Monday, January 16, 2017

Winter (?) Woods

by Beth Sullivan
January has the reputation for being a little fickle with a tendency to have a “January Thaw” somewhere near the end. Lately Mother Nature’s mood swings have been a bit more drastic, and all happening in a week’s time.
Last weekend we were snowed in; just shy of a foot of snow fell here, with frigid temperatures. The snow was beautiful, light and fluffy and the woods were cloaked with a purity and crispness that we hadn’t seen yet this season. Judging from the tracks on several of our preserves, a number of people braved the cold to don snow shoes or cross-county skis. I was fine with just boots.
With snow on the ground, the brook was just a series of dark holes in the white.

Visiting Paffard Woods

Paffard Woods is beautiful any time of year. Always something new to see. Because it is close to home, it is a favorite to drop into, to check the trails, look at the water levels in the brook, and, unfortunately, to do a necessary trash pick-up in the parking lot.
The beige leaves of the beech trees remain in contrast to the snow, and rustle in the wind.

With the fresh snow, the trails and woodlands took on a lovely soft rounded and bright look. Thanks to some earlier rain, there was some water in the brook, and the open pockets looked dark and made for pretty contrasts. In some places we could still hear the little gurgle of the brook, not fully frozen, under the snow and between the rocks. It was easy to see where squirrels had dropped into the snow and possibly tried to find previously buried acorns. There were some interesting prints, where birds had landed on the snow, only to find it was probably deeper than expected, and their wings left prints as they lifted themselves out. All in all a cold yet quite lovely hike in the woods.
Something popped out to find a snack.

The soft impression of a bird's wing.

Fast forward just a couple of days; the temperatures hit the upper 50’s, there was heavy rain, and literally overnight the snow disappeared. The warmth seemed to stir more squirrel activity as we saw them foraging through the leaves, but no prints this time. We saw a few moths and hoped they were not the dreaded Winter Moths still out and looking for reproductive opportunities. The feel of the woods was like April. There was almost a humidity to it. The streams were running quite full, and we undammed a few areas where leaves and debris had blocked the flow and created flooding around the bridges. (Playing in running water is fun anytime of year as far as I am concerned.) The water flowing under and through the stone bridge on the middle trail was so beautifully noisy, we just had to stop and listen and spied some evergreen Christmas fern still looking fresh. We noted skunk cabbages up in the wetlands; the moss was an exuberant green on the rocks and ledges, and the lichens were all soft and rubbery from the abundant moisture.
With rain and snow melt, flooding needed to be relieved.

After the thaw, the moss and lichen were refreshed.

The brook is refilled, and the mosses and ferns tease us with their emerald color.

Not Spring yet

I know we are in for more cold. As much as I enjoy the respite and warmth, I know the temperature swings are not good for many plants and animals. We do not want things emerging from hibernation, teased by warmth and thawed wetlands. We do not want to see flower buds begin to swell, all only to be blasted back by the cold we know will come. We do need things to stay in sync. So much depends on it. But it sure is fun to see so much variation in a short time, in a familiar place.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Some goals for this new year

January is a good time for reflection. Where have we been? How did we get here? What could we have done differently? What have we learned?

From David Allen’s blog post “Development for Conservation”

By Beth Sullivan

Sitting on the couch, cuddled into a down blanket with a cup of tea, some throat drops and a box of tissues, and a couple of dogs that just don’t understand-that’s where I have been for the last week. How did I get here? Way too much wonderful Christmas affection that I wouldn’t change for the world. But it has made me sit a bit more and think about that quote above. 
To get very close to see details

Reflecting back on my past New Years’ resolutions , as far as I can remember, they all involve getting out, exploring, looking more closely and appreciating the outdoors. If I do that, it will take care of my secondary resolution to get more exercise.

Being involved with Avalonia, and wanting to get more knowledgeable about the preserves and trails, has given me a lot more incentive to roam. In the past year I enjoyed getting out of my backyard and getting to properties in other towns, properties with trails to explore so I can share them in this blog and on the website. 
To help overcome fears.

