Monday, June 26, 2017

Are you ready for Summer fun?

By Beth Sullivan
We have passed the Solstice. The kids are out of school. For some families it will mean camps, vacations away and planned activities. For some it will mean a lot of home time and opportunities to plan things together as families. The days are longer, there are places to explore, the great outdoors beckons. But sometimes the kids (or parents) just don’t want to let go of their phones. Sometimes kids need a bigger incentive. Sometimes parents need a little help. Sometimes all you need is a good place to start, and you can take those phones with you!
Low tide at Knox Preserve reveals a lot of fun treasures.

Welcome to Hike and Seek

We have been working on this project for a couple of years. Different than every other summer scavenger hunt, this one will keep interest all year round and for many years. It is not a contest.  Educators love it. We also do not have a big budget to do advertising, so it is spreading by word of mouth, presentations and website links. 
From the Avalonia home page follow the links to adventure.

We know that kids in school have had fewer opportunities for field trips as budgets get cut. Now, more than ever, it is so important for us to teach our children the importance of our natural world: habitats, the web of life, how we are all inter-related, and how our every action can have a significant impact on other parts of our world. Kids need to develop curiosity. From there respect will grow and a desire to learn more. That is how new stewards of the land are made.
Hiking with children can give them a greater sense of self confidence and a willingness to explore.

Avalonia Land Conservancy owns and stewards close to 4000 acres in Southeastern CT. Many properties are trailed, open to the public, and just waiting to be explored. For many years I was lucky to be involved with environmental education for kids in this area doing school programs and field trips. I got to witness the excitement and awe as school-age kids walked in woods, stood at a pond side, touched something “scary” or learned a really cool new fact about something outdoors. It was wonderful.
A group from Pine Point School found the big erratic boulder at Paffard Woods.

I also came to realize that not all parents or group leaders are totally comfortable trying to understand or teach this kind of information. They needed some help. A trip leader or naturalist is not always available when you need them. But with Hike and Seek, we hope to offer some insight into those special things you will encounter along the trails, and give parents, leaders and older school kids an opportunity to use their phones and media to enhance their excursions.
Journaling and recording your reflections can be a great follow up to a Hike and Seek learning adventure.

Information on-line

Please take some time to look at the project on-line here.  It has expanded since last summer when we were experimenting with the concept. It will continue to grow as Avalonia grows and offers more places for our members and friends to hike. The local libraries are embracing the program, as is the Stonington COMO.
Find a preserve you want to explore and get out at any time of the year.

If your group would like a presentation, introduction, or materials about Hike and Seek, please contact the Avalonia office or use the Hike and Seek email:  We will be looking forward to your posts on Instagram or Facebook or via email. We will post the photos you send to the Hike and Seek email address.
But mostly we want you all to get out and enjoy the lovely land we have preserved together. Why hide it? Share it!

Photographs by Avalonia friends.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Come to the Annual Members’ Meeting

Each year Avalonia has an annual Members’ meeting, a time to come together, to share accomplishments of the past and goals for the future.
This past year has been a year of growth, like teenage years. We got our “Driver’s License”: Accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA). A huge milestone. We learned the rules of the road. Now we are mapping out our route to conservation acquisitions and preservation.
We are also entering our Fiftieth Year. Another huge milestone. As we celebrate, we are also growing in other ways. We worked with a legal guide to help us amend bylaws to conform to LTA Standards that will work best for the organization we are becoming. One of the changes is to increase the number of Directors we have which will greatly increase our diversity and talents in all areas. Another change was to create overlapping Director terms for continuity and succession planning. As due process was followed, we have found ourselves with some returning “old faces”, friends coming back to re-join the “new Avalonia”. We also are welcoming some very new faces, people who are now seeing the emergence of a well-run organization, ready to step up to take its place as a modern land trust. To get a little more insight into our new Board of Directors, please visit “Our Team” on our website here.

