Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Milestone Reached

Posting the Peck boundary.
An idea was born way back in 2011. It languished and was resurrected in early 2012. It was researched, talked about, plotted, posted, planned, obstructed, rearranged, fought for, and researched even more. At times it seemed the hurdles were too great to surmount. We wondered if the effort was worth it. But we were convinced it was.

Checking the boundary. 
On May 23rd, 2013, we began the actual project-the creation of a New England Cottontail Habitat on the Peck and Callahan Preserves in Stonington. We've been writing about this project since the beginning with articles in our Avalonia Trails newsletter and an earlier blog post here. Judy Benson from the New London Day came to view the project and was impressed by its size and scope. We visited the site regularly and watched trees cut with precision, guided to earth, stripped of limbs, measured, and cut, all by an amazing Harvester machine. Huge piles of logs were stacked and hauled out to offset the cost of the project. We left piles of cord wood for our neighbors who gave us passage to bring our machines through their land.
The Harvester machine at work.
Some of the cut trees from the Peck Preserve. 
At long last, the contractor, Ted D’Onofrio of TRLandworks took his last piece of equipment off the site on August 6th. 
The last machine out.
What remains isn't pretty at first glance. The long swath of the Peck Preserve, is open now. From a distance, it is pretty brown, a little disconcerting to a self-described tree hugger but we looked closer.
The machines used were designed to have a low impact on the earth so we do not have any large areas of torn up ground. The wetlands were respected and left buffered and the stream now runs clear and clean.
Specially chosen trees remained standing to provide reseeding sources, mast for wildlife, and some shelter. A nice diversity of species is still present. Understory shrubs lie unharmed in most areas. Blueberry and huckleberry plants, as well as smaller seedlings, ground covering vines, and small plants, will thrive in the open canopy.
A few selected trees still stand.
Referred to as slash, those tree tops and branches left on the ground provide instant cover for small mammals. The rough slash will also deter deer that will try to enter the new area of inviting shoots and greenery. The decomposition over time will provide nutrients for the soil. As part of the funding agreement, large brush piles were created. These will provide longer term shelter for many animals, and hopefully the New England Cottontail will be one of them!
Site of a future New England Cottontail housing development.
As we walked the entire site, we noticed new birds already. Several types of Flycatchers: Peewees, Phoebes, and Kingbirds, were having a field day with the numerous dragonflies cruising around. Several butterflies made use of the now-open areas: Red-Spotted Purples, Black Swallow tails, and American Coppers. We could see that the ferns, low plants, berry bushes and vines such as greenbrier were already beginning to grow up and fill in. On close inspection, it was wonderful to see the tree stumps already re-sprouting vigorous new shoots. Oaks, Beeches, Maples, Birches and Hickories all seem to be in a hurry to get a jump start on re-growing. It is this new growth that will provide the food and thick, dense cover that we aim for.
New growth at Peck.
We still have work to do. There are more piles to build. We need to seed some open slopes to create quick cover of exposed soil, and we will plant native shrubs not already present on the property to add new diversity to the flora. We need to be vigilant to keep out and eradicate invasive plants that will be opportunistic and try to establish in the new open site.
And this winter, when there is snow on the ground, we will go out hunting for little brown pellets signs that maybe the New England Cottontails have indeed moved in.

Written and photographed by Beth Sullivan.

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