Monday, October 24, 2016

A Change of Scenery

I am a homebody. I love where I live. I love our landscape and habitats and wildlife. I never get tired of the change of seasons, although I admit I am getting a little tired of Connecticut winters. I especially love our coast with marshes, coves, inlets, water access, and water views everywhere.
Early Autumn is one of my favorite times in terms of light and color and temperature. Even though the change heralds the onset of winter, I enjoy the cooler weather and brisk air for getting out again and working in the yard or on the preserves.

California bound

This month we took a vacation, a whole- family trip out to Yosemite. None of us had been there; I had never even been to California, so we were looking forward to the adventure, and I was curious about the change of scenery.
The rocks seem to rise right out of the valley floor.

Not being thrilled with airplanes, and not being near a window, I never spent time looking out at the changing landscape as we crossed the country. I was unprepared for the view. When we landed in Fresno I was not impressed with the very flat , very dry, monochromatic landscape. Their drought is far worse than ours. The drive toward Yosemite was interesting as I tried to identify trees and shrubs in the landscape. The foothills rose slowly, covered with dry gold grasses and shrubs that were equally parched. These plants, however dead looking, are adapted to their climate challenges and will revive with the winter rains.
A wide open path is always an adventure, anywhere.

Higher into the foothills of the Sierras, the landscape became more tree covered, but barely greener. It was hard to tell if it was just seasonal occurrence or the drought, or both. I tried to remind myself that in a few weeks our landscape here would be pretty barren and bleak looking too, but also still found myself missing the different greens and changing hues of Autumn here. The views were vast there. I missed the comfort and embrace of the trees along our back roads.
The drive into the park was a journey into huge evergreens-tall, erect, and spiky green along winding mountainous roads. It did remind me a bit of Maine with conifers dominating the forests. The mountain meadows were still green but not lush. There was little or no water in roadside falls and seeps.
Ladybugs are the same on both coasts.

And then we entered the heart of Yosemite and wound through mountains and overviewed canyons. We drove through a tunnel and emerged to the most amazing views. Nothing here in New England can really compare with the vastness and majesty of the mountain formations we were viewing. From the heights, the mountains stretched forever. From the valley, you could literally walk up to their bases and touch the rock wall where it emerged from the earth and rose skyward in straight angles, challenging plants to even get a root hold. There was still no water in the falls, disappointing, but it was easy to imagine the strength and force of water as it would spill from great heights in the spring. Yet the valley meadows were serene with a much reduced and gentler river flowing through it.
The river ran shallow and gentle, perfect for picking and tossing rocks.

We also sought out the Sequoias: the ancient and massive trees that have witnessed changes to their earth for over 2000 years. Mind boggling and beautiful.
BIG trees still appreciate a good hug.

What a child sees

Vacationing with a joyous two year old gave me a different perspective. “BIG TREES” and “BIG ROCKS” he announced with his BIG voice. We all marveled at the bigness of the western view. Yet we took time to look at little things as well: Crayfish in the river; pinecones; Milkweed pods; deer along the trails-just like home. And rocks are for throwing in the river no matter where you are.
We also took time to explore the smaller treasures.

We live in an amazingly diverse and beautiful country. Our Government has preserved these iconic lands in perpetuity for all Americans, and visitors to enjoy. We loved the diverse people we met along the trails, from all countries. We are so blessed.
Yet back here in Stonington, the leaves are changing; the air is crisp. The trees hug us close and our big vistas are when we look southward to the water. It is softer and gentler. And there is no place like home.
But there is no place like home.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Climate Change is an Issue for all

By Beth Sullivan
Most of the readers of this blog have a deep respect and love for our natural resources. You love the forests and meadows and coastal vistas, marshes, beaches, and waterways. And most of you are aware that our coastlines are imperiled by changes in our environment and rising sea levels.
The marshes along our coast protect us now, but will be inundates in the future. Photograph by David Young.

As climate changes, storms increase and waters are already rising in areas that have never seen such flooding. People who live along the coast are constantly made aware of the dangers and responsibilities of living in a threatened area. There is insurance. There are ways to raise houses and roads.
But what about our land? What about the marshes that naturally protect our neighborhoods and infrastructure? What about the plants that are being drowned by rising water, and plants that are being killed by slowly increasing salinity in ground water? What about the wildlife that resides only in these habitats? Birds that nest on the ground on low beaches or in salt marsh grasses are in danger of losing the only habitats where they can survive.
As marshes retreat, the salt water will begin to impact the edges of the upland woodland.

Big hunks of peat fall off the marsh edge and the land recedes.

Many towns along the CT coast have already begun to develop plans, to map out vulnerable areas, and seek out advice and grant monies to help deal with the enormous expenses of protecting our homes, “our habitats”.
The beautiful meadows at Knox Preserve are mostly dry now...
...but rising tides and storms have increased the wetland areas.
Dodge Paddock was forever changed by Hurricane Sandy. Photograph by Roger Wolfe.

