Branch River Paddle photos taken by Kate Wilcox and Patti Connaughton-Burns.

Kayakers and canoeists enjoyed perfect conditions for the annual paddle down the Branch River in Milton, presented by MMRG and Branch Hill Farm/Carl Siemon Family Charitable Trust (BHF/CSFCT). Nearly seventy participants came out on the sunny and calm Saturday morning to make the 4-1/2 mile scenic trip along the pristine Branch River through lush wetlands to the upper end of Milton Three Ponds.

Guest presenter John Magee, Fish Habitat Biologist of the Inland Fisheries Division of NH Fish & Game, discussed wildlife, water quality and how to restore aquatic habitats and riverine processes by techniques such as instream wood restoration. Trees that have naturally fallen into streams, rivers, lakes and ponds are vital to healthy aquatic communities. They have the important role of providing shade to cool the water and of catching floating organic matter such as wood and leaves, which are a food source and shelter for microscopic life, insects, turtles, fish and other wildlife. Forested stream banks and riparian (stream-side) areas, like those along the Branch River Paddle route, help maintain water quality by preventing erosion and sediment entering the water and by filtering runoff water before it drains into the river. To ensure that stream banks stay forested to protect water quality, the best method is permanent conservation of the river frontage land.

Paddlers were intrigued by multiple piles of stones that could be seen below the water on the river bed and by John’s explanation that they are built by a fish species called fallfish (sometimes called river chub). The male fallfish repeatedly picks up small stones in its mouth and deposits them to form a loose cone-shaped pile, a few feet across. The female releases her eggs above the pile and after the eggs are fertilized by the male, the fertilized eggs sink into the gaps in the pile, where they are safe from predators. The nest can eventually, and naturally, fill in with fine sediment, and therefore nests must typically be rebuilt each spring.

Several bird sightings added excitement to the Paddle, including a Bald Eagle guarding its nest high in a pine tree. Spring song birds were active in a sheltered marshy area where MMRG staff member Virginia Long was parked in her kayak at the spot where the river spreads out into the Pond.  A flock of Cedar Waxwings (one photographed by Kate Wilcox), a Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Kingbirds, Gray Catbirds, Yellow Warblers, and Red-winged Blackbirds all were singing, flitting about, or building nests.

Branch Hill Farm/CSFCT is a private operating foundation whose mission is to conserve land,  produce quality timber products, and educate people about sound forestry practices and conservation. For more information, visit www.branchhillfarm.org.

MMRG would like to thank the business co-sponsors of the Branch River Paddle: Sunshine Acres Campground, Wolfeboro Oil Company, and the Land Bank of Wolfeboro-Tuftonboro.