Monday, May 20, 2019

A damper on a sunny day

By Beth Sullivan
Mother’s Day was forecast to be quite miserable, weather-wise, and it was. The Saturday before was a glorious day; so I declared my own personal Mother’s Day to do what I loved best; be outside and in the woods. However, I didn’t have my kids and grandkids with me, which would have made it perfect. Sometimes it’s nice to have an unplanned, dedicated fun day in the sun.
A pileated woodpecker family makes their home in these woods.

Star flower (Trientalis borealis) was a lovely surprise. 

It really didn’t work out that way

It started off well. Three of us decided to install the preserve sign for the Woodlot Sanctuary. It has been a long time coming. For some reason it has been impossible to find someone willing and able to help us create Avalonia’s well known brown and yellow preserve signs. One of our dedicated stewards did it the hard way, using hand router, not with a new, easy, computerized machine. It looks great but the labor is just way too intensive to keep up with our needs. So on this beautiful morning the fellows got to work digging the holes for the posts. They do not call this town Stonington without good reason. While they rearranged stones to create two properly aligned holes, I decided to walk off the trails a bit, explore some of the places I hadn’t yet investigated. That’s where part of the trouble started.
In some of the most beautiful spring wetlands, dappled with greens and violets and yellows, there was trash. Items of plastic must have washed down the stream during the heavy rains. Deep in the woods I found a pen, several empty cans, a Styrofoam cup, and a plastic bag. That got me started. I continued walking along the roadside, inside our wall at first, and was so disappointed to find a high volume of litter that had been chucked over the wall, likely from passing cars. There were some big old pieces: fuel containers, a big metal pail, and a big plastic contractors’ bucket. But mostly it was just stupid, senseless, discarded trash.
An entire dump in one spot. I can't imagine why?

The redbellied woodpeckers called from their nest hole. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The variety of waste would make a great sociology study.

Still some hope

Walking along the road in that area is a little challenging, because the road curves, there is no shoulder and sight lines are poor. But after grabbing a second trash bag from the truck, I continued along the roadside. Lots of alcohol bottles; big ones and many tiny nips. There were also beer cans, soda bottles, energy drinks, and water bottles. Then there was the plastic trash: bags, balloons, take out containers, and cups. Why can’t people just wait until they get home to ditch their leftovers? By the time I finished both sides of the wall, on one side of the street, I had filled two large garbage bags one of which leaked some kind of fluid all over my clothes. This was NOT what I had planned. I was so saddened by the thoughtlessness and laziness of people. It was depressing. One older man drove by and gave me a thumbs up and a thank you. There is hope.
By the time I got back to the parking lot, there were two perfect holes and a sign almost ready to be nailed together. The sun sparkled through the new spring green foliage. A pair of red-bellied woodpeckers chorused from their nest site by the parking area. We were serenaded by woodland warblers and a pileated woodpecker flew right by to hammer out his message on a big tree trunk.
The small seedlings planted by the Cub Scouts a couple of weeks ago have been well watered by all our rains. There really is so much beauty at this time of year, and I want to have faith that the majority of the people are well intentioned and caring.
I am not sure what is wrong with those few who insist on using our roadsides and wetlands as places to toss their trash.
The Woodlot Sanctuary finally has its sign. It welcomes visitors to come and enjoy a lovely walk in the woods. Enjoy this beautiful time of year. It ended up being a lovely pre-Mother’s Day in the sun.
Thanks to Rick for making the sign and working with Jim to install it.

The wetlands in the Woodlot Sanctuary should all be this pristine. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Connecticut College wrap up

Another semester with the students of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment (GNCE) has come to an end. The students presented their final projects last Tuesday evening, and once again I am awed by their accomplishments. Keep an eye on our website for some new additions reflecting their efforts.
One group scanned several volumes of newspaper clippings of Avalonia’s history, and then once digitized, they were labeled and organized. These will eventually be put on line in an archive and will be available for all to enjoy and not just remain hidden, yellowing, in binders.
Another group expanded the Hike and Seek program to include the new Tri-Town Ridgeline Forest Preserve. There were two loops created, targets found and photo clues developed. These will need some final editing and formatting before they are added to the webpage, but we are working on it.
A third group created an online wildlife booklet with examples of typical creatures that could be spotted on Avalonia’s preserves, based on the types of habitats they are found in. They have included mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and birds with photos and fun facts. Once edited, this booklet will be linked to Hike and Seek as well as to our preserve pages.
The last group took over our Instagram account and tried to teach some of us older dogs, some new tricks. I am including in this post, their very helpful step-by-step instructions, so share your photos on Instagram while you are out and about on Avalonia’s Preserves. These will show up if you follow Avalonia as well as possibly being posted on our website, too.

