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The footbridge across Mulpus Brook in the Lunenburg Town Forest

I thought I’d take advantage of the day to do some birding at the Lunenburg town forest, hoping I might get a glimpse of the migratory species moving through the area. I picked out a spot that gave me a good view of the extensive wetlands there, waiting to see what might fly by.

There’s a more formal name for this area off Rte. 2A – the Henry Cowdrey Nature Center. People who grew up here know it as the town forest. There’s a nice network of trails looping through the area. Mulpus Brook runs through it, draining out a huge marshy area that at one time was a shallow pond.

So I was hopeful that I’d see something interesting. I waited.

Nothing. A woodpecker tapped somewhere off in the distance. Through my binoculars I spotted what looked like a pair of wood ducks in some open water fairly far off, but they were skittish and took off long before I could get closer.

Birding can be a lot like fishing. One day you go to a favorite spot and you see all kinds of wonderful things. The next day, nothing moves. It was one of those days.

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Signs of beaver activity are everywhere along Pearl Brook

To be sure, the vernal equinox doesn’t occur for another couple of hours, but it’s a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon so I’m considering this the first day of spring. Much more appropriate than the grey snowy/rainy day at school that tomorrow is forecast to be.

I decided to head over to the Pearl Brook State Park in Townsend to check on the beaver colony there.

There have been beavers there in the past, but they had been absent until about three years ago when I first started to notice signs of some fresh activity. That first year the activity was on a very modest scale, but since then, it has increased steadily.

Does this mean that more beavers joined the original group? Or have they had litters and now the young ones are helping out?

There’s a network of several dams, at least two larger ones and several smaller ones. The water is beginning to back into a deep bowl that had obviously once been a pond long ago. A trail and footbridge that had followed the brook have been washed out or submerged.

All around the bowl, trees from saplings to mature trees more than a foot in diameter have been taken down.

This is my first opportunity to follow the progress of a beaver colony from start to finish. The beavers closer to home tend to get chased off as soon as they begin to encroach on roads and people’s yards. There’s no such threat here.

It’s going to be interesting to see how far this will go.

They’re not the sort of headline-grabbing stories that fill the front pages or lead off the evening news, but they’re every bit as important, and they offer encouragement for those of us who care about where we live.

Just over the past few weeks, I’ve collected a modest selection of these stories coming out of New Hampshire.

Last week, voters in Hollis, NH, beat back an effort to cut back on conservation funding. It would have been a double-whammy, since this would have meant the town would have been ineligible for various state and federal matching funds. Instead, they’ll continue to reap the benefits – good for them!

Today’s Concord Monitor describes an ambitious greenway project for the banks of the Merrimack River – a multi-purpose path that would wind through several towns. New Hampshire has been developing a lot of these trails all over the state. More power to them.

Then there are the old farms. The threat of development is very real, and in one town after another, groups of citizens are working to save these precious places.

To be sure, New Hampshire isn’t the only place where these things are happening. But I think we can take a valuable lesson from here. If you care about where you live, about the quality of life there, then you have to be willing to take the steps to preserve those features of your landscape that make yor place different from every other place.

Otherwise, you’ll be reduced to telling your children stories of what it used to be like.

I was saddened to read this week that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has declared the catamount – eastern panther – extinct. I always felt a flutter of excitement whenever I would hear of a possible sighting of this elusive big cat – so elusive in fact, it earned the nickname “ghost cat.” I have always held out hope that someone, someday would once and for all be able to show for a certainty that the big cats are out there.

Well they are, and as with all things governmental, this is not a simple story.

The eastern panther, not to be confused with the Florida panther, a slightly different species, was placed in the endangered species list in 1973. In its report outlining the reasons for declaring the catamount extinct, the wildlife service speculates that the eastern panther may have been extinct since the 1930s.

They readily concede that there have been plenty of reliable sightings of panther-like cats from Maryland to New England. Their explanation is that these are not eastern panthers, but a similar species that have either escaped from captivity or have otherwise made their way east from elsewhere. Their argument is that there is no evidence of a breeding population of eastern panthers.

That makes some sense at first glance.

But consider this.

There are dozens of reported sightings every year throughout the northeast. If a big cat – a dangerous animal – escapes from a zoo or a circus, one would think this might be big news. I can’t offhand think of reading about such an escape where such an animal was not fairly quickly recovered.

That would leave private owners, who don’t want to publicize the fact that their oversized kitty is gone. But would that account for all the sightings that have been recorded? Personally, I can be made to believe in ghosts.

Here are two links for information on both sides:
http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ecougar/

http://www.daggerpress.com/2011/03/03/giving-up-on-the-ghost-cat-eastern-panther-alleged-frequent-visitor-to-harford-county-declared-extinct/

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