During our long and cold winter, I spend a significant amount of time buried in Google Earth sifting through endless piles of satellite imagery, topographical maps, and GIS data. With a practiced eye, one can pick out old forests, Talus slopes, Vernal pools, swamps, bogs, and wooded streams. Google Earth allows you to scout an area using current and historical aerial and satellite imagery. Many areas have historical seasonal images that can be used to determine tree type and water coverage. Scouting an area you wish to explore in google earth can help you learn the area, find parking, and find trails. Google Earth allows you to draw paths, measure distances, measure area (acres, hectares, etc) and mark locations for future reference.
Download Google Earth Pro for free here. http://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html To activate Google Earth Pro, enter your Email address as a username, and GEPFREE as a serial number. The pro version has many additional features and capabilities that the standard version does not. One example, you can go to the UNH GRANIT GIS database and download layers to overlay on your view.
Here is an example of how a GIS wetlands overlay from GRANIT can show you a forested wetland that would otherwise be overlooked.
Here is an introductory video tutorial on using google earth.
Now that I have an idea of where I want to explore first, what might I find there?
The State of New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands has a complete list of natural communities in our state.
Natural communities are recurring assemblages of plants and animals found in particular physical environments.
A picture based description of many of these habitats can be found here. http://www.nhdfl.org/about-forests-and-lands/bureaus/natural-heritage-bureau/photo-index/SystemPhotos/systems.aspx Whether it is birds, insects, rare plants, trees, or mammals, knowing the species preferred habitat helps you to find what you are looking for. The reverse is also true, when you find an unknown plant or animal, knowing what natural community you are in can help you identify it. Here are a few examples of local natural communities and their descriptions, or click here for the FULL LIST.
This one book is a must have. I spent one entire summer driving around to as many of these locations as I could. Written by Dan Sperduto and Ben Kimball, this book describes the natural communities of New Hampshire in great detail, and gives many excellent examples of where to find Exemplary occurrences of them. Natural communities can be rare too! Click the image to read the reviews at Amazon.
Inland Atlantic White Cedar Swamp
From the NH Division of Forests and Lands – Inland Atlantic white cedar swamps occur more than 30 miles from the coast, at elevations greater than 500 ft. (up to around 1,000 ft.). The community is characterized by the presence of numerous northern species not found in other Atlantic white cedar swamp types, such as red spruce, bluebead lily, and creeping snowberry, and by the absence of several coastal and southern species. Hummock and hollow topography is pronounced and hollows are often wet throughout the growing season. Soil pH ranges from superacid to mediacid (3.4 to 4.8).
Sphagnum rubellum – small cranberry moss carpet
(closest match I could find for this location in the Wolfeboro Tuftonboro area.)
From the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands – Sphagnum rubellum – small cranberry moss carpets occur on floating peat mats, and sometimes on adjacent grounded mats, in kettle holes and other isolated peatland basins. They are dominated by Sphagnum rubellum and a relatively sparse and dwarfed heath shrub layer (average shrub height is 0.29 m and cover is generally 5–20%). They are found in oligotrophic kettle holes and other peatland basins that are isolated from the minerotrophic influence of upland runoff or lake water.
Want to keep it simple? Printable maps and a short list!
These are simplified maps provided by New Hampshire Fish and Game to describe generalized habitat coverage for our area. Natural communities exist within these broader data types. These maps are good for finding larger mammals such as moose, deer, and hare. Hare love thick spruce-fir, moose love marsh and shrub wetlands, deer love oak-beech forest!
The following maps are provided by New Hampshire Fish and Game as part of their Wildlife Action Plan. Click on the image below to download and view a printable map. Maps for every town can be found here.