Restoration at Dodge Paddock had to include plans for resiliency and higher water levels.

The towns of Stonington and Westerly are working on public awareness programs to discuss resiliency in the face of rising water, both along the coast and along the Wood-Pawcatuck River. Please take time to attend one or more of these upcoming events.
Stonington will present the first of its public information sessions on October 20 at 6pm at Mystic Aquarium. Visit for more information. That same day, at 10am in the morning, the Wood-Pawcatuck River resiliency plan will be discussed at the Westerly Library. Visit the Wood-Pawcatuk Watershed Association's web page here for more information.
We need to be fully aware of the impacts of climate change, not just in the next century, not the next decade, but in the next year. We were lucky to have missed the most recent hurricane, or we would have been experiencing those impacts today.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise noted.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Short history of Knox Preserve

Publisher's Note:  Beth Sullivan is away this week, so below is a contribution on the history of Knox Preserve by students from the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College that first appeared in 2014.

by Cian Fields and Marina Stuart

Like several of Avalonia’s land holdings, the Knox Preserve, which is located off of Wilcox Road between Route 1 and the train tracks, contains a rich, story-filled history. The piece of land came to Avalonia through a generous gift by David D. Knox who donated the nearly 17 acres of property so as to ensure that the land would not be used for industrial development. In an article from June 19, 1985 by Phil Rieth, editor of The Compass, Knox said that “Stonington is being over-developed; I hope that I helped stop that a little”. After a tumultuous battle in the courtroom levied by Stonington residents over the potential use of the land for a magnesium plant, Knox acquired the parcel in 1968 but continued to face troubles as the land was still zoned for industrial purposes. Some 20 years later Knox decided to make the land’s preservation official in conjunction with Avalonia (or Mashantucket, as it was called back then).

Former corn fields have reverted to a more natural state.

Fruit trees from an old orchard attract Orioles.
Native plants attract birds and other wild life to the preserve.

The story of the Knox Preserve history however, becomes even more interesting as one goes back a few hundred years further. The piece of land was originally owned by Thomas Minor, the settler that is one of several featured on the Stonington founders’ monument. Records show that Minor probably first acquired the land some time around 1652. In addition to being a prominent figure in the establishment of Stonington and the surrounding area, Minor is quite well known for his diary. This diary is one of very few that survived the ages since the 1600’s. Because of this, Minor’s diary is an important implement as it provides a rare look into the daily life of the very first settlers in New England. In addition to the unique vocabulary and spelling, and among the insight provided into the daily tasks of a 17th century famer, Minor recounts first hand interactions with Native Americans. Though banal at times, Thomas Minor’s diary is a worthy read for its significance in the local southeastern Connecticut history. One can even still go visit Minor’s land, at Knox Preserve, and walk the land that served as a starting point for Stonington.

Historic walls reflect the hard labor and effort of a century ago.

Knox preserve has been highlighted in this blog series over the last year. It has lovely vistas, easy hiking trails and attracts abundant native wildlife as stewards continue to restore the habitats there.
But the works not over, old wires need to be removed now that they serve no purpose.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, October 3, 2016

International Coastal Cleanup Day

By Beth Sullivan
Every year, about the third weekend in September, groups of all ages hit the beach! No, not just a last ditch effort to squeeze in a few more minutes of summer fun, but a collective community effort to clean up the beaches and shoreline areas that were “well loved” all summer.
Gulls eat just about anything. A crab is far better than a piece of plastic.

Inevitably even the most natural of seaside areas bear the signs of summer-litter. In many cases it is the remains of picnics, parties, and events on the beaches themselves. In other cases, the litter has washed up on shore from being discarded out to sea. Some littering is possibly accidental: windblown bags fall into the water; Kids' lost balloons drift far from home and land in the water; Someone’s shoes, shirt, or hat flies off the deck and is irretrievable.
Plastic bags are some of the most dangerous types of litter.

Litter causes many problems

But so much litter is just pure laziness and lack of caring. Ignorance. Why people can’t take home their soda, water or other beverage bottles and cans, I don’t understand. Is it so hard to hold onto a coffee cup or sandwich wrapper and bag until you get home? So much stuff that is not biodegradable ends up in our oceans endangering wildlife. Probably only a small portion of it ends up on shore where it continues to cause problems. Gulls and other shore birds are particularly susceptible to the dangers from garbage on the beach: cigarette butts can be toxic; strings and ribbons and fishing lines entangle feet necks and wings; plastics choke and fill stomachs, frequently causing slow and painful deaths.
Rubber flip flops float and do not degrade. They would be around for many years if not collected.

So, back to the clean up. On that September weekend, groups spread far and wide along the coasts, and not just across CT but across the country and internationally.