For the next generation

Lately, I am feeling a greater sense of urgency in helping the next generations get out and look closely and appreciate the natural world around us. Working on the Hike and Seek project gave me an outlet to accomplish more of that mission. As I walk and wander, I am now thinking about how I would show things to a child by my side. I try to get down lower, look up higher and think with an open curious mind. I am trying to take photos that will help inspire or explain or create curiosity. We started this project as a challenge to find a target or goal, a personal challenge, not a contest, but it has evolved into more of an educational project. People have responded that they enjoy having the photos and explanations to help guide their walk. We are adding educational resources and links as we go along now. Parents have enjoyed looking ahead so they can point things out to their kids, and some of those parents have written back and said they have learned a lot as well. This gives me great hope because I realize more people are actually using the project site to give greater depth to their own outdoor explorations. 
To know where to find something unusual.

There so many distractions, responsibilities and various dangers out in the rest of the world. To me one of the biggest dangers is that we are losing open space with its beauty and diversity, where we can find peace and get away from the distractions and responsibilities of the other lives we have to lead. Our mission as a land trust is to continue to preserve these beautiful and valuable spaces so everyone can continue to find respite. My goal is to help provide the insight into some of these places and the treasures hidden in plain sight, so everyone can understand the importance of our conservation mission and share it with their own children. It is preserved for them and the generations to follow.
To look at ordinary and see extraordinary. 

Direction is clear

So, I know where I have been and I know where I want to go. I have learned a lot, and I have a good idea of what I want to do in the next year: I want to be able to share this even more. 
To look up high for a new view.
To see beauty in soft landscapes.
To spot a jewel.

I ask you to help me. Send your photos and thoughts about the places you wander to I would love to be able to use them to help encourage others to do the same.

I look forward to hearing from you. Happy New Year!

Monday, January 2, 2017

President's message January 2017

Happy New Year to friends and readers of Avalonia eTrails! We will be beginning our fifth year of posting this blog. But more importantly, Avalonia Land Conservancy is beginning its 49th year, and anticipating the celebration of our 50th year.

Under the leadership of our President Dennis Main, the Board of Directors, standing committee and town chairs, and a special ad hoc 50th steering committee, Avalonia is planning to celebrate the milestone. We would love your help.

One of the President’s goals is to keep open lines of communication with members and friends through as many venues as possible. To start the New Year right, this week’s blog is an update from the President. There is a lot to celebrate and a lot to anticipate. He is always willing to take feedback and meet members through his Avalonia email:

Have a great New Year, and please get out and enjoy your preserves. 


President's Message

Happy New Year to our Avalonia Family: Members, Friends and Supporters! It has been a very successful and exciting year for Avalonia, and we look forward to a New Year that continues this success.

We have added more than 5% (179 acres) to our protected preserves which now total over 3,500 acres in our southeastern CT mission area. This recent addition of roughly $1,000,000 value of property was through the extremely generous land gifts from donors we look forward to honoring at our Avalonia Annual Meeting on June 22, 2017. Please read the article on our website by Sue Sutherland, our Acquisition Chair, about our new properties here.
The leaders of our first 50 years.
On the Accreditation front, your current Board of Directors (BOD) has done yeoman service in completing the work necessary for our Accreditation Application to be in the pipeline for approval. Accreditation announcements are due in February 2017. Although our Accreditation application is moving forward, it is not the end of the journey. Re-accreditation happens every five years, and the current BOD is engaged in the continual review and revision of Avalonia Governance documents. Under the guidance of Chair Mike Pernal, the Governance Committee is currently reviewing and updating Town and various Standing Committee Charters as appropriate. Improvements to our By-laws are currently being reviewed for their efficacy, with the BOD already approving an amendment to bring our Fiscal Year into line with the Calendar Year which will greatly simplify our budgeting, accounting and reporting efforts. The BOD has also approved changes to enhance our cash management and internal controls under the direction of Finance Committee Chair and Treasurer Sue Sutherland. 
Avalonia leadership celebrates completion of our accreditation application.

