Monday, September 18, 2017

Fall Fungi Finds

by Beth Sullivan
As we wind down summer and gardens are going to fruit and seeds, it is also the season of the Mushroom. Fungi fans are overjoyed with recent rains and humidity which are the perfect conditions for the explosion of mushrooms we are seeing now.
As most people know, there are mushrooms that are considered edible and very desirable delicacies. There are also a huge number that are inedible and many that are actually deadly. Mushroom hunting for food is to be undertaken only by the knowledgeable. The rest of us can hunt with our cameras.
Look around your yard; there are numerous small capped mushrooms that pop up after a rain. In the darker, damper woods, they are present on the forest floor and on dead wood stumps throughout the late summer and early fall.
A Kid's favorite- Puffball mushroom

A prized beauty, the Chicken of the Woods.

Members of the Amanita family are all deadly.

A kingdom to itself

Fungi are in a Kingdom of their own. They are not plants at all, and surely they are not animals, but you would be surprised at some of their characteristics. They do not have true roots, or a vascular system, or flowers and seeds. They contain no chlorophyll so are unable to make their own food utilizing nutrients and sunlight. Have you noticed there are no real GREEN mushrooms? They rely on obtaining their nutrients from the decay process that they are part of on the forest floor, within all the dead plant material that is present there. They absorb their food through this process, rather than eating it or making it. Mushrooms are actually the visible, spore producing bodies of a largely underground network of rhizome threads that comprise a fungus. The spread of the rhizomes extends great distances but only one or two mushrooms may emerge. In other cases, many will pop up in the same area.
Some are very specific, dependent for their survival on certain species of living trees, dead trees, or in soil with very narrow ranges of pH (soil acidity). But here’s a fun fact: the outer tough skin of many mushrooms is made of chitin, which is the same material as the shells of lobsters and crabs. Strange organisms.
Along with a wide variation in color, they also take many forms: the familiar umbrella, ruffles, shelves, “turkey tails” and puffballs. If you have ever come upon a solid white ball on your lawn and think “golf ball”, experiment a little. A firm young puffball will be white all the way through and have a pleasing earthy smell. But wait a few weeks and you will find a puffball that has become browner with age. A touch with your toe or a flick of the finger will make it puff -explode with fine black dust-which is all the spores contained within. All mushrooms reproduce by releasing dusty spores.
It's easy to see why these are called Turkey Tails.

These are very strange and slimy looking. 

My Giant Hen of the Woods.

What's in your backyard?

On a recent wander around my yard, I was astounded to find a huge mound of a ruffled looking mushroom. Closer inspection and research confirmed it to be a Hen of the Woods, a very sought after, edible mushroom. I was confident in its identification, so I harvested it, cleaned it, and ended up with over 15 pounds of useable edible mushroom pieces. I discarded at least four pounds of stump, stem and soiled material. This was a HUGE find. The going price for such a mushroom could be up to $30 a pound or more. Instead I shared it, froze it and ate it. Maybe it will resprout in the same area next year.
Please keep your eyes open for some beautiful, colorful and very interesting inhabitants of the forest floor. Avoid having children touch them and instruct on proper caution. But a good idea would be to use your camera or a sketch pad to enjoy them.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Weather, Water and Changes

