A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Burns Hill

February 21, 2022
Emilie Phillips

Isaac was in school on President’s day, which left Tyson and I free for our vacation day. I picked out a short trail up to Burns Hill in Milford. We had never been there before, but I hoped it might have a view. To extend the hike, we parked at the farthest away parking lot. Expected total distance: 3 miles. I set a turn around time of 10AM so I would definitely make my noon engagement.

Ice shapes in the stream

We discovered the lower parking lot and trails are owned by Beaver Brook — a conservation area two towns over in Hollis. These trails through the forest were a mix of old farm roads and meandering foot paths. The trails were well blazed. Every stream crossing had a bridge. I liked the ice formations in the streams. The floods earlier this week had carved interesting layers and shapes. Since the floods, the ice had regrown frost and spikes. The other thing covered in ice was the trails. That ice came from feet pounding snow flat.

Trees at the top of the fire line

The upper parking and trails are Milford town conservation land. At the parking lot, there is a pavilion with picnic tables and open pastures for running around and playing. From the parking lot to the summit is quite short. We found a wide clear area at the summit with views. Tyson thinks it is big enough to fly a small model glider. It faces west into the prevailing winds. The clearing was grassy with a mix of stumps and granite rock trip hazards. We found some char marks. It reminded me nostalgically of northern Dolly Sods when I was little. That got me thinking of fire and it’s role in maintaining clearings. If you just cut down trees, the area will grow back up with brush and birch wands. If you burn, you can generate a grassland ecosystem. So on the one hand, fire is good because you support the whole range of native flora and fauna as the clearing progresses through the regrowth cycle (grass -> shrubs -> forest). On the other hand, burning releases carbon which is bad for the environment. What is the prevailing thoughts on fire as an ecosystem management tool?

On the descent, I heard two birds calling to each other in the trees. The call was a repeated short laugh, so I guessed pileated woodpeckers. Tyson thought they sounded more like blue jays, which we had seen at the summit clearing. However, when Tyson spotted a bird fly from the origin of the calls to a new tree whence we thereafter heard the calls, the silhouette was smaller than a jay. Our trail took us right under this new tree. As we approached, we spotted little nuthatches hopping up and down the tree. I had assumed nuthatches chirped like other little birds. They couldn’t be making the laughing call, could they? Modern artificial intelligence (aka Cornell Merlin App), declared unequivocally that the call was an eastern nuthatch.

Listen for yourself

  • Pileated woodpecker – the Ohio, May 28, 2020 recording matches what I was remembering
  • Eastern nuthatch – the New York, April 09, 2017 recording is the call these nuthatches were making.
Tyson at the town pavilion

We were below the pavilion and into the Beaver Brook trails before our turn around time. Tyson had been surprised and a little disappointed by how quickly we arrived at each trail junction. Well, I joked, it’s the turn around time, so we should turn around and go back up and then back down. I got a laugh out of Tyson for that. We weren’t that silly, but we did take the longer route back to the car and explored one side trail. That side trail ended at a road and a sunny swamp. We could hear splashing and crashing sounds in the swamp, but we couldn’t see through the reeds and the cattails. I wondered if a deer was bumbling around. Tyson guessed it might be ice cracking in the balmy air and direct sun. We listened for a bit, but the sounds died down. Then there was a giant crack, smash, and then rippling after splash sounds, all of it much too big for a deer.

At the very end of the hike, we rejoined our original trail. Almost back at the parking lot, I spotted chestnut burrs in a wide circle on the ground. I don’t know why I didn’t spot them on the way in. Maybe I was too focused on gripping the ice with my microspikes. We hunted for the American Chestnut tree. One tree near the middle of the burrs bore dried beech leaves. Another had a few brown oak leaves. And the rest had furrowed bark despite being young. I think young chestnut bark is generally smooth. We will have to come back once the leaves are green. Then I can confidently identify a chestnut.

All Photos

GPS Track