Monday, May 14, 2018

We have waited so long for this

By Beth Sullivan
Finally! While the Connecticut College students were busy doing their projects and writing the blog for the last several weeks, winter finally breathed its last and spring jumped in with both feet, making up for lost time. It is amazing to me, that despite the long extended cold, things seemed to catch up and happen on time, as they always have.

Spring has arrived

My Quince bushes were a little delayed in flowering, but my Hummingbird returned to the yard, looking for the feeder, right on target: April 27. The cold weather seemed to keep down the insect populations early in the season, and I truly hoped the insect-eating birds would take their time and maybe take a bit of an extended rest stop farther south. It seems they did. At least my Phoebe was a week later than usual in announcing her presence. But everything is on schedule now. We are beset with gnats and flies, and the sweet little bird spends hours at the edge of the woods, making quick upward and outward flights to grab her meals.
I hope I am not jinxing anything by reporting that many flowering trees seem to have come through the winter and early blooming time, without showing the devastation from the winter moths, as they have in previous years. Barring a severe freeze, this could be a bumper year for beautiful blossoms and later abundant fruits. Of course we also have to hope all the species of native bees have survived the winter to do the pollinating. We can also hope that last year’s severe die-off of Gypsy moth caterpillars will result in fewer areas of devastation this year. There is still time to search out egg masses and scrape them away. I found a number inside my birdhouses as I cleaned them for their feathered occupants.
This is just such a spectacular time of year, creating a welcome sensory overload for those of us who are truly passionate about watching every little natural change. Every day brings something new: the arrival of a new bird, the opening of a favorite woodland wildflower. Sometimes things happen over hours, like the unfurling of a fern fiddlehead, or the chorus of spring frogs starting slow then reaching a beautiful peak at sunset and for a few hours beyond. Every night is different as voices change over the weeks. The Wood Frogs seem to be finished, the Spring Peepers continue but less vigorously and have now been joined by Gray Tree Frogs.
The wetlands seem to be where spring life really begins, and over the weeks they have changed from brittle brown to lush green and yellow: Skunk Cabbage, False Hellebore, Sphagnum Moss and Marsh Marigolds. Standing pools are alive with water striders, swarms of small flies, and masses of amphibian eggs are that just days from hatching. The single heart-shaped leaves of thousands of Canada Mayflowers create a carpet of green occasionally dotted with the white or lavender-blue of violets. The very precious Dog tooth Violet makes a brief appearance in the moist wet woodland soils.
The Hummingbirds arrived right on time, finding a full feeder.

A Phoebe relies on warm weather hatches of flying insects to survive. Photograph by Dennis Main. 

Lush green with yellow and violet create a wetland mosaic.

Canada Mayflowers will carpet the woodland floor by the thousands. 

So much to see, so much to share

 The season is fleeting. The trees and shrubs will leaf out, closing our views and shading the forest floors. Wetlands will dry out and the chorus of frogs will change to the more solitary vocals of the larger species.
Please take some time for yourself to seek out a new preserve, or an old favorite, and make note of this wonderful season. We can be so grateful that Avalonia has, over the years, preserved 4000 acres of springtime beauty, just for us to enjoy. The website lists all the trails and Hike and Seek gives you a challenge to open your eyes and look for some very special features. Enjoy.
The Trout Lilly or Dog Tooth Violet is a fleeting gem.

Brooks and pools in the Woodlot Sanctuary teem with life.

You can almost see the fiddlehead ferns uncurling in front of your very eyes.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Semester wrap up

A note from Beth: This has been a super year with the students of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment. Their projects were diverse and energetic. We got some great deliverables, from an amazing Barberry harvest to 1000 likes on Facebook. I always learn so much from these students and their energy and enthusiasm gives me hope for the future. I hope you enjoyed hearing from them as well.

