26 Audubon Way, Auburn, NH 03032
Visit Google Maps to get directions to the Massabesic Audubon Center.
This protected are is under the management of the Audubon Society of NH and the Manchester Water Works. Enjoy your visit.
- Please stay on the marked trails
- No bikes allowed in the fields
- Pets must be leashed at all times
- Trails can be wet – wear appropriate footwear
- Lake is drinking supply. DO NOT GO IN WATER
- Look out for poison ivy
- No flower picking
- Watch out for mountain bikes & horses
This trail is a 1.5 mile loop across Audubon property and along Manchester Water Works trails. The walking is easy and fairly level. Most of the way, it follows a dirt road in the woods. Near the end of the loop, the trail narrows as it returns to the field. The trail is marked with red blazes.
The trail passes through a variety of habitats, including: open fields, hedgerows, mixed hardwood forest, stream beds, lake shore, and wetlands. This guide is designed to call attention to features of this landscape that may be observed at any time of the year. There are numbered stations along the trail that correspond to the numbered descriptions in this guide. Look, listen, and feel as you explore this outdoor sanctuary.
Stop 1 – Welcome
Welcome to the Massabesic Audubon Center. For most of the past 200 years these 130 acres have been farmed, supporting livestock, produce, and timber operations. In keeping with the mission of the Audubon Society of NH, this land is now managed to encourage native birds and other wildlife. A management plan has been established for each field to reflect their farming heritage and maintain a diversity of grassland species.
Stop 2 – Bird Boxes
The wooden box on the post is a bird nesting box, specifically designed to simulate a woodpecker-created cavity in a dead tree. Over 100 of these boxes have been erected in the open fields, where the birds can find crickets and other insects for food. Although the boxes are designed especially for Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and House Wrens also find them to be perfect homes. What bird behaviors can you observe?
Stop 3 – Hedgerow
How many varieties of shrubs and vines can you find growing through the wires of the fence? Among this jumble are multiflora rose and oriental bittersweet, two “invasives”. Alien plants that can take over and crowd out native species. The hedgerow, left untamed between open fields, provides shelter and food for birds and small mammals year round. It is a favorite locale for Mockingbirds, whose endless variety of song phrases includes imitations of other birds. The “mocker” is a slim grey bird with white wing and tail patches that flash when in flight.
Stop 4 – Field
Why and when do we mow this field? Fields are especially important because there is a limited amount of open grassland in New Hampshire. These fields provide habitat for ground-nesting Bobolinks, sparrow sized birds that winter in Argentina. The bold black and white plumage of the male and his bubbling song contrast with the quiet camouflage of the female. This field is mowed annually after the young have fledged.
Stop 5 – Mixed Hardwood Forest
You are standing in a typical northern mixed hardwood forest. Notice there are few evergreens. The main trees here are oak, maple, and birch. The flowers of these deciduous trees attract thousands of species of insects, which in turn attract spring migrating birds. Can you identify the three levels of growth in this forest? The canopy is made up of tall mature trees. In full leaf, they shade all other plant life; but in spring, sunlight reaches the forest floor allowing flowers and flowering shrubs to thrive. The understory consists of small trees and shrubs. A ground cover of ferns, mosses, and other low plants such as wintergreen, carpets the forest floor. Many of these remain green throughout the winter.
Stop 6 – Lichens
The grey-green crusty and leafy material on the tree is lichen, which is a fungus growing in combination with algae. Lichen may be crust-like, leafy, or branching and can grow on tree bark, rocks, and the ground. Most lichens are grey-green, but they are also black, yellow, or orange. Look for other lichens as you walk.
Also at Stop 6 – Massabesic Gneiss
Imagine yourself back 425 million years ago, when extreme heat and pressure changed existing rock to form gneiss, a metamorphic rock. Note the characteristic wide bands of alternating light and dark minerals at the base of this rock. The pinkish form of this gneiss is named “Massabesic Gneiss” because it was first found in this area.
Stop 7 – Hemlock Ravine
Do you feel how this area has become cooler and damper? Hemlocks thrive along this seasonal stream. Their layered evergreen branches bear short flat needles with double silver stripes underneath. Red squirrels come for the hemlock seeds, which they deftly extract from the cones. The forest floor is more shaded and moist; ideal habitat for mosses and ferns.
Stop 8 – Nature’s Recycling Center
Dead trees are not very attractive, but they are an important part of the forest ecology. Do you know why? The bacteria, fungi and insects that invade dead trees provide food for other forest life and help the decaying process. Dead trees will eventually decompose into soil, which in turn will support new plant life. Look closely at the holes. Who made them? Woodpeckers? Beetles?