 We will be updating the site after the elections at the Annual Members’ meeting where you will have a chance to meet most of them in person.
Another new person to welcome is our new Director of Development and Programs, Chuck Toal. His focus will be on growing the organization both through memberships and fundraising. There are a lot of positive changes to celebrate.
Chuck Toal

So on June 22, please join the Avalonia team to celebrate these changes. The Annual Meeting will be held at Avery Point, the Project O building, room 243, at 6pm. (details and directions on our website). There will be a brief business meeting to introduce the directors to the membership prior to the vote. It will be followed by a speaker, Jeff Cordulack, the Executive Director of Northeast Organic Farming Association. His topic will be organic gardening and composting techniques.
We all want bountiful vegetable gardens, so learn how to help with composting.
Light refreshments will be served, and members and friends will have the opportunity to talk with the Avalonia leadership, ask questions and get a sense of where the next 50 years will take us.
I look forward to seeing you there.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Sandy Point in Summer

By Beth Sullivan

Kids are almost out of school. Finally, the weather has given us a hint of the summer to come. For the wildlife at Sandy Point-the birds and Horseshoe Crabs (and USFWS) the summer season began a while ago. More than a month ago the shorebirds arrived, and already the American Oystercatchers have established nests and some have already hatched young. On a recent trip out, we saw a number of Piping Plovers, Oystercatchers, some Least Terns, and a really cool Black Skimmer cruising the shoreline.

Horseshoe Crabs return

The full moon in May also signaled the real beginning of the Horseshoe Crab migration to the island for nesting; a trek that has gone on for thousands if not millions, of years. Avalonia stewards were thwarted by weather conditions and other circumstances, so our first trip out was in June. On our kayak excursions out to the island, we count and tag the returning crabs. Later we will paddle out to look for the nests, hatching young, and juvenile crabs that take refuge in the calm waters on the north side of the island.
Sandy Point, a truly spectacular gem to be protected and appreciated.

Enjoy the island but please remember that we need to share the beach.

Dogs are not allowed on the island at all. Please leave them home.

As we have reported over the last years, Avalonia Land Conservancy has entered into a very supportive relationship with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the island. It had become impossible to juggle the needs of the wildlife that needs the special habitat to survive, and the wishes of the island-loving public that has enjoyed the island’s sandy shores and inviting waters for generations.
The Service provides wildlife biologists as experienced stewards who will study the protected species, will note where they nest, and provide protection for them. They will also be available to educate the public, answer questions and explain the rules. An informed visitor is far more likely to be compliant and actually help with the effort to preserve and protect the place we all love. The Service will also have the ability to see that the rules are followed.
A major concern is dogs on the island. As much as we all love our beach buddies, dogs are seen as predators, and dogs are forbidden from the entire island, at all times, even on leash. Please observe this regulation.

Sandy Point summer beach passes

All of this effort comes at a cost and, as in the past, there will be a fee for usage of Sandy Point, which will help offset this expense. The USFWS has developed a fee scale that is very fair and is actually less expensive than in past years. Also, they have decided to continue the relationship with the Stonington COMO to assist with the management of the process and procedures to obtain passes and their distribution. You can go directly to the COMO if you choose, or very easily go to the COMO website and link to Summer Beach Passes. A direct link to purchase passes is here
The Horseshoe Crabs have returned to nest.

US Fish and Wildlife Service will educate the public and protect the wildlife.

When you are done for the day, please pick up your litter. It can be deadly for birds and other wildlife.

