Upon entering the state of New Hampshire, I’m always intrigued by the state motto, “Live Free or Die.” This is certainly a befitting motto for man and animal alike. This trip north is taking me to one of the most serene loon sanctuaries I’ve ever seen. This is where loon families truly live free in an exquisitely pristine setting.
The place of which I speak is a rather large pond situated in the central part of the state in the picturesque village of Grafton. Grafton is essentially framed centrally with Route 118 to the north, route 25 to the south, Interstate 91 to the west and Interstate 93 to the east.
As one of the top paddling destinations in New Hampshire, Grafton Pond is protected by The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, one of the most effective organizations involved in land preservation. The pond is dotted with small thickly wooded islands, which make for great nesting habitats for loons. Contrary to what one might think, my experience was that few people descended on the pond during my 3 days of paddling and photography. The mid-July weather made for some great kayaking and absolute spectacular loon watching.
My partner and I arrived promptly at 6 am each morning only to find us alone in a wilderness setting of peaceful tranquility. We would launch our tandem kayak onto the placid, mirror-like surface of the pond and quietly disappear into the gentle mist that touched the surface ever so delicately. The sound of the distant yodeling loons influenced our navigation like the sirens lured Ulysses in Greek Mythology. Our calling, however, rewarded us with the site of these most interesting and beautiful birds.
Mid to late July is generally a good time to view and photograph loons, since the chicks are typically born in early summer. Mother and father alike will provide transportation for the chicks until they are old enough to venture into the water alone. They are often seen comfortably riding on the backs of one parent or another. Grafton Loons were particularly tolerant of paddlers and we were able to observe their behavior from some terrific vantage points. We spent one morning observing a female teach her young chick all about the art of survival. Diving first for a tasty crustacean, Mom would feed the chick. The chick would in turn dive and attempt the same. What a delight to be able to experience nature this way and to capture these precious moments on film.
If you are planning on heading up to the north country, and in particular Grafton Pond, then let me suggest some lodging options. If you’re up for camping then simply Goggle camping in Grafton and dozens of options will be available. If a bed and breakfast is more to your liking then let me suggest Shaker Hill Bed and Breakfast in Enfield. It’s a stone’s throw from Grafton Pond and the facility is quaint and comfortable. Innkeepers Nancy and Allen Smith are wonderful hosts and Nancy’s award winning breakfasts will put a smile on anyone’s face.
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Gary Melnysyn resides in Connecticut and is mainly a wildlife photographer. His work is featured in Outdoor Photographer Magazine, and he's a frequent contributor to the Connecticut Audubon with images of Connecticut raptors. Gary exhibits his work in local New England galleries and establishments. To see more of his photographs and writing, visit fiddleheadfoto.com.