Saturday, April 1, 2006
Merrymeeting Marsh, New Hampshire
Among the many rivers, ponds and swamps in southern New Hampshire, the Merrymeeting Marsh in New Durham is a standout for photographers who have discovered the fun of shooting from a kayak. The Merrymeeting River flows out of Merrymeeting Lake and into Lake Winnipesaukee, opening up into a marshy expanse on the west side of Route 11, about 90 miles north of Boston. The parking lot and the easy put-in are just past the junction of Route 11 West and Ridge Road.
Spring and autumn daytime temperatures can typically range from 50 to 70 degrees F. In summer, temperatures might reach the low 90s. Keep an eye on the sky for fast-moving thunderstorms in hot weather.
The river winds and twists, roughly paralleling Route 11. After a while, you reach the Coffin Brook, a large channel on the left that feeds the Merrymeeting. Heading up Coffin Brook, you leave behind all highway noise to discover numerous bays, channels and coves along the edges of the often-broad expanse of winding river. In those quiet, wild places along the Coffin (and, for that matter, throughout the marsh), all manner of flora and fauna make their home: turtles (some snapping), muskrats, beavers, wild ducks and great blue herons that lift up and set down again, often keeping just a little ahead of your boat. The floating islands of grasses, mats of water lilies and dense stands of colorful pickerel weed harbor schools of fish and all sorts of insects, including dragonflies, water skimmers and whirligig beetles.
Although "stuck" in the kayak, you can poke into the shallowest channels to paddle right up to beaver lodges. No use for a tripod here. Settle for one lens, preferably a good zoom. Lay your paddle across the gunwales of your kayak and anchor your elbows on it for stable-enough shooting.
Carry sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, waterproof sandals or river shoes for getting in and out of the boat and, of course, water and snacks. Wear comfortable, loose clothes, and don't forget some sort of flotation device. (New Hampshire law requires that a life jacket per person be on board all watercraft.) If you plan to be out before dawn or after sundown, don't forget insect repellent.
Spring, summer and fall are all good times to photograph, but May and early June find the marsh emerging from the long sleep of winter and coming alive. The greening grasses teem with nesting, elusive redwing blackbirds, herons stalk abundant prey and, as the day wanes, acrobatic swallows swoop low to feast on insects. For the best light, aim for early morning, when there's often mist over the marsh, or mid-afternoon.
Contact: New Hampshire Fish & Game Dept., (603) 271-2461, www.wildlife.state.nh.us/Wildlife/WMAs/WMA_Merrymeeting_Marsh.htm.
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