It will be important to keep the pass with you and a personal ID while visiting the island, as stewards will check for them. They will be required from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
It truly is a small price to pay to be able to enjoy the beautiful island beaches and waters, but also know that your purchase actually goes to support the stewardship of the island to protect and preserve it for all who visit or call it home.
We will keep you posted on the seasonal changes out there. In the meantime, get your passes and enjoy the early summer pleasures of Avalonia’s gem: Sandy Point Island.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Project Update: Bring on the Bunnies at Peck Preserve

By Beth Sullivan
Back in 2012 we faced a big challenge-do we practice active management on one of our preserves when it entailed cutting trees and creating what would be seen, by some, as a giant mess? Did it align with our mission? It was supported by all the major wildlife organizations, but would it be supported by those who love trees?
You can read the details of our decision and the process in earlier blogs here, here, and here.
The goal was to create young forest areas which would support numerous species that are in decline because of decreased habitat necessary for their survival. The only way to create young forest is to remove the old and unproductive, over-mature forest that had ceased being supportive of a wide variety of species and then wait while the new growth becomes established and inviting to these species.
It took months of assessments and preparations, volumes of paperwork, permits and plans. We were convinced and supported, and we were ready, but when the first trees fell, it was still heart wrenching. As those first months passed and we saw the extent of the work, it was hard at first to feel confident we had done the right thing. We watched. We monitored. We documented. We waited.
Before- an uninviting woodland with no understory protection.

Immediately after- it looked like a depressing mess.

Now-the area is deep and thick with protective cover.

Fast forward to now

This past week we took a little walk through a neighbor’s trail that leads out to the power line that connects to our Avalonia Peck Preserve. We hadn’t been out there since last fall. We had been concerned because the Eversource Power Company had gone all up and down the power line and really changed the habitat. Huge pads were created with fill and gravel and hardened at the base of the poles. The roadway was widened and also graveled and no plants could grow through. This was a real blow to our overall hope for the area as the powerline itself, with its (formerly) long uninterrupted corridor of low brush, was perfect habitat to allow migration of species to our new site-a welcome mat of sorts. Over the last year we had a lot of discussions with various members of the Power company team who did promise to do some remediation. We were not the only ones concerned about the habitat change along the lines.
Our first view of the power line was a little upsetting still. Bushes were gone around the poles and the pads were still bare of any vegetation. But we did notice that topsoil had been added and seeds spread. So now it looks like we wait yet again to see growth that will provide cover and protection for those species using the area. Sadly, the disturbance of soils and addition of new soil introduced and spread non-native and invasive plants to the area. They will require treatment to control.
The hardened pads and gravel roads are uninviting.

But, here’s the good news-the project area on Avalonia land was almost unrecognizable from a couple of years ago. Of course there are only a few tall trees. Those that remain were left to be a seed bank and provide some needed perches and habitat. The rest of the area has grown into a very dense shrub area that is generally impenetrable for humans. It is exactly what we were hoping for, and exactly what the New England Cottontail and others require. As we walked, we were listening for the bird species we hoped would be using the area. We heard Blue Winged Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and Prairie Warbler, all new to the area. They had noticed the welcome mat! There were also a number of other birds that had moved into the open areas and also moved back and forth to the wooded edges. A pair of Baltimore Orioles chased each other across the openings, Yellow Warbles and Common Yellow-throats called from low bushes. Bluebirds sang from all over. There were Eastern Pewees, woodland birds, coming out to the open perches and zipping down to feast on the numerous insects that are now present. There were numerous butterflies, dragonflies, bees and flying insects in the air and tons of grasshoppers in the low growth.
Now there are areas covered with berry-bearing plants.

We will be doing breeding bird surveys at various locations in the project area.

Brush piles were over grown with protective native vines. There were swaths of low growth where Huckleberry and low-bush blueberry are now thriving in the sunlight. And they are loaded with berries.
I could go on and on. It was exciting to see the change, the healthy growth, abundant greenery and protective cover. It was heartening to see all the species.

No bunnies to be seen, yet

Of course we didn’t see any New England Cottontails. That’s the whole point. We wouldn’t see them. But through the summer we will be assessing breeding birds and looking for other species. Sometime in the fall we will do another stem count. And this winter, when conditions are right, we will go out and look for signs that the rabbits are present: we will collect their DNA in their pellets. Yes…it will be fun.
Thank you to all who supported this project and helped us keep the faith.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.