Monday, December 10, 2018

Counting blessings

By Beth Sullivan
Now that we have stopped counting calories, we can continue to count our blessings. In this season of giving and thanks, we have a great deal for which to be grateful.
Avalonia Land Conservancy is founded on the generosity of its members. They are the bedrock. Each year our membership grows, our foundation can get stronger. We work on outreach to connect with those who do not yet understand our mission. We strive to engage the next generation of conservationists. We post our signs so we have a visible presence in the communities where we have our preserves. We invite all, members and non-members alike to stroll the trails, hike the woods, and enjoy what Avalonia has been able to preserve with the support of its members. Thank you.
Avalonia is further supported by the generosity of special donors: those who exceed expectations because they believe in the mission and understand the importance of the preservation of a resource that is rapidly changing and disappearing. There are no words of thanks, special enough, to recognize a larger gift, a grant, or a piece of treasured land, entrusted to Avalonia for care in perpetuity. It is not only our mission, but our promise, to care for each donation to the very best of our ability. Thank you.
None of that caretaking can be done without our volunteers. With the exception of two part-time paid staff people, the organization is completely dependent on its volunteers, from top to bottom. From executive officers to ground teams, volunteers direct and lead, man the keyboards, keep the books and lists, and attend conferences and meetings. Volunteers do outreach and education. Volunteers monitor the preserves, clear trails, mow fields, and improve habitat. There is no way to accurately count all the hours amassed by our volunteers, and no way to truly estimate the value. Thank you.
It might be cold; everyone is busy. It has been said before, but bears saying again: go out and find a place of peace. If it is an Avalonia preserve, please remember all that it takes to have that space and place available. Give thanks!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
Continental Marsh

Cottrell Marsh

Knox Preserve

Osprey at Paffard Marsh. Photograph by Rick Newton

Sandy Point as seen from Dodge Paddock.

The view from Tri-Town Ridge line Forest. Photograph by C. Tjerandsen.

As we approach the end of the year, don't forget you can support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Restoration of an Aging Forest: Our Hoffman Preserve

By Beth Sullivan
Those of us who have hiked and enjoyed the Hoffman Evergreen preserve for many years are noticing the decline of the forest with sadness. Truly, it is normal for a forest to age, like humans, and there is a limit to how long trees can live and be healthy. But the last decade has been especially hard on Hoffman. The hemlocks that were lovingly planted more than 50 years ago are now too crowded to thrive. Many have died, and some succumbed to the wooly adelgid. There is little new green plant life beneath them.
The beautiful oaks that rose above the hemlocks have been devastated by insects and gypsy moths; winter moths have defoliated them for several years in a row. Severe drought conditions at the same time stressed them to death. Literally. Now the wind storms of the last year are toppling and breaking them. The forest has become dangerous to hikers and to the stewards who try to keep the trails open. It is also a fire hazard.
In the last three years, we have had several teams of experts come to evaluate the preserve. DEEP foresters and biologists have walked the preserve and given us their suggestions. Audubon CT sent a special team in to assess not only the health of the plant life, but the bird life as well, and prepared a very detailed report with their recommendations for action. Currently, we have had a professional forestry company that has offered to help us find the best way forward. Every single one of these reports agree: we can save the future integrity of the forest if we take action now.
Back in 2006, the Hemlocks were healthier, but they were already becoming too crowded. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Now there is nothing much alive in the understory, creating a fire hazard.

The trails have become dangerous for hikers and the stewards who work on them.

Restoration steps

Avalonia will embark on a detailed plan to begin the restoration of many areas of the preserve. Dead and crowded hemlocks will be removed and thinned to create space for healthy ones to expand and grow. Dead and dying oaks will be removed while their wood is still of some use and before more large trees fall into the trails. Areas where the pines were destroyed by the high winds and heavy snow storms of the past two winters will be cut. This will allow the seedlings below to grow and thrive. Openings will be created to allow dense shrub growth. Many of these shrubs will be berry bushes that will provide great food and shelter sources for a greater variety of species. The proposed work will avoid wetlands, slopes and sensitive areas. Some dead trees, snags, will remain for wildlife use in places that will not endanger trails.
We ask for your support and also assistance as we move through the next phases of forest management, soon to begin if the weather cooperates. This work should be completed before next green spring season. Some trails may be closed for periods during intense work. It will be jarring for sure, to have the peacefulness of the Hoffman Preserve interrupted for a while. But in the years to come, the work will bear fruit in the form of a healthier, safer, and more beautiful forest for all to share and enjoy. We hope that as time goes by you will join us in reporting your observations, keeping bird lists, and noticing things as you walk through the recovering areas.
I will periodically report on the project as we continue this process to nurture the forest that we were given many years ago. We will have many opportunities for stewardship efforts next summer and hope you will join us. Together we will restore Hoffman Evergreen Preserve.
Windstorms have toppled dozens of oak trees.