 by Alan Lau
As the spring semester comes to an end, all of the sophomores at GNCE have enjoyed the time spent collaborating with the Avalonia team.
One day Emma Brooks and Julia Neumann ‘20 went on a boundary walk of the Moore Woodlands in Mystic with longtime volunteer Joellen Anderson. They were very lucky to also have Margot Greener, who is a part of the family that originally donated the property, accompany them. Boundary walks are important to make sure that the property isn't being encroached upon and that the wishes of the original landowners are being upheld. Each property should be walked at least once a year (which is a huge undertaking). Joellen had handheld GPS units with the layout of the preserve loaded up so they could follow the boundary all the way around. One way surveyors indicate boundaries is by creating drill holes in stationary rocks as permanent markers. As the day went on, they did their best to pick up some trash as they went but mostly just tried to keep up with Joellen's fiery pace. She made sure to educate them with lessons in history, ecology, local lore, and land conservancy. It was an absolutely beautiful day and a great reason to get outside and help Avalonia.
While we have some students working outside on the land, one student, Haruko Tateyama, has been researching the history of that land. Haruko has been working on a history project that could potentially be used for newsletters and archived on the website. As of now, she has conducted research on Pine Swamp and Avery Preserve both in Ledyard. She also interviewed Ms. Nancy Avery in the course of her research for the Avery Preserve. Furthermore, she will be working on condensing earlier documentation done by past GNCE scholars on Perry Natural Area and Pequotsepos Brook Preserve. All of these properties have great trails and are open for exploration-check the website for more information.
Bailey Aust and Sarah Stephanset up outreach tables at the Stonington Farmers’ Market and at the Mystic Aquarium Earth Day event. They did a great job informing people about Avalonia and even recruited some new members.
Yiyan Ma is working on getting some elementary students out onto a preserve to enjoy the trails and introduce them to Hike and Seek.
Last but not least, the two masterminds that have been running social media for Avalonia this past couple of months are none other than our Marcus Vinicius Pinto Pereira Jr. and Jennifer Rojas, both class of 20’. They have been working on social media outreach for Avalonia, specifically on Facebook. Their objective has been to analyze weekly posts and see which kinds of posts generate more attraction from the pages’ followers. Their goal was to get 1000 likes on Facebook and they achieved that on May 2. They will continue to post until their semester is done. Hopefully Maureen Dewire, Chair of the Communications Committee who has been mentoring them, will be left with information on which types of posts are the most productive. This will benefit Avalonia greatly in the long run because outreach is one of the most important aspects when dealing with non-profit organizations like Avalonia which relies on its volunteers and members.
In conclusion, it has been a wonderful semester for all of us sophomores. Time has flown by so quickly; it feels like I met Beth for the first time yesterday, but it has been several months. As we move forward in our personal lives, we often have a tendency to take the smallest things for granted. Therefore, on behalf of all the sophomores of the GNCE class of 2020 I would like to thank all of the amazing teachers like Beth Sullivan, Jennifer Pagach, and all the mentors who have guided us on this wonderful journey.
Blogger Alan Lau did a great job filling in for me.

At the Aquarium Earth Day events, Bailey, Sarah, Anna, and Avatar presented their projects.

Bailey and Sarah answer questions about Avalonia.

Connecticut College students doing boundary survey at Moore Preserve. Photograph by Joellen Anderson.

Emma and Julia learned Avalonia history from Anne who provided cookies and juice at all the work parties. Photograph by Rick Newton.

History researcher Maruko Tateyama

Haruko has written about the history of the Pine Swamp preserve. If only these old trees could talk.

Photographs by Avalonia volunteers.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Let's eliminate plastic straws

One of the final and most far reaching projects done by the students of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment is this one by Anna Laprise and Avatar Simpson.
They have not only done a great deal of research, they have also taken their message to the public. They are working on the Connecticut College campus, and hope to bring their message to the greater New London community. They also had an interview on the campus radio station. This was followed by an interview with The New London Day; the article ran Saturday, and can be found here
Belowis their project summary and I'm including some of the links and resources they used. Many thanks to MaryEllen Mateleska Director of Education and Conservation at the Mystic Aquarium, for getting this movement started locally, keeping it going, and mentoring these two students.
Avalonia Land Conservancy supports these efforts. We don’t just preserve the land, but aim to protect the waterways and oceans that surround us all.
Beth Sullivan

Anna Laprise and Avatar Simpson have tackled a global issue and have gotten a good start on their home campus.