By Beth Sullivan
I am a weather geek.I watch the Weather Channel even when there is nothing exciting going on. But I would imagine with everything that has been happening in the last several weeks, even the most un-interested, non-weather watcher would be engaged and impressed. I am somewhat depressed.
In addition to sending thoughts and prayers to all the people in harm’s way and suffering as a result of such devastating storms, I can’t help but hope it opens the eyes of those who do not believe that things are changing. Even if there is disbelief about the cause of the change, it is impossible to deny that more and more people are being affected by the increased severity of storms, the rising surging water, and the after-effects of disease and displacement. There are too many people living in places that are seriously threatened.
I also tend to think about the effects on wildlife and natural resources. We are so caught up in the trauma to human populations, but what about those species that have lived along the coast forever? Certainly some of them are devastated, but some adapt. For millions of years the sea-land interface has been buffeted by hurricanes and the native wildlife has managed to survive. They hunker down, dig in, swim deep, fly away, but somehow they managed. With hardscapes and highways covering so much coastal territory now, how do many of them survive in this era?
When tons of debris-plastic, metal and chemical-float down and off the land and end up in the ocean, how will the creatures understand how to avoid the dangers? My guess is they won’t. They have a hard enough time with balloons and plastic bags already. What about the petroleum products , household chemicals, and industrial chemicals that are leaching into the waters and may settle in marshes and mud or keep being suspended in the water. In a situation like this, human life will come first, and attention to clean up in wild places will certainly take a back seat.
I walked a few preserves today in the lovely sun of September, feeling almost guilty for enjoying it so much. I enjoyed the Monarchs and birds that will be migrating south in the next weeks. But I began to think about elevations and relationship to storm surge like they are predicting in so many places. In Knox Preserve, there are already places that get flooded when the seasonal storm and full moon tides occur. Much of the preserve is only a few feet above the water. A surge of 5 feet would bring water up and over the walls and across the paths and out to the fields. Ten feet would bring it over the railroad tracks. This is a surge, like a tidal wave, not just a rogue tall wave. It would not retreat quickly.
Most of Knox Preserve is only a few feet above sea level and all the land beyond is of similar elevation. Photograph by Roger Wolfe.

During Sandy, this water was only a few feet higher than a usual high tide.

Imagine a storm surge fifteen feet above the height of the dry land- that's close to the top of these trees.

Even fro the safety of ten feet above sea level, it's easy to see how the railroad will be affected.

Superstorm Sandy

We had a taste of the power of water during Super storm Sandy in 2012. Not even close to a category 4 or 5 hurricane. But at Dodge Paddock, the water surged over the rocks , broke down solid sea walls, deposited debris over the entire area and changed the water dynamics and plant life forever. We are still dealing with the effects.
Natural, expansive salt marshes, like Woolworth Porter and Cottrell Marshes and those at Barn Island, are nature’s shock absorbers. When the waters pile in high and deep, the plants adapt. They buffer the surge and in that way protect those homes and structures that are higher and beyond them. When waters recede, there will be debris, clean-up will be needed, but the natural marshes absorb, detoxify, and gradually revive without too much intervention.

The power of water cannot be underestimated.  Photograph by Binti Ackley. 

When the water recedes and the sun comes out, there is the aftermath to deal with. Photograph by Binti Ackley.
This aerial photo of Woolworth Porter Marsh illustrates where the water can flow and how the marsh can be a buffer for the water. Photograph by David Young.

The landscape in places like Florida has been altered so much already, and the water levels have risen under the ground, that flooding water has no place to go.
I pray these storms make a lot of people think. Things are truly getting worse. The storms are more intense, the sea levels are higher, ocean temperatures are warmer, the populations along the shore are more dense. More people are at risk, and they are displacing the very habitats and ecosystems that are best able to withstand the changes. The long-term effects will be wide reaching.
Go outside today and think about what 10 or 15 feet of water would look like against your home, or against some trees and shrubs in your favorite coastal preserve. Think of the wildlife that calls these places home. Maybe give some thought to how we as communities and as individuals can think to the future to protect what we have and plan for the future.
This is just my opinion. Beth

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Looking Closely

By Beth Sullivan
Having spent the last several days with my almost 3 year old grandson, I really haven’t had time to think of a new topic for a blog, never mind write and get photographs. But when I thought about it more, he was the one who inspired this. Everything is new and special and exciting. He gets up CLOSE to everything. Being shorter he can peek under leaves and get nearer to the ground. Having better eyesight he spies things that I could miss. As we roamed around this weekend, we explored several areas that I frequent. Taking him with me allowed me to see things through his eyes, and it was a joy!
It is a challenge to all, to look at things differently: look under, around and close.
So here are some photos of what we found, and maybe some observations and questions that maybe only a three year old can think of!
Hopping on the rocks is like a puzzle to find the best way.

How come grown ups don't climb the trees to get the real red ones?