Care will be taken to protect historical sites.

Trees won't be cut down if they are homes for wildlife.

With more sunlight, the Mountain Laurel will bloom again.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
Don't forget to support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Things are changing

By Beth Sullivan
No one seems to know exactly what is going on with our weather. The very scary report that came out on Black Friday ( maybe appropriately timed as it is a bleak report) continues to point to climate change that is moving at a much faster speed, and with greater consequences, than previously believed. I know I often breathe a sigh of grateful relief that we are not in a wildfire prone state, a mud slide area, or an earthquake zone. Things have changed. If you just think about certain signs, and make observations, it is becoming sadly obvious that our local climate and landscape is changing too. It may be more subtle, but it is dangerous none the less. Many of us who are observers of nature, are taking note.
A shortage of acorns will bring deer to our yards earlier in the season. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Warm to frigid in a day

It was impossible not to notice the wild temperature swing over the Thanksgiving week. The intense cold likely left many animals unprepared. Going from balmy warmth to frigid freezing may not have given them a chance to finish their food storage, nor had they had a chance to add their own layers of fat to keep them warm. When it is that cold, most of my local chipmunks are usually safe and deep in their burrows, snacking on their stash. On that brutally cold Thanksgiving morning, I stood at my kitchen window, and I watched as my little friend in the front yard sat visibly quivering, lifting one paw to her chest, then the other, in what seemed like an attempt to keep warm. I am sure I am not imagining that we locked eyes as she begged, so I went out and placed plenty of seed next to the burrow hole. In a very short time, it had disappeared, and the little one did not re-appear topside for the rest of the day.
Many of us have noticed it was a very poor acorn year. For whatever reason - spring freeze on oak flowers, heavy rain during pollination time washing away the light weight pollen and not allowing dispersal, or previous years of drought and stress from insect damage - there are almost no acorns on the woodland floors. That is bad news for the abundant wildlife born this spring. We seem to have bumper crops of turkeys and squirrels this year. We also know deer and bear populations are increasing, and all of these depend in some way on seeds, berries and nuts, especially acorns, for their fall food source. If they cannot easily find their food in the woods, they begin to venture out into our yards and find whatever resources they can in our yards. I have yet to see a bear in my neighborhood, but I have heard reports from areas not too distant. I know the deer are here every evening and morning as they are already nibbling on my shrubs and remaining perennial plants. It seems to be the turkeys I am enjoying the most as they now, too, have found the bird feeding area and run or fly from the hill across the street to forage at least twice a day. They arrived in perfect time to entertain my Thanksgiving guests. A least my numbers are manageable: usually only seven. They don’t do too much damage to my gardens, yet. But all of these creatures are becoming more used to people, seeking out food sources and exposing themselves to hazards of roads. What will happen to them when snow covers the ground and their wild food sources are not to be found? Many will starve.
Squirrels are abundant now but their numbers may plummet without adequate food resources. 

Turkeys forage in our yards but it brings them closer to roads. Dangerous for the turkeys and drivers.

When the ground is snow covered, this chipmunk will help herself to my feeder.

Puffed up in the cold

Several birds appeared looking quite miserable on the cold Thanksgiving morning, very puffed up. Normally birds are well adapted to cold, their feathers automatically fluff around them to capture warm air close to their body. But they still need layers of fat beneath the skin. In cold weather they burn it very quickly and that’s why they appear to be eating all day and they are. If they have spent a long, colder than normal, night without having adequately fueled the furnace, they will awaken depleted, colder and in danger.
Nature may find a way to balance, but the wild, weird swings make it difficult for wildlife, animals, and plants to adjust, adapt, and thrive. So far we may not have the intense drama of the events out west and in the south, but the long term changes are wearing and insidious and having severe effects as well. To be continued, for sure.
This white-throated sparrow puffs up its feathers to retain warmth.

With the sudden cold snap, this gater snake could have been caught away from a protected den.