Stop Sucking is a project aimed at promoting the reduction or elimination plastic straw use. This is an extremely important cause due to the negative effects straws have on the environment. To give a sense of the magnitude of the issue, everyday in the United States alone 500 million plastic straws are used. This is enough straws to circle the earth 2.5 times in just one day. Furthermore, due to the type of plastic used in the production of straws, they are unable to be recycled. Thus, every plastic straw that has ever been used is still on the planet, either in the ocean or in a landfill. With these things in mind, it is unsurprising that straws are one of the most littered products in the world.

After hearing these staggering figures, it is important to look at what we, as consumers, can do to help positively impact our environment. One alternative to plastic straws is to simply go without. On average an American uses two straws daily, so one individual skipping straws for one year would save approximately 730 straws. If skipping a straw isn’t an option, a second alternative would be to use paper straws that are either biodegradable or compostable, or switch to reusable straws. Both options would significantly reduce waste, and have a less negative effect on the environment.

Finally, a great way to combat the use of straws can be done by local coffee shops, and restaurants. A simple step that can be taken to limit straw use is to not automatically provide straws. The common saying “out of sight, out of mind,” is an extremely effective method for limiting straw use. Furthermore, a second step that local businesses can take to limit straw use is to advertise the benefits of skipping on a straw. When using positive reinforcement, people feel more motivated to limit their straw use, and leaves an everyone wins sentiment among all parties. As such, these two simple steps can vastly decrease straw use.
Typical Straw Waste on Beaches around the World
Let's work to eliminate straws on the beach.
Photo from

In summary, due to the negative environmental effects that straws have on our planet, it is extremely important that everyone does what they can to limit their straw use. There are easy fixes to this large problem that can be done at a personal level or on a business level. As we continue to promote the Stop Sucking initiative at Connecticut College, and in local communities, we want to thank Avalonia Land Conservancy and the Mystic Aquarium for inspiring this project, and for being stewards of this initiative. Specifically, Beth Sullivan, an Avalonia Land Conservancy volunteer, has been an integral component of this project, without her help, this movement wouldn't be where it is now.

Monday, April 23, 2018

GNCE tackles the wild asparagus of Dodge Paddock

By Alan Lau
This week on our Avalonia Adventures, the GNCE sophomores had a workday at Dodge Paddock (2.6 acres) and Beal Preserve (1.08 acres) in Stonington, Connecticut. The beautiful property is right on the coast, filled with a variety of plants and animals. The Beal family donated the portion of land we were working on and had the rights to continue gardening there until Mrs Beal died almost two years ago. Our challenge that day was to dig up Asparagus plants. The roots were well established in the fertile soil, so it was quite a challenge for me to get them out at first. Asparagus are in the Lily family along with the onion, garlic, and tulip. The vegetable goes back to the early 3000 BC when Romans first cultivated it. The crop is grown all around the world and has a variety of species.
As we dug up the roots, the strong winds cooled us down. It was a nice 60 degrees F, and everyone was in high spirits and excited to get the job done. Shovels, gloves, and rakes were passed out. I grabbed a shovel, began to play some Bob Marley, and dug away. At first it was confusing trying to get the roots out. Trying to pull them out by force clearly wasn't the optimal strategy, as the roots were really deep and interconnected throughout the healthy soil. Luckily, my amazing peer Jonathan showed me his awesome shoveling technique. He carefully placed the shovel on the side of the roots and began to kick the shovel into the dirt with both his legs. One could hear the sweet crackle of the roots breaking as the shovel penetrated the soil. Once the roots broke free , they were ready to be pulled out. It was quite surprising how easy it was to get them out of the soil. It was also really nice to find enormous earthworms. They were so large due to the great amount of organic material that was in the soil after all the years of amazing gardening techniques. It was kept up with tender love and care and provided lots of vegetables and flowers.
In past years, Mrs Beal's garden was filled with beautiful flowers and great vegetables.

A little music from Marcus made everyone happy.