The little shrimp inside this clam is going to hop out. Can we eat the shrimp?

There are a million little things in here and a lot of them are moving.

This bug's wings are a maze but you can see through them.

What are they doing grammie?  "Umm, mating so she can lay more eggs."

What is the lump in that web? "The spider caught an insect and wrapped it up so she can eat it later."

Which end is the head? It looks the same. "The end with the long antennae has the head, mouth and six real legs."

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, August 28, 2017

A New Preserve at its Best

By Beth Sullivan
We have enjoyed a beautiful stretch of weather. About the best one could ask for as summer begins to wind down. While there is truly almost another month of formal summer, we can tell by sights and sounds that we are nearing the turn to Autumn.
This preserve was acquired months ago, and is at its peak right now.

By daytime we still hear Cicadas buzzing during the heat of the day. In the evening, the cricket chorusing sounds remarkably like a pond full of spring peepers. This is now the season of insects as those crickets and katydids take over the twilight.
On Saturday, a group of Avalonia friends gathered to explore the Samuel Lamb and Forsberg Preserve in Ledyard. It is one of Avalonia’s newest preserves, located on the corner of Shewville Rd. and Town Farm Rd. It was a generous donation by William Forsberg and his son, Daniel, in honor of William’s Grandfather, Samuel Lamb, a long-time resident and landowner in the area.
It is a small preserve, only about 6 acres, but it is true proof that some of the very best things do come in small packages. Years ago it was likely a pasture or farm field, and had grown up and become shrubby with less desirable plants and invasives. Upon donation, a plan was developed to manage it as a meadow to maintain plant species for wildlife, particularly pollinators. With only one season of mowing and an intense effort to cut out and remove the invasives, this year the meadow is already a haven for all manner of creatures.
Birds, insects, small mammals, and people all enjoy the preserve.

Dragonflies hunted, soared, and landed.

Amazingly diverse

The preserve is amazingly diverse for such a small parcel. From a higher, drier, field habitat, the land slopes to a wet meadow and the vegetation changes accordingly. In the dry meadow are a variety grasses and Goldenrods with a number of other wildflowers throughout. There were two kinds of milkweeds and we searched for Monarch caterpillars but didn’t find any. The adult Monarch butterflies, however, were present in good numbers, confirming that this is, indeed, a great comeback year for the species. As we walked toward the wetter end of the meadow, the Joe Pye Weeds and Iron Weed plants towered over our heads. We stood eyeball to eyeball with numerous butterflies that were nectaring on them. There were also hundreds of bees, hornets, wasps and flies that created a soft buzz and a sense of constant motion at the flower tops. There were wetland ferns: Sensitive, Marsh and Royal, as well as rushes, sedges and mosses that require wetter soils. At the edge of the field, the wetland shrubs began to dominate: Spicebush, Winterberry, Alder, Viburnums Dogwoods and Blueberries. Every shrub held the promise of an abundance of berries that will ripen in the next weeks and months to provide food for a great number of birds through fall and even into winter. A few yards deeper into the woods, ran a clear stream that makes its way into Old Mystic and ultimately the Mystic River.
The Goldenrod hosted numerous species of bees, wasps, and others, all intent on nectar.

The Monarchs favored the Joe-Pye Weed.

It is an easy walk

A mowed trail cuts a swath down the length of the preserve and a small loop curves toward the stream and wetland. A family with a stroller and some little ones who became enamored of the popping “Touch-Me-Not “ Jewelweeds, made their way with relative ease. And one hiker boasted of being almost 90, and managed with care.
One caution: as in most meadows, where all plants grow abundantly and lushly, so does the poison ivy, so be careful not to stray off the trail without being aware of this.
It will stay this way for several more weeks; the Goldenrod has yet to peak. With it will come even more butterflies. There is a lot to see in this little piece of Ledyard. While it will hold interest in all seasons, it is in the high summer time that preserve really shines. Take a little hike. It will not disappoint.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Wish Come True

By Beth Sullivan
Decades ago, when we moved to our home in Stonington, one of the biggest draws for me was our small, two acre woodlot. To me it was huge. Combined with everyone else’s two acres, and then the adjoining parcels, the whole forest area was probably more like 75 acres of woods and wetlands. It was heaven. Back then, a group of local women rode their horses through our yard to get to the trails up behind us. They assured us “trespassing” was OK, and we began to wander up to explore it ourselves.
The Big Rock is now cleared and waiting for the dedication plaque.

