Blizzard delays Belmont vote

Other towns go on with voting Tuesday


With the exception of Belmont, most area towns took a cue from Broadway when preparing for Tuesday’s snowy and stormy Voting Day.
Voting will occur as planned in Gilmanton, Hatch said, despite a powerful nor'easter that forecasters predicted would dump heavy snow and ice on New England, creating dangerous travel conditions and possibly causing power outages.
Some communities in the state chose to reschedule based on the weather forecasts — and despite advice from state officials that the legal requirements aren't clear about the ability of town officials to reschedule elections.
Belmont was the first and only one of the local towns with voting scheduled on Tuesday to postpone.
Belmont Town Clerk/Tax Collector Cynthia DeRoy said, "The decision has been made in Belmont, and we are postponing the election until Thursday, the 16th. And the polls will be open from 7 to 7 at Belmont High School. That is voting for the town and the school."
As a result of the decision, Belmont Town and School District voting will take place 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, at Belmont High School.
Al Nix, moderator for the town of Belmont, said he joined a conference call that included Gov. Chris Sununu, and Nix said, "They were very clear about the rights of moderators to change the dates of elections."
But the governor also signaled in a statement after the call that towns are advised to continue with the vote, based on state election law.
Governor Sununu, in remarks following the conference call with local officials Monday, said, "Given that there are differing opinions, the best we can do is strongly recommend that all towns stay open for voting tomorrow. We think that's a very important part of the process, but given those differing opinions, I don't think we're in a position to mandate that towns stay open or reverse their direction if they so choose not to, but we do strongly recommend that they do stay open. If towns do choose, and make that choice on their own, at their risk, frankly, to make a decision to postpone their voting. We got on the phone and wanted to make them aware of some recommendations that we had, such as ensuring that someone was at least available either at the polling places or town offices with absentee ballots so folks coming in to vote could at least obtain an absentee ballot, if they were not going to be available for the rescheduled voting day."
The governor also acknowledged that road conditions could be dangerous and that "people need to take precautions and be safe, plan their days accordingly and participate in the process."
In Belmont, officials took into consideration the fact that many voters arrive to vote after work, which would be at the height of the blizzard, and many individuals work in Concord and live in Canterbury, so the demands of travel would be too great, Nix said.
"It was a danger to the public," he said.
The National Weather Service warned that from the northern Middle Atlantic to Southern New England, 12 to 18 inches of snow could be expected with up to 2 feet in some places, as well as strong winds that could down trees and cause power outages.
For town clerks preparing for Tuesday's elections, the specter of a blizzard on Voting Day created a dilemma. Many thought the weather didn't warrant a postponement — it is winter in New England, after all.
Gilmanton Town Clerk/Tax Collector Debra Cornett said, "We have never rescheduled an election."
Town meetings have been rescheduled due to weather, but elections typically have gone on as planned, particularly since they are bound by state statute, she said.
"We are not postponing anything. There are too many election laws that go with an election," Cornett said. "It's not the first time we've had a snowstorm on election day."
Meredith Town Clerk Kerri Parker said the storm will not affect voting there.
"We're not changing anything," she said.
In Sanbornton, voting also remained on track for Tuesday, officials reported.
"Sanbornton Town and School District Voting will take place, and cannot be changed due to snow, tomorrow Tuesday March 14th from 7:00 am through 7:00 pm at the Old Town Hall, 19 Meetinghouse Hill Road," the Sanbornton Police Department reported via Facebook.
Town meetings in Meredith and Sanbornton on Wednesday could be subject to change, officials cautioned.
"The Sanbornton Town Meeting will be held on Wednesday March 15th at 7:00 pm at the Sanbornton Central School, 16 Hunkins Pond Road," the police department reported on its Facebook page. "The Town Moderator does have the authority to change the Town Meeting time if necessary due to weather. That decision will be made on Wednesday. Any changes in time will be announced through this system, as well as Facebook and other outlets. Unless you receive an official announcement to the contrary, the Town Meeting will be Wednesday at 7:00 pm."
In Gilford, where the Gilford School District Deliberative session had to be postponed due to bad weather back in February, the decision was made to continue on Tuesday with Voting Day as scheduled.
The Town and School elections will go on as scheduled on Tuesday, March 14, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the Gilford Youth Center, 19 Potter Hill Road, the town reported.
"This decision was made after a great deal of consideration and was ultimately based upon the recommendations of Governor Chris Sununu and Secretary of State William Gardner," Town and School District Moderator Sandra T. McGonagle reported. "Current forecasts for Tuesday are calling for a Nor'easter snow storm with potential accumulations of up to 20 inches. Town and State plow trucks are expected to be operating throughout the snowfall in an attempt to keep roads as clear as possible. Voters are urged to use extreme caution while traveling to and from the polling place."

Home lost, woman spared in Northfield fire


NORTHFIELD — Fire left a home at 520 Shaker Road, Unit 3, a total loss on Thursday afternoon, but prompt action by a police officer spared the life of a woman, who was alone and asleep when the fire broke out.

Officer Michael Nordberg of the Northfield Police, who called at the home to check on the welfare of the resident who had been absent from work, found the residence filled with thick and the sound of smoke detectors. At 2:27 p.m. he alerted the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department, which had an ambulance crew in the neighborhood conducting an inspection. Noticing a vehicle in the driveway, Nordberg began rapping on windows and doors while calling to alert anyone inside.