Everyone dug in to dig out those Asparagus roots.

Nothing wasted

After a couple of hours working on the roots, we gathered them up where they would be claimed by the North Stonington Garden Club members who would sell them at their annual plant sale. We transported a lot of other organic debris over to an area that was undermined along the old seawall. We filled a lot of holes. We also took some time to explore the preserve and enjoy the new benches that were installed that day by other Avalonia volunteers.
Our GNCE professor Jen went out to get everyone lunch. While waiting for Jen to get back, I began to look at some gulls stationed on a rock about 10 feet away from me. They had yellow beaks that were pointed at me after I began whistling to attract their attention; it worked for a second until the birds went their way. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Finally, Jen had come back with lunch. The ravenous students quickly formed a line behind one another to acquire their meal. However, some were distracted by Anne’s dog Riley who made another guest appearance. Our meal was enhanced by Anne’s cookies and juice! In all, it was a good day at Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve.
The GNCE clean up team.

Lifting the full tarp was a bit of a challenge.

Two special volunteers installed a couple of new benches on the Paddock.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and GNCE students.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Ultimate Frisbee Club tackles Japanese Barberry

By Alan Lau
GNCE at Connecticut College

Saturday, April 7, was an exciting day for Johnathan Monderer as he got twenty other volunteers, mostly from the Conn College Ultimate Frisbee Club, to join him in Paffard Woods, Stonington, CT to help pull Barberry plants which had invaded the stream line woodlands. The Japanese Barberry, or Berberis thunbergii, was brought to the United States in 1875 as an ornamental plant and promoted as a replacement for common Barberry. The plant was not considered a problem until the 1980’s when it began to spread. These weeds form dense stands that compete with native trees and herbaceous plants. The weed has naturalized as far north as Nova Scotia, south to North Carolina, and west to Montana. It has invaded a total of 31 states, with 17 states designating it as invasive. (Learn more at the National Invasive SpeciesInformation Center and here.) Japanese Barberry is a dense woody shrub with lots of spines connected to the branches. Its usual growth is about three feet high, but it occasionally reaches up to six feet. Flowers appear in May, and the fruits - red oblong berries - persist on the plant into the following winter.
The Connecticut College Barberry pulling Ultimate Frisbee team.

When cut, Barberry stems show a bright yellow sap.

The invasive plants leaf out earlier than native plants and  create a green mist in the wetlands.

The plants come out easily with roots intact.

Chilly day

The first hour was a bit chilly, about forty degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily, after the first hour of work, the sun came out to give us a nice wave of warmth and comfort. Some of us might have gotten a bit too comfortable as I and two other students ended up falling knee deep into the stream and getting all our clothes wet. The other difficult part of pulling these invasives were the spines that would pick you almost every time you tried pulling one out. You could hear the volunteers yelping from the distance each time they pulled out a plant. The last thing all volunteers had to worry about were the ticks. The Barberry creates a perfect living environment for ticks which can carry diseases like Lyme disease, granulocytic anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. (Click here to learn more.)
The longer I worked the more I began to get into a meditative state in which my senses felt enhanced. I started to hear the birds whistle, the laughter from my peers, and the sound of water gently flowing down the stream. It is quite fascinating how one can forget about all the clutter in their lives as they focus on the objective of pulling invasive Barberry plants.
Each volunteer is an essential cog in the machine that is Avalonia. Both young and old volunteers played a role in forming efficient lines to make the labor go by faster and easier. By the third hour things were ready to wrap up. All the remaining invasives we had pulled were dragged up the hill to parking area where Anne. N provided her famous Cookies and Juice for the volunteers. However, once we got to the top, the volunteers ignored the snacks at first and went straight for her dog Riley. Yup, there is nothing that a college club frisbee player loves more than a good dog. After a few minutes of mingling and photos, everyone departed on their way home.

Project leader Jonathan with all the pulled barberry, some in bags, but most in piles by the trail that will be chopped up and removed.

It wasn't all hard work.

Blogger Alan Lau recording the event on his phone.

Photographs by the students of Connecticut College.