Under the leadership of Stewardship Chair Karen Askins, a new Stewardship manual has been authored and printed for ongoing distribution. It will soon be available on our website for our many volunteer stewards to access. This will augment the many Avalonia Policy and Procedure enhancements that have been made as a result of the recent Land Trust Alliance accreditation Standards and Practices reviews.

Development Committee Chair Richard Conant has been heading up our fundraising planning and implementation efforts for an expected upcoming multi-million grant application and capital campaign to fund acquisition and stewardship of additional marquee properties that have been identified. Property owner requests for Avalonia to preserve their land and the soft real estate market have provided a number of environmentally valuable properties which qualify for possible acquisition.
We will always rely on our dedicated volunteers.
Please see additional articles on our Annual Appeal that Executive Director Heather Milardo has underway. The Annual Appeal is the backbone of funding for our ongoing operations. Our Endowment fund has nearly doubled in the past year thanks to significant one-time donations, and these generous donors will be honored at our Annual Meeting next June. Other greatly appreciated one-time gifts and challenge grants, including BOD raised pledges, have also enabled the perpetual stewardship costs of current year acquisitions to be fully funded within the current year, making an Avalonia historical milestone.
We will continue to collaborate and educate as we maintain our preserves.

On February 21, 2017 Avalonia marks the completion of 49 years of fulfilling its mission. As we embark on our 50th year, we acknowledge all our tremendous donors, members, volunteers, staff and other supporters who have brought us to this point. Our 50th Anniversary Committee will be working to coordinate a full and diverse calendar of celebratory events as we mark this momentous milestone. Please put June 22, 2017 on your calendar for the Annual Meeting to celebrate with us.

Dennis S. Main,


Monday, December 26, 2016

The Christmas Bird Count

By Beth Sullivan
Not rain, nor snow nor sleet or hail: nothing can stop the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Well, almost nothing. One year there was a blizzard and it was reluctantly rescheduled. Not because folks were worried about driving about in the weather, but because visibility would be low and they might not get to see many birds and thus lower their tallies.

Bluebirds(above) and Robins often remain through the winter when there are berries available.

For 117 years birders around North America have joined forces to be citizen scientists on behalf of collecting data and increasing our knowledge and understanding about birds in a given area. By being consistent with the dates: always between December 14 and January 5, and consistent with the areas covered each year, data has been collected and studied to give ornithologists a better view of changes in populations of birds over time.

The New London Circle

The New London Bird Count was started in the 1940's. It is based on a circle centered at the intersection of Gardner and Ocean Avenues in New London. The circles are all 15 miles in diameter and are often created to include the greatest diversity of habitats, thereby increasing the greatest number of species possible.

Buffleheads(above) and Hooded Mergansers are found in many
quiet coves along the shoreline.

If you look on Google Maps for Christmas Bird Counts, you can see our area covered by the circle. It extends to include Rocky Neck in the West to Mason’s Island in the East. To the North it goes up the Thames River to Bartlett’s Cove in Montville and at its Southern most reach it includes the Western 2/3 of Fisher’s Island and includes the Island owned by Avalonia: South Dumpling. All of Avalonia’s Preserves in Groton are included, some from Stonington and a bit of Ledyard as well.
Our local CBC circle

Checking out all the hot spots

It includes just about every habitat possible: hardwood forests, shrub-land, fields and meadows, freshwater wetlands and reservoirs, brackish tidal areas, salt marshes, open water of the Long Island Sound, rocky islands and sandy shores. Much of the land covered is public land, but private landowners contribute observations and open their properties for the count as well. The area is covered by teams of birders who will move from place to place during the course of the day. Some start before dawn to find the owls as they roost. Many of these teams have been doing the count for decades and know the “hot spots” and come to expect certain species in certain areas. One team may hop the Ferry from New London to Fisher’s Island just to get a count of those open water birds that are rarely found close to shore.
Mallards are the ducks with the overall highest counts every year.