Meanwhile, the ambulance crew, hearing Nordberg's call to the fire station, reached the scene within minutes, arriving to see Nordberg escorting the woman from the burning building. Nordberg said that the woman had awoken at the sound of his voice and was leaving the building as he opened the door. Fire Chief Michael Sitar explained that opening the door fed oxygen to the fire, causing it to flash over very quickly..

"Within 90 seconds of the occupant exiting the home, the area where she was located was not survivable," said Lt. Jon Powell. "The heads-up thinking of the Northfield Police doing what they did and making the conscious decision to not enter the building themselves undoubtedly saved the occupant's life."

The woman was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene within minutes. and transported to Franklin Regional Hospital.

Powell said that the fire was not suspicious but accidental and described the home as "a total loss due to extensive heat and smoke damage."

03-10 Shaker Road Fire

A woman survived this fire at 520 Shaker Road March 9. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Flights of fancy – bird watchers celebrate their own March Madness


Steve White, owner of the Wild Bird Depot in Gilford, searches the sky outside of his shop for a sharp-shinned hawk that he sees about every morning. Those who look, and listen, will notice a migration of birds to and through the Lakes Region, beginning in the middle of May. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)



GILFORD — Outside your back window, on small ponds and in nearby woods, there's a great drama unfolding over the coming weeks. You just have to know how to look, and listen, for it.

bird2Steve White, owner of Wild Bird Depot, who writes columns and produces radio shows about birdwatching, says that birdwatching is a 12-month pursuit. In the summer, birds catch food and tend to their young, there's the migration south in the fall, and the struggle to survive in winter for those who stay. But, if there's a best time to spend observing the feathered, he said it is the weeks from the middle of March through April, when birds returning from their tropical winter grounds race back to claim territory and attract a mate.

"Migrating is all about food, it's all about making babies," White said in his store in Gilford. 

The common misunderstanding is that red-breasted robins are the first sign of spring. That's not really true, he said, because robins, as well as bluebirds and winter wrens, spend their winters here. Even though it seems cold outside to humans, birds that can find enough food are better off staying in New England through the winter, said White, because the act of migration is fraught with danger and many birds don't survive the voyage. But, most have to make the arduous journey, some as far as South America, to find the fruit and insects that sustain them.

By now, though, those birds are beginning to head back north, waiting until the winter weather breaks, but also hoping to claim some prime territory before it's all occupied. The males will stake out their territory first, and defend their territory from rivals while presenting themselves as impressively as they can to attract the attention of a female. And all of this is on display for those who care to notice.

"You've heard that the early bird gets the worm? Well, the males choose the territory, the females choose the male," said White.

Bird watching is one of the world's most popular hobbies, said White, and is accessible to just about anyone. That's because, when one stops to look, birds can be noticed in nearly every environment. Bird watchers in dense urban centers learn to distinguish different species of pigeons, even outside of White's shop, on busy Lakeshore Road, is visited daily by a sharp-shinned hawk.

White has a few tips for people interested in bird watching. The first is to recognize that the phrase "bird watching" is misleading – expert bird watchers use their ears as much, if not more than, their eyes. He suggests exploring an environment that certain birds might be attracted to, and find a spot and just listen. Then, when a bird call is issued, note where it came from and listen for a response – then try to interpret the conversation taking place. 

"Take a lot of breaks, sit still, be quiet for a few minutes, and see what you can hear," said White.

Where should people go? White often visits dam sites, such as the Franklin dam, where large fish-eating birds are likely to visit. Rivers and ponds are also good. Certain species will only be spotted in woodlands, and for grassland birds, White suggested golf courses or farms. There's no need to scale mountains, as most birds tend to avoid high elevations. In any case, try to avoid places where there will be a lot of other humans around.

"I want people to investigate and find a place on your own – the road less traveled is the one you want to be on."

White advised novice birders to practice color blindness. Too often, those trying to identify a bird focus only on the shade of its plumage. This often leads to mistakes because individual birds of the same species will vary in color, shade and intensity. Instead, look for the shape of its beak, which will tell the observer what the bird eats. Short and wide beaks are for cracking nuts and seeds, while long, narrow beaks are evolved for eating insects. The shape of the bird's tail, crest and overall size, added with the beak shape, are more useful than its color when it comes to identification.

If looking near a lake or pond, bird watchers might spot one of the region's more iconic birds. Harry Vogel, senior biologist at the Loon Center in Moultonborough, said that lakeside residents were always taken aback by the bird's uncanny ability to show up at a lake the day that the ice recedes.

"For years, we wondered, how do they know?" said Vogel. Now, biologists know, the adult males, who spend their winters at the ocean or at southern lakes, were taking what he called "daily reconnaissance flights" to check on their preferred lake's ice condition. As soon as there was enough open water to land, they did, and in doing so claimed their territory.

bird3"They're essentially calling dibs on that lake," said Vogel. He added that it's possible for bird watchers to catch sight or sound of those recon flights. Loons have a distinct flight call that they make when in the air. Those who hear it will have to look  carefully, though. Loons fly solo, unlike other large water birds that travel in groups.

Project OspreyTrack offers the chance to track in detail the migration of ospreys who summer in New England, where they have been fitted with tiny transmitters, as they fly to and back from their South American winter homes. A live map, showing the progress of several such birds, can be seen at under the "Events and Programs" tab.

Every year, new groups of birders are initiated into the sport of bird watching. They're compelled by what White called, "the hunt." It starts with a casual sighting, where a person notices a certain bird, then does a little bit of research to know about that bird's habits and travels. Then, he or she wonders what other birds might be observed.

"Then, the hunt starts," he said.