Monday, February 20, 2017

Warm up with friends

By Beth Sullivan
We have come to about the half-way point in winter. The days are actually getting longer which is so very encouraging. I like to find a spot out of the wind and in a bright corner to enjoy the increased warmth from the returning and strengthening sun.
However, we cannot let our guard down; we have weeks of winter to go and late winter storms and hard freezes are not unheard of. Despite a later start to winter, we have to remember back to the last years when the cold hung on longer and later than in the past. It often leads us to our own form of extended hibernation.
A hometown pot luck spread cannot be beat.

All of this leads me to our need to find warmth and companionship in other ways as we head down the home stretch. And right in time, Avalonia is hosting its all-time members’ favorite: Winter Gathering. Formerly known as the Winter Pot Luck, for years it brought members and friends from all the corners of Avalonia territory together to socialize and enjoy good food.

Avalonia Land Conservancy is almost 50 years old and this winter tradition is one of the longest held. While attendance has waxed and waned over the years, sites have changed and programs have evolved, the central idea is always the same. Now our need to join forces and voices to help protect our special places, is greater than ever. No matter what your politics, all members of Avalonia have the same concern for protecting our landscape, our natural resources and the wildlife that relies on them. Coming together in friendship is a way to join our common concerns and have fun doing it.
Some of the kitchen crew that did a superb job last year.

March 10 Winter Pot Luck

This year, our event will be held on March 10th, a little before the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. We will meet at the Mystic Congregational Church ( see poster for details) and for a few hours we’ll share fellowship, good food, and some fun. While the Pot Luck is the centerpiece, this year we will host a speaker: Russ Cohen, forager and author to discuss “Wild Plants I have known and Eaten”. ( Just in time for spring greens.)
Fiddleheads are sure to be a part of the foraging discussion.

There will be some informational displays about projects including a peek at Discover Avalonia’s Hike and Seek program to get kids and adults out and learning on our trails.

We will have a raffle of fun things donators can live without, and supporters cannot live without, and take chances on them. We will also have a silent auction of artistic and creative items generously donated by local artists, potters and authors to help raise funds for Avalonia.
Look for art and craft items to be the highlights of the silent auction. 

Please come out of the winter chill and enjoy the warmth of fellowship. Friends are welcome, and the price of admission is your pot luck item. Hope to see you there.

Photographs by Bruce Fellman and Beth Sullivan.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Great Backyard Bird Count

By Beth Sullivan
We have been thinking a lot about winter survival for wildlife, particularly the birds. Hopefully you have looked at your yard to see where you have created places for cover and protection, noted natural food sources, and established some feeding stations offering a good variety of sustenance. Maybe you have been able to identify your common species and could note any uncommon ones if they arrive in your yard.
Carolina Wrens are one of the many species you might see this winter.

Maybe you have your binoculars close at hand, by the living room door or the kitchen window-wherever your feeders are located. And of course you have your field guides handy. Peterson, Sibley, Audubon and maybe even an app on your phone. And how about a piece of paper to record your sightings?

Citizen Scientists needed

Then you are absolutely ready to participate in this year’s Citizen Science events.
Since the beginning of winter, the Feeder Watch program has been in process. Even though it started back in December, there is still time to enroll and add your data. By enrolling now, you can finish out this year, and get free automatic enrollment in next year’s Feeder Watch. There will be no excuse for starting late next year.
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming Friday,February 17 through Monday, February 20. It is a similar endeavor, but more intense because your record birding observations in your own back yard ( or anywhere else you choose).
White Throated Sparrow can be bright or dull in color but it is not a gender trait.

Both activities have dedicated websites and excellent instructions for how to do the count and document your sightings. The GBBC will send you a packet of information that serves both efforts.
By enrolling in that program you also get free access to a very helpful online education program. This would be a great opportunity for families to sit together to learn about birds, their biology, and beginning bird watching techniques. There are tally sheets and instructions to download.

Interesting counting rules

And there are some interesting thoughts about how to count your birds. For instance, if you see three sparrows on the ground, you count three. Later you see two, and later you see four. You do not tally the total of all your sightings because there is no way to know if you are double counting a particular bird, so you only use the number 4 because it is the highest number seen at one time.
Count as many birds as you see in one place at one time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some bird species are male and female identical-Chickadees for example. Others are easy to tell apart like Cardinals. But in this case, to level the playing field, if you see one Cardinal, a male, and later see one Cardinal, and it is a female, you still only count 1 as it was only one bird at a time. Doesn’t sound right to those of us who know the difference, but there would be no way to equalize for all the other species. However, if at one point you see both Cardinals together on the ground, you can then count two!
Chickadees are all identical.