With water surfaces frozen, this great blue heron will be unable to find food by wading close to shore. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Don't forget to support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

By Beth Sullivan
We are giving thanks for our volunteers and stewards who keep our mission alive.
Last Saturday a group of relatively new members of the Avalonia family got together to learn about one of many stewardship tasks: boundary monitoring. This is a job that must be done on an annual basis, to ensure that our boundaries are honored, and no encroachments are occurring. It is an interesting exercise and can be approached in a number of ways. On this day, we approached it by scrambling over a lovely old stone wall on Wolfneck Road. With a number of tools at our disposal - Town GIS maps, phone apps, maps and deeds - we walked a small and, thankfully, relatively open and dry property to test our skills. It didn’t take long before everyone was enjoying the challenge of finding drill holes in base stones of old walls and trying to figure out the best way to follow a line without a wall.
What we discovered is what professional surveyors know already - that the town GIS maps we find online are only estimations of where a property line may actually be. In many cases the phone app we were using, which was based on the town GIS, was as much as 6 feet off from where we knew, by deed and survey, the line actually was. A challenge for sure. But this team also was reassured that going forward, Avalonia will also have another new team that will actually learn the skills set required to post a boundary accurately. In this way, when a property is acquired, and surveys have been done, the new boundary posting team will be able to get out and put up signs accurately before the next year when our monitoring stewards follow up. Then the GIS maps and apps will guide the steward close enough to the line so that he or she can look for signs already posted and not struggle with looking for the drill holes and pins every year.

It is gratifying to know our grandchildren now walk the place we have been caring for. 

Stewardship may mean looking for drill holes in big rocks.

It may mean posting the boundaries so future stewards can monitor more accurately.

Stewardship can also mean introducing the following generations to the importance of taking care of the land.

Avalonia wants you

Sound like fun? It is. Avalonia is building stewardship teams to assist with some of the required tasks of maintaining our ever-growing property list. Stewardship is a great way to explore some beautiful land, walk off the beaten path, and, quite literally at times, get your feet wet in the exercise of stewardship.
This is just one way of giving back to our community, to our environment, and to the future. Avalonia Land Conservancy, as an organization, is dedicated to protecting local landscapes, habitats and ecosystems which support wildlife populations, protect waterways, and promise to be available for future generations. In a changing world, there are some things we do not want to see change. We want to know our children and grandchildren will be able to put their feet in the same brooks we did. Or walk the same trails. Or hug the same tree. Supporting our mission and being active within the organization is one way to ensure this. That’s the giving part.
In return you will feel the thanks and gratitude on many levels. Maybe the best way to feel the reward of giving is to watch a child play in nature and know you helped make it possible.
All of us who are involved with Avalonia as an organization, thank those of you who support us by being members, donors or being part of a stewardship team, willing to get your feet wet for a good cause.
Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving.
In perpetuity means forever so these trees will have room to "grow into" their signs.
Preservation means that the same tree your daughter climbed may still be available for her child to climb and love.
The best reward for giving so that we may protect the land is watching the awe and wonder of children in nature. Photograph by Megan Sullivan.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
Don't forget to support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Fall cleaning- don't get too fussy

By Beth Sullivan
As we wind up our fall cleaning, we often make piles of leaves that will compost, but sometimes we are left with fallen branches and limbs that are too big to compost easily, and we just don’t want to haul to the landfill. In my own garden I can make nice piles of sticks and branches and always notice that those piles are the first places that Sparrows and Wrens seem to choose when the day ends and the weather gets cold.
A Song Sparrow perches on top of a brush pile but later will find refuge inside it.

We are doing fall clean up on the preserves as well, but we do not try and get rid of all our woody rough debris. Deep in the woodlands, these branches, some still with leaves, would be left to decay naturally. Those closest to the ground will be affected by ground moisture and start to rot first. A log on the ground provides shelter for numerous life forms, from worms and slugs, insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, and on up to salamanders, small mammals like mice and shrews and voles, and even snakes. The tangle of branches that remain suspended above the ground will decay more slowly. They provide shelter and cover for some of the same creatures, but also larger mammals, including rabbits and squirrels and birds, will inhabit the top levels. Think of a small mammal or bird being pursued by a hawk. The tangle of branches protects the smaller creatures while thwarting the predator.
During the winter, the snow cover helps insulate the pile. 

Brush piles feed the soil

Over time, the leaves, small branches, and pieces of wood continue to decay. Beetles move in, and termites and ants take up residence in the rotting wood. Worms do their part in composting and recycling. Nutrients return to the forest floor and nourish remaining plants.
In Summer, vines and plants grow in the brush pile.