Thank you to all the GNCE students and their professor Jen Pagach for a wonderfully helpful and creative semester.  
Sample page from Wildlife Booklet.

Creating an Instragram Account

Hello readers, we are Julia Whelan and Grace Neale from Connecticut College. As student members of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment, we were tasked this semester with creating a project that would benefit Avalonia and improve their outreach efforts. We decided that the most effective way to reach more people was to revamp their Instagram account. As social media gains momentum, sites like Instagram are phenomenal ways to gain an audience for an organization. Instagram is a photo-sharing app for smartphones, so for a group like Avalonia that owns copious amounts of gorgeous nature photos it is an ideal platform. We have used the account to encourage participation as well as advertise events. Although we originally took over the Instagram account to reach a younger audience, we want everyone to enjoy this app. Below are instructions on how to operate your own account. Just be sure to click on the magnifying glass and type in @avalonialandconservancy to follow us and see our photos when we post them.

Setting up an account:
To set up an Instagram account, download the app and type in your email address or phone number and create a username (which will begin with @) and a password.

Make a post:
Once you have created an account on your mobile device, click the plus sign with a square around it on the lower center of your screen (seen below), which will bring you to the next screen.

Selecting photos:
Photos from your camera roll will be shown for you to select from. By clicking the button circled in red, you can select multiple photos to post.

Editing photos:
Once you have selected your photo(s), you can edit them on the next screen, either by adding filters (underlined below), or manually adjusting lighting, etc by clicking the edit button. When you are finished, click Next.

On this screen, you can add a caption, hashtags, tag people, and add the location where the photo was taken, before it is posted. Hashtags generally go at the end of the caption using the # symbol and are a way to broadcast your post to more viewers. Posts using the same hashtag are grouped together on Instagram so users can easily find more posts that are similar to one another.

So POST something!

Monday, May 6, 2019

An Arbor Day effort

By Beth Sullivan
Arbor Day has been around as long as I can remember. That’s because they will be celebrating 150 years of inspiring people to plant trees, in 2022. The Arbor Day Foundation was created in 1972 on the centennial anniversary of the first Arbor Day observance .
When I was young, we ordered small seedling trees to plant on a family farm. We did it other years as Scouts and then later when my own kids were in 4-H. I never really took time to research the Arbor Day Foundation until just recently, and that was thanks to yet another encounter with kids planting trees to help the planet. It is a great website with lots of interesting information about trees from all over and their amazing significance to the health of our world. You can find out more about Arbor Day here.  
The wetland woods are a perfect place for red maples.

Scout service project

Recently a new member, Jeff Alexander, contacted me about possible projects for his son’s Cub Scout pack to do to help Avalonia. With Arbor Day and Earth Day all at the end of April, they had decided to get some tree seedlings from the Foundation and wanted to find a good place to plant them. It’s always so tempting to obtain fun and fancy flowering plants, which is fine if you are establishing them on your own home property, but on a nature preserve we are obliged to keep things as native and close to local types as possible. There was quite a variety of species offered, but they decided, wisely, on species that are native to this area and would happily survive if given the right spot to set down their roots.
We wanted to find a preserve that would provide easy access for the kids, where they could work without too much trouble and bring supplies for the work day. These were young Cub Scouts, and we wanted to make sure they had a good experience. We chose the Woodlot Sanctuary in Stonington, their home town, for its ease of access and variety of habitats to suit the needs of the seedlings. Jeff and I met ahead of time to identify where each species might work best, and set stakes in to mark the spots. We knew the red maples require moist soils so the wetlands adjacent to the entrance area would be perfect. The oaks required more upland soils. More than a decade ago there had been some harvesting done on the property, and there remained some old oak stumps and areas of openings where we knew the seedlings would be happy. Those areas of richer soils would also be ideal for the hoped for sugar maples. There are also two big old pine trees on the preserve. It is where I most frequently see our barred owl and one of the few areas with any evergreen coverage at all. We chose that area for planting a nice number of white pine seedlings so that someday, those pines will grow up and provide a small grove of protection for more owls.
It took a team to get the big rock out of the ground.

Celebrating successful rock removal and a perfect hole for planting.

White pine seedlings await planting.