We can tell the gender, but it still counts as one bird.

So check out the websites. There is still time to enroll and to read instructions and prepare for the Great Backyard Bird Count. On these snowy cold days, the birds tend to congregate in larger numbers, and we humans tend to huddle closer, inside looking out. Grab your kids, a field guide, or an app…and start counting!
You may not be the only one watching the feeder.  Hawks count too.

Learn more about the feeder watch project here.

Learn more about the great backyard bird count here.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Artistry in nature

By Beth Sullivan

Nature has always inspired me, and in many different ways. For centuries artists have been inspired by great vistas: far horizons, mountains, oceans, sky-scapes and sweeping prairies. We still are.

Seeing the visual beauty, artistry in nature up close, takes a little more effort - stopping, bending, stooping, kneeling - but brings great rewards. The area we live in is blessed with beautiful scenery, just begging to be photographed and painted. Sometimes though, this tends to make us see the forest, and not the trees, or the bark and the buds on the trees. The very closeness of nature is often astounding in in its beauty, texture, patterns. You just HAVE to look close.
Even in the winter woods, this evergreen Rattlesnake Orchid displays its beautifully patterned leaves.
Carpenter Ants leave a honeycomb of beautifully made chambers.

So this week I challenge you to look closer than the forest, look closer than the tree. The winter is actually a good time to look beyond the distraction of beautiful flowers that come later. Now is the time to see some of the “bones” of the landscape: trees, rocks, ice and snow. There are also hardy green mosses, lichens, and evergreens to find if you are not happy with gray tones. As you walk along a trail or even in your own yard, look for those inspiring things that you might otherwise miss if you always look to the farther horizon. If you are so inclined, try to capture the close-up with a camera, or make a sketch. You need to really look close, dissect the elements, understand how your subject is created, if you plan to sketch or paint. Once you do, you will never forget it.

Spend some time to go slowly and look very close. It may truly influence how you take your walks forever. Have fun.

The heart of a cedar tree. Every center is unique.

Ice that forms on shallow water along brooks and puddles often makes very special designs. 

Look at this in multi-levels - the color of the stones, the transparency of the water, and the patterns the water makes. A challenge to paint.

Looking to Spring, we wait for the Fiddleheads to unfurl their beautiful spirals. 

Sometimes a pattern reveals a secret- that the rows of holes were made by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 30, 2017

After the storm

by Beth Sullivan
Winter storms can be just as bad as summer ones: wind, storm surge, precipitation and clean up. So far we have been really lucky that our winter has been fairly calm and not too stormy, weather wise at least. The last week has brought some swings in the weather and a pretty good storm.
In general, these weather events are really just part of nature’s cycles, an opportunity to “clean house” or change things up a little. Sometimes we can just go with it, let things happen as they should and not try to change any outcomes. But as stewards of the land we have protected for you, we have a responsibility to make things safe as well. This last storm was by no means the worst we have experienced in recent years, but it was enough to rearrange things a bit.
After the storm, we need to walk the trails and check for issues.
Wet land plants adapt to seasonal flooding.

High Water

Many of our preserves have lovely streams running through them. Often times it is those streams that are the impetus for us wanting to protect the land around them. The drought that lasted through summer and into the fall dried them down to mere trickles. Over the last few months we have had enough rain to fill them more, to restore much needed water to the plants in the wetlands. This storm with volumes of heavy rain drained off the land, collected the way watersheds do, and the brooks filled to flooding. Overflowing their banks, wetlands were drowned, but they are used to that. It is what they are supposed do: buffer and soak and hold the water. Unfortunately some shallow rooted trees were toppled as the soil loosened their roots, and the winds pushed and pulled at them. Sometimes this is good, the shallow depressions created where the roots pulled up often fill with water and can become little refuges for amphibians and reptiles. Deeper holes create great hollows for denning mammals.
A leaning tree has provided a den area.

In the forests, downed trees and branches may be a little unsightly, but they create layers in the under story. Perches, hiding places and ultimately the material will break down to become part of the nutrient duff on the forest floor-recycling for the next generation. It is a nice metaphor: one older generation making way, in a positive fashion, to make sure things are nourished and supported as the next generation steps in.
Trees blocking bridges need to be moved as soon as possible.