Where tree limbs come down on the trails on Avalonia Preserves, it can be a big effort to remove them and open the trails and make them safe. In many cases we are able to make well -constructed brush piles. Instead of loosely arrayed branches just left on the side of the trail, a beneficial brush pile is denser, more solidly piled. Heavier pieces are left closer to the ground to provide support and structure as well as good sized gaps close to the ground. Mid -sized branches are criss -crossed on top next, and the whole pile is covered with smaller pieces, especially evergreen boughs, to fill in the gaps. Think of the pile covered deep in snow in the dead of winter. The smaller spaces within are protected from biting winds and even retain some warmth from the ground in the face of sub-freezing temperatures. Small mammals can stash food-nuts, seeds, grasses-eliminating the need to venture out.  Birds also will find protection within. Sparrows and wrens in particular make use of man-made piles.
While clearing invasive species, the debris is left to cover the ground in many places.
To make a good brush pile, put bigger pieces on the bottom, making nice holes.

Then pile on brush for shelter. 

Look for brush piles as you walk

As you walk on one of our Preserves, look for man-made brush piles. Paffard Woods has several and Perry Natural area as well. There are piles from Red Oaks and some from White Pine that were toppled by Storm Sandy in 2012 and are still present and providing shelter. The Knox Preserve has been cleaned up and the bigger piles removed to get out of the way of our mowing efforts. You will notice piles along the trails that look messy and off the top of the knoll there is a dense pile of cut limbs. This is quite deliberate. We have cut invasive vines and treated the stumps to prevent regrowth, but the branches were left in place to provide the cover that the birds enjoy. Observe from a distance to see what activity occurs at the piles. Later in the winter, when snow covers the ground, look for tracks and trails leading to and from the piles. Nature does a good job of protecting small creatures, but Volunteers can enhance the effort with great success.
Woodchucks will make their entry holes at the base of a brush pile for greater protection.

I suggest making a small pile in your yard and garden where you can watch from indoors and enjoy the activity.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan. 
Don't forget to support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

This post originally appeared November 30, 2015.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The season begins

By Beth Sullivan
When it comes to temperatures and “feeling the season” I think we will all admit a bit of seasonal confusion again this year. The first days of November were warm, even hot by many standards. I am not complaining about being warm, by any means, but it is a little frightening to notice the shift, and these changes are getting more obvious. Flora and fauna are responding by changing their cycles, and some of them are truly life threatening. I think of the spotted salamander I found while gardening on November 1 and hope it found a place to dig under before we had some heavier frosts on the following mornings. It is hard on everything to go from 70 degrees to hard winter freezing temperatures all in a couple of days or hours.
Another change I am noticing is that the commercial seasons are shifting as well. The little orange orbs were quickly removed from the shops and were replaced immediately by red and green ones. Christmas has now leaped to the day after Halloween. That is something I will complain about. It’s mostly because I enjoy the slow advance toward the big holidays, as much as I wish the seasons advanced more gently.
I can get quite disheartened by the barrenness I know is coming, but I am sure to enjoy the new visibility in the woodlands, the new birds that arrive at our feeders, and the relief from gardening duties. I enjoy thinking about Thanksgiving, and yes, I do start early. I host our family dinner, and the family is growing by big leaps and bounds. But as we start to think of what we are grateful for on this day , we are also bombarded by the ideas of Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday, and Cyber Monday. While it is often about gift giving for the upcoming BIG HOLIDAY, it is all about the shopping and the deals.
Hopefully this spotted salamander has burrowed more deeply.

At least this red and green are appropriate.

Not really feeling like November, is it?

Giving Tuesday

There is one more day added to the week of named holidays: Giving Tuesday. After we have celebrated with family and friends, then shopped and congratulated ourselves on the great gift deals we got, it is time to sit back and think of a different kind of giving: giving back in our community. #Giving Tuesday is now a global initiative, and it harnesses the power of generosity in communities around the world. There are so very many worthy causes to support right now. Each of us has our personal passion, and often more than one. We are in a time, right now, as we are heading into elections, where we need to know our one vote makes a difference, now and forever, in relation to the environment. It is under siege right now with preserved land being threatened, and open space being gobbled up and developed. We do have an opportunity, immediately, to Vote YES on question #2 which will add a layer of protection to our state-owned open space. It is also time to think where your candidates, on all levels, stand on the environment. Vote your conscience. Giving Tuesday can be Election Tuesday this year.
Sometimes we feel that we ourselves cannot do enough, or make a big enough difference in how we try and protect our home, our environment. Maybe you can’t think or act on a grand scale, but you can help on a local level and every single bit of help counts. That’s where #Giving Tuesday comes in to play. Your individual contribution to a cause may not feel like a lot of impact, but when joined with the efforts and donations of others, it does add up. It makes a difference.
Avalonia Land Conservancy operates locally, possibly in your town and even possibly in your neighborhood. In order to keep some things from changing, we need your help. To keep your local woodlands open for the next generations to explore, you can make a difference. To protect our waterways and keep them clean for drinking water and wildlife, you can make a difference. By contributing, large or small, you combine with everyone else who shares your concern for our local landscape and you WILL make a difference.
The official Giving Tuesday is just one day, November 27 th this year. You can add your voice to others as a contribution on that day itself. But it can be a season of giving, a year of giving, a habit of helping and in return you get back so much.
Please think of Avalonia on Giving Tuesday, and think of your future as well. Give yourself a gift.
The witch hazel blooms late, but usually the leaves are off when it does. 

