Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer begins

By Beth Sullivan
Whether you look at school calendars, lunar cycles, sun and solstice, or count from Memorial Day, one way or another , Summer begins this month. After the long, cold winter we are all breaking out the lightweight hiking shoes, tee shirts and bug spray! We are dusting off the kayaks and paddles and planning excursions that we have been waiting for.
Summer is not just about fun for us, it is breeding season for most of the wildlife that call our preserves home. While you are enjoying the trails, take some time to think about your surroundings and how best to share the habitats.

In the Woods

In the woods observe the nests: high in trees, holes above and below ground. Staying on the trail is important at this time of year as there are birds and animals that nest right on the ground and are easily frightened. Their nests and young are very susceptible to disturbance and danger. You may never see the Ovenbird’s nest in the leaves. Please keep your dogs restrained. While the small watery pools may look cool and inviting, the vernal ponds are now host to all kinds of amphibian young: salamanders, toads and frogs are all beginning life there and a muddy exuberant splash party does nothing to help them survive.
A vernal pool holds eggs and larval amphibians.
A well hidden Ovenbird nest.
Please stay on the trails in the woods.

Young chipmunks and squirrels are exploring now and are not quite up to par on how to protect themselves. They can run, climb and hide quite quickly, very early on. Other baby mammals are often left alone for long periods of time during the day: deer, rabbits and raccoons will leave their young, hopefully safe and hidden, while the parents find food for themselves. A baby left alone is not necessarily an orphan; do not touch it and leave your scent on it. A raccoon out walking in the daytime is not necessarily rabid, but likely a poor mom out to find some food and peace, away from her hungry brood. Watch, wait and be patient. Spending a long, quiet time in the woods is often very rewarding at this time of year.
Adult deer will leave their fawns alone for much of the day.

In the Grasslands

In the grasslands there are also nesting animals. Birds such as Song Sparrows, Meadow Larks, Bobolinks and Red-winged Blackbirds, among others, will nest deep in the tall grasses. They are also very vulnerable to disturbance and roaming pets. Most of Avalonia’s grassland preserves are posted as “Closed” beyond a certain point, to protect the nesting birds. Farmers who wish to protect their nesting birds will delay their first cutting of hay until nesting season is done.
A nest of Song Sparrows in the grass await a meal.
A Bobolink in the tall grass

In the Salt Marsh

Our salt marsh preserves are also full of new life. Many protected species of birds are those that nest in the fragile habitat. They are vulnerable to predation as well as the rising and flooding tides. Shrimp, crabs, fish and shellfish are all reproducing now in the sheltered shallows and they provide the sustenance needed for those higher on the food chain. Watch the Terns and the Osprey dive for fish and compare techniques!
Salt Marshes are fragile habitats and protect many vulnerable species.

We all love the water’s edge at this time of year. Whether you stroll the sandy beach, explore along the salt marsh, or kayak into coves and inlets, be aware of your surroundings. Go slowly, watch your step, look for nests that are barely scrapes in the beach, or a few strands of woven grasses. If a bird seems to explode from under your feet, stop, look, back away and observe closely: a nest or young may be nearby.
Eggs exposed in a bare sand nest.
Please respect the signs posted to protect the habitat. 

It is a wonderful, life-filled time, the beginning of summer: a great time to be born, to grow and also to explore and appreciate the cycles of all life.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, Rick Newton, and Chris Jackson.

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