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.

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