Clearing the trails

Along the woodland trails we have to be on the lookout for any fallen or hanging limbs and branches that could impact a visitor, literally. Teams of stewards have branched out over the last couple of days to clear trails, assess threats and report back where more effort and bigger tools may be needed. In the meantime please be careful anywhere you walk.
Some trail blockages are not dangerous, just inconvenient.

Coastal areas were hammered by high water and waves. The natural salt marshes flooded, but absorbed the strength and surge. The high water wrack line was left with litter; the fragile edges of the marsh may have broken off in places, but in general, thanks to the natural function of a salt marsh, the land is mostly intact.
At Dodge Paddock,  channel and grasses held though the logs were bared.

At Dodge Paddock, the challenge continues. While the rains flooded in from one side, the tides pushed in from the other. Everything filled up. The drainage ditch was compromised a bit. Erosion took place along the south face where all the eel grass got scoured away. But most of the coir log supports held; the grasses that were rooted held on as well. The new marsh grasses stayed firm, collected sediment and functioned as they should. The water drained out as it was intended. The system needs a bit of a touch up, but so far, so good.
Fresh and salt water flooded Dodge Paddock. Photo by Jeff Callahan.

Storms will happen; changes in the landscape will occur. Sometimes we can let nature take its course, sometimes we have to intervene a bit. We must always find a balance, and that is part of the job of stewardship. And stewardship of our environment needs support from everyone from boots on the ground, to top administration.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A new era

By Beth Sullivan
We welcomed the New Year. We all knew there were changes and challenges ahead. We have begun a new era.
This blog may be my voice, but it represents Avalonia Land Conservancy and many varied voices, so it is not appropriate for it to be a platform for my thoughts about women’s rights, all human rights; the value of life, all lives; the need for affordable and accessible health care; the right to be whoever you want to be and be with whomever you choose in your life. Because it all boils down to happiness and security, respect for one another and peaceful co-existence in our world. For many of us being out in Nature, in all her beautiful variable forms, is what brings us to peace and happiness. It can be a common ground for so many, despite differences in views.
Children understand the need to turn to nature...

Therefore it is supremely important that we all agree at least, that protection of our environment is something we must support together.

A changing climate

There are always going to be differences of opinions as to cause, but there should be no dissent in the understanding that our climate is changing, and with it comes perilous consequences. experience joy...

If you live near the coast, you are more aware of the sea levels rising, changes in storm intensity and losses of our valuable salt marshes. These changes threaten more than the high-end real estate along the coast, but the protection afforded to all, by the open spaces, undeveloped land, marshes, and dunes. They must be preserved. experience simple love...

Living inland more, you may notice the changes in our weather patterns in how it affects our gardening season. We are in the middle of a January thaw that has been quite long already. Winter seems to have started late, was pretty intense for short periods as we were blasted by extreme arctic air. If it continues like it did last year, the cold and erratic weather may push itself farther into spring, blasting flower buds confusing plants and insects and birds and crops. If it affects us in a small way in our home gardens, image how it affects the larger scale farms and orchards.
...and to learn to work together.

We have had drought and higher heat for several summers. We have watched lawns and gardens and small ponds and large lakes dry up. It leads to many of us using water to irrigate to save our cherished plants or vegetable gardens we tend so hopefully. Yet that draws on dwindling water resources and the combined effect is draining our reservoirs each year.
We must pass on our values.

At times I find it hard to think much beyond our local area. How do we influence the greater policies, how do we voice our concerns or make those voices heard?
We must teach respect, cooperation, and tolerance.

Connecticut Land Conservation Council

We can personally engage in practices that preserve resources. We can work to preserve or manage the landscapes in our own areas one step at a time. We can support organizations like Avalonia or the Nature Conservancy and many others, that pool resources to work for a greater good. Supporting organizations like the Connecticut Land Conservation Council is one of the best ways. The organization is staffed with brilliant, dedicated people who know the issues, who know how to use their voices, and our voices, and know how to direct them to those who make the rules, set the policies to make a difference. We can join our voices to theirs as they advise us how to reach those in power.
We need to act to preserve that which brings us peace.

We need to be kind. Kind to each other, kind to the Earth. We have a moral obligation to protect and preserve and steward our land and the environment as a whole, for the health of the whole planet and the future generations. It sounds trite. But it is true. If we think and act with kindness and consideration in all things….maybe it will trickle up.
And, by uniting our voices, they will be heard.

Photographs by multiple contributors.