located in the southwest corner of Graylag. The wetland plant community includes red maple, gray birch, highbush blueberry, winterberry, maleberry, Spirea, royal fern, cinnamon fern, pitcher plant, buttonbush, speckled alder, sphagnum, among other plants. The vegetation in the uplands along the marsh edge is also diverse and includes highbush blueberry, lowbush blueberry, bracken, sheep laurel, bunchberry, Canada mayflower, partridgeberry, trailing arbutus, starflower, lichens, mosses as well as red maple, white pine, hemlock, and red oak. The forest rises steeply along the northeast boundary of the marsh and supports a hemlock-white pine forest with some red spruce.

Vernal Pools

Vernal pools are ephemeral wetlands that fill in spring from rainfall, snowmelt, or rising groundwater. (Watch a video explorations of one of Graylag’s vernal pools here.) Some pools also fill in the fall after autumnal rains. These pools are typically small in size, ranging from less than 1/10th acre to more than 2 acres. Size, however, is not always an indicator of the quality or productivity of a vernal pool. Most vernal pools completely dry out by the end of summer and therefore can not support fish populations, which makes these pools safe for breeding amphibians.

The length of time that a pool retains water is known as its “hydroperiod.” Most vernal pool breeders need about four months to complete their reproductive cycle. Pools that retain water for longer periods are also important, especially in drought years, when some pools may dry up too soon. Vernal pools vary in the animals that are present, yet most are characterized by the presence of at least one “indicator” species, one that depends on vernal pool habitat for successful reproduction. Vernal pool indicator species include fairy shrimp (small crustaceans), wood frog, spotted salamander, and blue-spotted and Jefferson salamanders. Smaller organisms such as bacteria, fungi, zooplankton (e.g., daphnia), caddisfly and other insect larvae, crustaceans and insects are all food for the larger vertebrates within these vernal pools.

Vernal pools embedded within the forested landscape are important “stepping stones” for many wildlife species as they move about in search of food and breeding sites. Foraging turtles (including wood and Blanding’s), raccoon, mink, deer and other mammals, herons, and other wildlife also use vernal pools. Wood frogs and spotted salamanders travel to vernal pools in the spring to breed, and then spend the rest of the year (11+ months) in the uplands, typically within 1,000 feet of the pool. Juvenile wood frogs may travel farther. A researcher in Massachusetts found the biomass of vernal pool amphibians to be greater than the biomass of all the birds and mammals combined in the upland forest surrounding his study pool. Clearly, these habitats and associated wildlife are key biological elements of the forested landscape. Maintaining suitable upland habitat conditions around vernal pools is as important as protecting the pools from disturbance. Canopy shade, deep leaf litter, and fallen trees and stumps are all important.

Graylag has several vernal pools of varying sizes and plant composition. Highbush blueberry and winterberry are the common shrubs associated with the vernal pools. Spotted salamander and wood frog egg masses have been observed in most of the vernal pools. In the dry season, these vernal pools are often only noticeable in the forest as small depressions with compacted leaves or dark waterstains.

Shinglemill Brook and Other Headwater Streams

Graylag has 1,200 feet of frontage on both sides of Shinglemill Brook, a main tributary (inlet) to Wild Goose Pond. Shinglemill Brook enters onto the northern corner of the Property and roughly parallels the boundary before leaving the Property along its northeast boundary after which it flows into Wild Goose Pond. The tornado swath crossed Shinglemill Brook and changed the riparian conditions in the northern section of the Property.

Several other perennial and intermittent streams flow through Graylag. A perennial stream flows out of the scrub-shrub wetland and flows northeast through the Property, flowing under the Graylag driveway and into Wild Goose Pond near the inlet. A smaller intermittent stream also flows northwest into Wild Goose Pond and is located in the southeast corner of Graylag.

The health of larger rivers and streams is dependent on the health of these smaller streams and wetlands farther up in the headwaters of a watershed. These small headwater streams may make up 80 percent of the stream network in a region and include both seasonal and year-round streams. Headwater streams may begin as trickles, seeps, or depressions that overflow and are often not named or mapped. Yet, the quality and integrity of these headwater streams is critical to downstream habitats.

The upper reaches of the watershed store water, recharge groundwater, and reduce the intensity and frequency of floods. Small streams are a critical link between land and water. Not only are they linked to upstream and downstream portions of the watershed, but water flowing from the land into the stream carries insects, leaves, soil, branches, and other material that are the start of a food chain. This exchange between land and water occurs in a transition zone along the edges of stream channels, called a riparian area. Maintaining connectivity between stream channels, stream bottoms and banks, and the riparian area is important to protect water quality and aquatic habitats. Much of the cleansing action and nutrient cycling in a stream occurs in saturated sediments, at the interface between stream water and the channel bottom and stream bank.

Herbaceous plants found along Shinglemill Brook and the other streams on the Property include false hellebore, New York fern, cinnamon fern, royal fern, marsh fern, sphagnum, and goldthread.

Wildlife

Wildlife abounds at Graylag, which is home to animals including deer, moose, opossums, porcupines, skunks, woodchucks, coyotes, bobcats, chipmunks, squirrels, beaver, otters, snakes, frogs, newts, turtles, and many species of birds, fish, and insects.

Geology

Geology

The rocks of Graylag have a fascinating story to tell as silent witnesses of events whose scale in space and in time can scarcely be imagined. Viewed in the light of basic geological background information, they become virtual pages in a textbook of geological events and processes over a vast span of time.

At each of Graylag’s exposed bedrock ledges the effects of Pleistocene or Ice Age glaciation are clearly evident, with major rock surfaces having been smoothed almost to a polished state by the sandpapering action of debris embedded in the ice. Many of these surfaces also show gouges or striations produced by larger pebbles frozen into the icy glacial mass.

Some geological features that may be of interest to visitors include:

Veins of quartz: seen in many of the bedrock outcrops at Graylag.

Schistosity or foliation: a feature characteristic of schist, the predominant bedrock type at Graylag.

Pegmatite: an unusually coarse-grained form of granite in which large individual crystals or grains of common (and sometimes uncommon) minerals prevail.

Glacial smoothing and glacial striations: seen in a number of outcrops along the drive.

Drag folds: a miniature form of great mountain-building folds of distorted bedrock layers that are produced under great heat and pressure deep within the earth.

The text above is excerpted from a report prepared in September 2019 by Ron Kley, of Museum Research Associates.

603-435-5555 320 Clough Road
Pittsfield, NH 03263