Stop 9 – Lake Massabesic
This 2,500 acre lake is the largest in southern New Hampshire and has served as the water supply for the City of Manchester since 1870. The Manchester Water Works owns and protects over 8,000 acres of land surrounding the lake. The lake provides habitat for a wide variety of plants and birds. Do you see any loons? Six pairs nest on the lake. In winter, while the water is still open, you may see a bald eagle. Maybe you will see some fish, or freshwater clams, or muskrat scat on a rock.
Stop 10 – Osprey Nest
From the blind, or behind it, look across the lake to the top of a tall tree at the water’s edge. The big bundle of stick at the top is an Osprey nest. It was erected by Audubon staff and volunteers in 1997 to encourage Osprey to nest. In 1999, two chicks hatched, the first time in living memory that Osprey have nested here. You may see Osprey in the spring through the fall, flying over the lake, or sitting on the nest or in a neighboring tall tree. Why do Ospreys nest near a lake? The Osprey diet consists entirely of fresh fish, which it catches in spectacular dives from the air.
Stop 11 – A Rock Close-up
Look closely at this rock. Feel it. Compare the different kinds of lichen and moss on this rock with that on the large one behind and to the left. These two rocks show examples of succession, the gradual replacement of one plant community by another. Take a close look at the back side of this rock. Is it gneiss? Find the pink and white samples of feldspar and the glassy looking quartz. Both of these minerals are much harder than the shiny mica. You can see holes in the rocks where the mica has been weathered away. The weathering of rocks is an important part of new soil.
Stop 12 – Stone Bridge
You are standing on a “stone bridge” that allows run-off water to cross under the trail. There are many stone bridges on the property. Just to the right of the trail note the circular hole lined with rocks and often filled with water. Historians are unsure of the purpose of this structure? A poorly dug well? A tanning pit? A watering hole for animals? What do you think?
Stop 13 – Beech and Pine Trees
Find the trees with the smooth grey bark. These are American Beech. Beech nuts are an important food for deer, squirrels, and other animals. Looking up the trail, you can see a stand of mature white pine that escaped the timber harvest of the 190s. these pines have graceful branches that turn up at the ends. Their needles are long and soft and grow in clusters of five. Their thick evergreen canopy allows little sunlight to reach the forest floor. As you walk through the pines, notice the difference in the understory plants.
Stop 14 – Vernal Pool
This low-lying area, filled with water in spring but relatively dry the rest of the year, is called a vernal pool. It provides a perfect habitat for frogs, toads, and salamanders, who lay their eggs in water but spend their adult lives on dry ground. In the background, notice the mountain laurel, a tall evergreen shrub. Its twisting stems provide winter shelter for small animals, and its leaves are browse for deer.
You have probably noticed discarded household items along the trail, and especially at this point. This junk was deposited by the landowners back at a time when there was no other place to dispose of trash. It is part of the history of this land. Beware of the poison ivy along this part of the trail.
Stop 15 – Stop, Look, and Listen
You are still surrounded by mixed hardwoods. What do you hear? Birds singing? Squirrels chattering? Leaves rustling in the wind? What do you see – high, low, and in-between? Do you recognize any of the tall trees from earlier on the rail? Oaks, birch, beech? What covers the ground? Anything new? How many of these plants do you think you could see in the winter?
Stop 16 – Field Management
Because this field hasn’t been mowed for decades, shrubs and small trees are gradually moving in. in 2000, we initiated a new field management plan which includes a prescribed burn. The field is thick with weeds, including milkweed, which attracts monarch butterflies in the summer, and thistle, which attracts Goldfinches. Many weeds remain standing all year, providing a continuous supply of seeds for birds and small rodents. Notice the difference in appearance between this field and the mowed field up ahead. There the growth is shorter and grasses dominate.
Stop 17 – Pond
This pond is small but healthy. It has a muddy bottom and warm water. If you walk quietly down to it, you may see a Great Blue Heron of Belted Kingfisher fishing in the summer or hear the frogs. There are tiny crayfish in the water and dragonflies flying above it. The frogs, crayfish, and insects are important food sources for larger birds and animals.
The land adjacent to the pond is low and wet and is a perfect environment for speckled alders, the shrub-like trees to the left of the pond. A variety of birds forage and nest in the dense growth.
Stop 18 – Farewell
As you cross the last section of field, think about what was new or surprising or pleasing to you on this walk. Come back next week or next season. There’s always something new to see, and something old or familiar.