Enthusiastic Cub Scouts at work

The day of planting arrived: Saturday April 27th, and, as were getting used to, it was raw and damp. There were a few no-shows, but the pack arrived: four dads, four Scouts and a couple of siblings. They came with lots of enthusiasm! We talked a little about why each plant needed a special spot, and they came very well prepared with water and mulch and even wire caging to deter deer browsing. Digging in the woods is not easy, there are lots of roots to work around, and of course the occasional buried boulder. Dads came in very handy for those efforts but the kids provided a big cheering team.
It took a couple of hours to get them all placed and planted. Over all there were about 20 seedlings planted. The sugar maples were not available at this time. Jeff and his own kids stayed longer to make sure all were properly caged and secured. There are stakes near each plant with the scout’s name on it. Ownership might encourage a deeper interest in the future of their tree, and the forest as a whole. They are encouraged to visit, bring water during summer dry times, and I promised the group a guided hike when the weather gets nicer.
I don’t know how to guess percentages, but I might think that kids engaged in projects such as this will have a far higher rate of being interested in caring for the Earth. Right now our Mother Earth needs all the help she can get. There is absolutely nothing more hopeful than planting a tree.
Thank you to Stonington Cub Scout Pack 37 and their leaders.
Proud to be from Pack 37.

Making sure each seedling got water.

The Scouts put their name on a stake beside their plants.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Walking in the wet woods

By Beth Sullivan
It is spring, and we all know about April showers…but these downpours! They are making life a little difficult for some of us, but excellent for others. The drought is over; the water table is high; amphibians are very happy.
Some projects need to be delayed due to high water and very muddy conditions. The Hoffman Forest restoration project is still on hold until conditions can dry out more. Mud is terrible on heavy machinery. There are plans to do trail work and bridge repair on several preserves. Our second work party on Pequotsepos Brook was delayed, due to more down pours and flooding. Paffard Woods trails are also due for maintenance and bridge rebuilding, but with water so high it is nearly impossible. However, a walk in the spring wet woods is quite wonderful. So we put aside the projects and just enjoy the season as it is.
Avalonia preserves many beautiful wetlands which are productive and critical habitats. Many protect drinking water supplies. Wetlands also protect numerous species of special concern. In the not too distant past, wetlands were allowed to be filled and developed. Now they are protected and cherished.
Skunk cabbage flowers have been siting inconspicuously for months

Some projects need to wait for the water to subside.

In Paffard Woods

On a recent walk through Paffard Woods, we had time to enjoy this lovely area with rocks and ridges and a central beautiful brook. Generations ago the brook was named Stony Brook and the water flowed freely from farther north in town, all the way to Quanaduck Cove and into the Stonington Harbor. We have some old maps that show the passage of the waters. Then a dam was built to create what is known as Sylvia’s Pond. The main flow over the dam took a more westward route, and kept the name Stony Brook. It ultimately ends up in Stonington Harbor too, but in a different area. A smaller outflow follows the old stream bed and is mostly referred to as Sylvia’s Pond Brook. This is the lovely waterway flowing through Paffard Woods Preserve.
The wetlands in here are pretty typical for this area. They green up earliest in the spring. For months the skunk cabbage flowers have been inconspicuously present close to the ground. Those of us who know and love the plant, search for it every early spring. Now the flowers are dwarfed by their very conspicuous big green leaves that spread throughout the wetlands. Alongside them are the false hellebore plants, looking a bit like short corn stalks. Later, those that are in sunnier areas will have interesting flowers. My favorites are the marsh marigolds, or cowslips, that are glowing bright yellow right now. Along-side them are lovely and delicate purple violets. Mother Nature knew about complementary colors putting those two together.
We are also very excited to see several large areas covered with the speckled leaves of the trout lily, also called dog-toothed violet. These are very ephemeral wildflowers, their bloom doesn’t last long, and even their leaves die back after a few months. These and many other woodland wildflowers take advantage of the open canopy to enjoy the sunshine before the trees themselves leaf out. Spicebush is a shrub that is also taking advantage of the early spring sun, to create a lacey haze of soft yellow flowers at a higher level off the ground.
In this old map, Stony Brook runs its original course, before Sylvia's Pond was created. (Map of unknown providence.)

The best spring combination- marsh marigolds, purple violets, and big green skunk cabbage leaves.