Volunteers to the rescue

Locally, a group organized by Pine Point School teacher Gay Long and Save the Bay Volunteer Manager July Lewis, headed out to Sandy Point for partial school day of clean up. It takes some major effort to get students and boats all organized to get out to the Island and hope for good weather conditions. The original date, Sept 19, was rained out so the event took place on the next day.
Being safe on the beach included wearing PFDs and gloves. Photograph by Gay Long.

Seventeen students with seven adults spent an hour and a half walking the beaches of Sandy Point. It is approximately a three mile round trip. They collected over 36 pounds of trash in that short time, and they bagged it up and hauled it home. This year we didn’t get any reports of extra large objects. The USFWS had already dismantled a lean-too and picked up some party debris.
Garbage was bagged and hauled off the island. Photograph by Gay Long.

Sandy Point is a special place. It is cherished by generations of people from the area and most have learned to share the beautiful Island with the wildlife we strive to protect. It was a good summer for the shore birds, Oystercatchers in particular. But on our stewardship trips we saw several gulls with wing damage and feet tangles. Littering doesn’t help anyone or anything.
Kids have great eyes and are limber and bendable. Photograph by Gay Long.

We are truly grateful for the energy and effort of the younger generation who is coming up learning to be proactive in caring for the Earth. I will bet that, after cleaning up, those students will not be likely to littler themselves and will be more likely to pick it up and pack it out.
One of the groups of dedicated stewards. Photograph by Gay Long.

Thank you to Pine Point School, Save the Bay, and all volunteers who worked to clean up our coasts on International Coastal Cleanup day. Every little bit helps.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Some New Energy-Summer Hiking Series

By Beth Sullivan
While I am personally so indebted and amazed at all the work our volunteer stewards get done, it is a fact that we are all getting just a tad older. We are, however, the ones with more time in general, have fewer home obligations like small children, and have chosen our paths in terms of where and how we want to spend our time and efforts.
But every once in a while I get wishing I was younger, had a bit more energy and had more limber joints. For years I was a champion frog and snake catcher for school kids on field trips; now it takes me a little while to think of how ( or if ) I am going to quickly drop down to capture something far faster than I am.
A look at a flock of turkeys was one highlight at Preston Preserve.

Enter the next generation. This summer we were so lucky to have two enthusiastic and energetic college students come to us and ask how they could help. Avoiding temptation to all pile onto them and overwhelm them with our gratitude and ideas, it was quickly evident that having them lead hikes and field trips through the summer would be an excellent use of their knowledge, time and energy, and be a great way to reach out to our members and possibly recruit new ones.
Amanda Dostie

Amanda Dostie is currently completing her final semester at UConn Avery Point, for a BS degree in Marine Sciences. She is also currently working as a research tech and outdoor educator for New England Science and Sailing in Stonington Borough. With her goal of creating a niche for herself in the environmental field, having her as a field guide this summer was a perfect fit.
Amanda caught a toad. What a great way to learn.

She enlisted Joe Warren who is a second year Masters Student in Marine Chemistry at Avery Point. His undergrad degree was in Environmental Chemistry. He is also a lover of nature and has led other outdoor explorer series in the area. A self -proclaimed lab-rat, he did a great job in the field.
Joe Warren

Together the two of them led a series of hikes through this summer on five different Avalonia Preserves. They contacted local Avalonia stewards and naturalists to get some ideas of the lay of the land and any special features to be explained and shared.
Hikes are always a surprise. They can be paced depending on the age, skill and interest level of the participants. Some like fast paced exercise hikes, but as it happily evolved, these hikes became opportunities for some close encounters with nature and chances to learn a bit more up close and personal.
They started with a small group at the Hoffman Preserve in early July, and while they covered a fair amount of territory they were able to stop and explore in depth with the added expertise of naturalist Bruce Fellman who joined each hike in the series.
Knox Preserve allowed glimpses of water.

The Hoffman and Avery Preserves are mature forest areas in contrast with Henne Preserve which is highlighted by a beautiful wetland swamp complex with very different wildlife. The Preston Nature Preserve and Knox Preserve are examples of open meadows and shrub lands. Over the course of the summer, the hiking fans grew in number and had a great opportunity to experience a wide variety of habitats on Avalonia Trails.
At Hoffman Preserve, the group looked at a big burl growth on the base of a tree.

Amanda and Joe got high praise for their leadership. Everyone is grateful for their time and energy and enthusiasm. They are planning a fall series of hikes and hopefully even a guided kayak paddle; so keep an eye on our Avalonia website and Facebook for a schedule.
As you can see from the photos, a good time was had by all, young and young at heart.
Thank you Amanda and Joe, and welcome to Avalonia.

Photographs by Bruce Fellman and Rick Newton.

Sail away with Avalonia Land Conservancy  

This is the third year we've held this popular sail aboard the Argia.  Come join us.