The beauty of a backyard forest is that it was a safe place to let kids learn to wander and observe: close but yet just far enough away to be adventurous. Of course when they were young we all walked together, listening for birds, learning the trees, turning over rocks and logs, and then fantasizing about forts and rock outcrops and wild animals. We learned how to be quiet and wait for deer and turkey families. We became familiar with our local birds, woodpeckers of all species, and waited for the spring migrants to arrive. It was a very special place, and we always whispered a mental “thank you” to the owners, whoever they were.
One year we found white PVC pipes: perc test pipes, and we feared we would lose this special area. We waited and waited but nothing ever happened.
In the spring, the vernal pools will fill and streams will run.

The forest is in good health with layers of understory.

We know local kids would use ATV’s up there and snowmobiles in winter. They kept the trails open but sure were noisy. We did encounter deer hunters up there and found their stands and bait stations. That was hard to explain to the children. Soon though, it was posted “No Hunting,” and we felt safer.
Years passed, our dream was that it would never be sold, or never developed, or maybe that if it went for sale we could somehow buy it. Big dreams.
Imagine my absolute delight when I heard that someone had approached Avalonia to discuss a way to preserve a large portion of this land.
It became a somewhat complicated tale of complex negotiations, but due to the skill of negotiating and planning, and some very great generosity on behalf of owners and donors, Avalonia now is the proud owner of The Woodlot Sanctuary on Pellegrino Rd. in Stonington.
Finding drill holes and marking the boundaries  is a first stewardship chore.

A long history

I had the great opportunity to meet and talk with two of the donors , George and Nancy Bates, who have family ties to the land, and they explained the story. George and Nancy wrote a narrative for me that will be posted on the Woodlot page on our website.
The two front lots were owned by William and Ann Frohn, and the back lot was owned by the Freeman/ Biddle families from here in Stonington. Back at Christmas in 1935, it was literally gifted to Barbara Freeman Biddle by her father Clayton Eugene Freeman, to be her very own woodlot. To represent the gift, a log was wrapped with a big Red satin bow and presented to her. Over the years the woodlot was visited by the family for fun and for harvesting wood for the family compound on Elihu Island. The kids back then explored like kids now, and named “The Grandfather Oak”, a huge tree that has since fallen to drought, insects, hurricanes or all of the above. The stump remains. That lot was passed to their children, one of whom is Nancy Biddle Bates, wife of George Bates.
George Bates puts hands on the Old Grandfather Oak stump.

In later years the back lot was sold to the Frohns. William and Ann Morton Frohn were conservation minded as well. Avalonia was always on their radar.
In 2010 the plan was developed by George to be able to preserve the entire parcel, all three lots and two lots that were scheduled to be house lots. Thanks to the generosity of both the Bates family and the Frohns, close to 30 acres have now been preserved. The land will be dedicated to Ann Frohn and Barbara Biddle, and at a future date there will be a plaque attached to “The Big Rock” in their honor.
There are some ledges and rocky outcrops to enjoy.

We walked the boundary, passing through some pretty wetland areas.

A healthy forest to visit

I have walked the existing trails and bushwhacked the edges to explore the beautiful uplands which are healthy forest areas with great understory of thicket and berry bushes. There are two wetlands, on the North and South ends of the property. One drains directly into our reservoir; the other waters wander ultimately to Stonington Harbor. We will create and mark trails, develop a management plan, and begin our stewardship chores .
For me those chores will be a pleasure as I won’t be “trespassing” any more. My grown daughters can come back to explore and I can introduce my grandson to the Big Rock and Grandfather Oak who are old friends. My wish came true.
Thank you to the Bates and Frohn families for this generous and thoughtful donation.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.