Bob Dewire has been organizing and doing compilation for the New London Christmas Count for more than 50 years. His teams will be spreading out on December 31. A good year will see the tally around 120 species. 
Several species will converge where the water is ice free.

Check the National Audubon CBC website for a lot more history and information. Then register to be part of the count and get out on Saturday, December 31. Don’t forget the binoculars Santa brought and a note pad. Have some fun and Merry Christmas to all.
Song Sparrows hide in brush piles and find seeds in meadows.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Rick Newton.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Year end thoughts

By Beth Sullivan
I do NOT like asking people for money. I am pretty good at asking for favors, services, bartering, begging, that’s all good. I would much rather be doing stewardship on the preserves than thinking about administrative stuff. I don’t mind writing and love educating, so that’s OK too. But I am not good at raising actual money.
Habitat management practices can be costly, but are essential for the health of the landscape.

After being a member of Avalonia for about 30 years and participating actively for the last 6 years, I have come to realize there is far more to land conservation than stewardship, and even good stewardship done by volunteers, comes at a cost.

Avalonia's expenses

Most of us use our own tools, but we do have some larger equipment to mow trails, maintain roadsides, and cut brush. The machines are expensive, and when they break down they are expensive to fix. Sometimes we are lucky and a volunteer can do maintenance, but we have to buy parts and fuel. Sometimes we have to call in licensed professionals to do tree work safely and contractors with larger equipment for mowing big fields. We have to store our equipment properly so it is safe and accessible for all stewards. So this year, thanks in part to a generous donation, we purchased a utility trailer. We needed to outfit it and get it set up for storage and it needs insurance.
Some things you just can't tackle completely by hand.

Sometimes you have to call in the contractors with the right equipment.

Insurance, who ever thinks of insurance while out on a lovely woodland trail, but we have to carry insurance to be safe. Such a gamble, like all insurance, but necessary. Insurance is also required to protect our easements. People ask us to protect land that they still own, and we need insurance to do so. Horror stories have been written about defending easements to protect land from illegal uses.
We are grateful for volunteer member who bring in their own equipment to get the job done.

And land itself, people don’t seem to be interested in saving large parcels of family land as often as they used to, at least not as pure donations. The cost of high quality land is huge, and it is understandable that people need to seek some financial gain from their land. We are constantly looking for funding sources and grants to help to protect as much land as we possibly can in our mission area. It is an investment in the future, but not an investment that will ever be drawn on for financial gain. With very few exceptions, the land we acquire is to be protected in perpetuity. We have been so lucky this past year to receive several wonderful donations of land, but even those come with costs.

Babcock Ridge was our last acquisition purchase.

Each parcel of land comes with needs for proper surveys, legal costs, resource assessment, management plans and initial stewardship efforts. That really adds up. It costs about $250 per trail head sign, depending on size, even when installed by volunteers. And the paperwork is huge too: keeping all our lands’ papers sorted, filed properly, organized both in paper and digital files.
We would like to provide more informational signage on other preserves.

And that is just the actual land based costs. There are operating costs no one likes to think about but are very real: rent, heat, salary for over-worked, minimal staff, sorting out computer programs and data bases. And all those forms necessary for being an approved non-profit. Glad someone else takes care of that, not me. It also takes time and money to actually appeal for donations: mailings, newsletters, and reports are still going out to the majority of people who still like paper.
Stewards need to make sure the structures on our preserves are safe, and if not, replace them to prevent accidents. Photograph by Binti Ackley. 

I am sure this only scratches the surface. So much work goes on behind the scenes that I never see because I am in the bushes. We are blessed to have a great core of volunteers, a dedicated Board of Directors, and two part-time staffers who keep the whole thing organized.
We are so grateful for our members whose contributions keep us running. We would like to run a little faster and stronger. With donations we can think about upgrading equipment, purchasing more land, and taking even better care of the land we have.

Please help us by contributing to Avalonia

The end of the year is the time to review and reflect. How better to make a difference for the next year, the next decade, the next generation, than by helping us acquire and protect the land for you and your families. It does “take a village” to protect its resources.
We are counting on our villagers. Thank you!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.