Early Invasives

The only sobering fact about observing these woodlands now, is that it is obvious that the invasive plants are the very first to leaf out, green up and take over. It is their successful strategy for bullying their way to take over space in an area. Here in Paffard woods, the greenery now is deceiving. Much of the mass of delicate foliage is actually invasive Japanese Barberry. This plant is terrible: impossible to walk through, impossible to manage, and a known habitat for ticks.
Enjoy a walk along a trail in the wild, wet woodlands. Look for the delicate flowers; look for the hardy ones too. But stay out of the barberry. As we have all heard before: please take only photos and do not pick the flowers. That’s what a conservation mission is all about: the next generation of people and flowers.
The fleeting beauty of a trout lily.

Vernal wetlands are filled, and the yellow haze is created by the spicebush in bloom.

All the green in this photo is foliage of Japanese Barberry.

False Hellebore flowers are often overlooked but are quite pretty.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The power of water

By Beth Sullivan
Many of Avalonia’s trails are on properties that have some significant history. In so many areas we encounter huge oak trees, old stone walls, fence posts, and cart paths, all clues about the history of the land.
A stone span crosses the brook in a quieter season.

The brook in flood.

Historical preserve

Our Pequotsepos Brook Preserve is one of those. We have had several research projects done on the property that help explain the history of the land in that area. Some of this information is on our website for easy reading here.
The center of interest on this preserve, and in its history, is the Pequotsepos Brook that has its origins up the Quoquetaug Hill where waters emerge and gently flow downhill until they merge more completely at Jerry Browne Road and Coogan Boulevard. Of course those roads were not present generations ago. But Jerry Browne Road may have been a roadway considering some of the older homes and farms along the lane.
Through the course of history, the brook needed to be crossed for farm or commerce, and in these areas bridges were made by positioning huge flat stones over the stream bed, allowing the water to flow freely and allowing easy, dry passage. The stone bridges are in existence today, and the old paths remain as the basis for several pathways collectively referred to as the Stone Bridges Trail. The entire trail system contains three brook crossings over stone bridges and offers views of several other beautiful stone spans .
We have to assume that there have been big rain storms over the last century that these bridges were in existence. We know there have been hurricanes and other destructive storms, but through it all the paths and bridges remained intact.
Until recently. Is it a sign of the changing climate that the weather has been wetter or that the storms in the last months have been more intense rain events? Maybe it is because of increased development upstream where the landscape has lost its vegetative cover which used to slow the rain and absorb the water slowly and gently. Whatever is the cause, the intense rain storms have caused serious flooding along the brook and in one area in particular, have caused serious erosion of the trail. One of the most beautiful and exposed of the stone bridges has now had the trail on either end of it washed away. Left behind are exposed tree roots and only the largest of the rocks. The power of the water washed away soil, gravel and smaller rocks. The footing is tricky. We need to repair it and the challenge is bigger than I can manage.
Near the quarry rocks are exposed and creations have been built.

Old trees, stone walls, and fence posts hint of the history in this preserve.

These huge stones were placed to cross the brook and allow the water to flow easily. 

Trails Team goes to work

Enter the Avalonia Trails Team and some hard working Connecticut College Students. We had the area properly reviewed by our wetland commission chairperson to make sure we could work in the area. Then the Trails Team leader came in to assess, and together with others, we tossed around some ideas. We don’t want to cover up the old stones with a wooden bridge, but we need to stabilize the footing and still allow the water to flow through in flood situations.
There is also an old quarry on the property with an abundance of rocks available in all sizes, and many with lovely flat surfaces. That is another piece of interesting history. The challenge was transporting rocks from one place, to another via a very bumpy, uneven, and often muddy path. On Saturday April 13, ten students from the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College arrived to experience a day of real stewardship. Of course it had been raining hard the night before, and the brook itself was once again in raging flood stage. In a move referred to as adaptive management, we changed plans. We approached from another entrance, and for several hours the students moved rocks-lots of rocks. Down a long and muddy path. Delivered to the site now, they await the next stage. The Trails Team will work on the next phase: wrangling some of the bigger rocks out of the quarry and down to the main path to use as stabilizers and step stones.
This whole process is likely to take more than just a couple more work parties. In the end, we hope to have a stabilized trail for walking, as well as a way to allow flood waters to flow around or through it without washing it away each time it rains hard.
If you have an interest in history, if you enjoy team work and want to make a difference to preserving the trail (or others) and maintaining a lovely area for many, many hikers, give us a call. The Avalonia website describes the Trails Team and we can get you in touch with the leader.
Those giant bridge stones remained intact, but the surrounding area needs a hand. Let us know if you can offer one. At the very least, come out sometime and enjoy the trails and consider the history.
It was a team effort to load and haul the rocks.

The team from Connecticut College after several hours of rock moving.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.