Avalonia preserves the landscapes, habitats, and wildlife they support.

We want to ensure our waterways run clear and clean for the future.

Think of what you can give to the next generation by supporting our conservation efforts. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.
Don't forget to select Avalonia Land Conservancy as your Amazon Smile charity.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Getting oriented

By Beth Sullivan
Most people know left from right instinctively. I admit I have to think about it and sometimes look at my ring finger. Many people know North, South, East and West almost the same way; they just get it. Sometimes when I am outside I can feel it based on sun angle and position.
There are also those people who can look at a map whether on a trail, in a car, or on paper and know exactly where they are, which way they have come, and where they are going on the route or trail. I am definitely not one of those, and from what I hear from fellow hikers, I am not alone. When I see a trail map at an intersection in an unfamiliar woodland, it really takes me a while to sort out East and West, right and left,, and where I am. When I use my GPS or set my map on my car, I have to have my arrow going in the direction of travel pointing up. Can’t do that in the woods. Nor can I rotate the trail maps to get me headed correctly, so I am often found looking like I am standing on my head trying to figure it out. The easiest thing for me to do is to get to know the trails really well so I don’t have to consult the maps.
But that doesn’t help our visitors and our occasional hikers. In the town of Stonington, we have quite a number of beautiful properties with intersecting trails. As a steward, I am the one who gets the complaints from people saying that several of our maps in certain preserves are difficult to figure out. Maybe they were placed by those lucky folks who really know their directions. One problem we have is that we often do not have easy choices about where to actually place the posts for these maps. Our soil is so rocky, and in some places pure ledge. The volunteers who put up the signs in many of our preserves had to take that into mind too. A map on one side of the trail makes sense, that same map on the other side of the trail, facing opposite, makes no sense at all ( to me).
The map of Paffard Woods, when on one side of the trail was not oriented to East and West properly. On the other side of the trail it worked for me.

From our website, the trail map for Paffard Woods is available for viewing on your phone or can be downloaded and printed. It matches the signs found on the preserve.
The smartphone app opens with the entire area covered by Avalonia and dotted by all the preserves.

You are here  

We had noticed that some visitors had taken to printing “You are here” on some signs. Some had posted stick-on stars, which also works. It is hard and expensive to have truly individualized maps printed that designate individual intersections. Recently a couple of our town stewards decided to take matters seriously and assessed a few of the more complex trails in town and re-oriented the maps as best as they could considering conditions. In many places, simply placing the signs on the other side of a trail made it work. The positioning may not look as convenient or intuitive on first sight. But once you face the sign it is apparent that it is easier to get oriented. No uncomfortable head turning and consulting ring fingers for left and right, East and West.
Avalonia has all of our trail maps on our website. They are easy to download and print at home, if you want to have a paper map in hand. But they are also easy to access on your smart phone as you walk. And you can turn your phone any way you choose. You can find the maps here
Technology is changing and improving so rapidly that it is now possible to find our maps on-line in an interactive format, that not only shows you the preserve’s trails and some features such as stone walls as land marks, it also follows you along with GPS as you navigate the trail itself. No longer do you have to wonder where you are in relation to the next intersection, or try to figure out how much farther you have to go on a loop. You can see it in hand. For a better idea of how to use this map and download the app, visit our website page  here. There you will get a demo on how to use the maps on the app and you can then download it to your phone. You will have all the Avalonia trails in the palm of your hand.
Avalonia Land Conservancy recently received a generous grant from Chelsea Groton Bank. One goal of this grant is to create new trail signs for several properties where we have added trails and also create signage for some of our new properties. People will always welcome a map at a trail head and kids will need to learn maps skills too. But the present is in the palm of our hand.
And while you are hiking with your smart phone, be sure to try out Hike and Seek for some added fun. Find out more here.
We have weeks of lovely hiking weather ahead. Enjoy!
Zooming in lets you pick the preserve you want to explore. 

A closer zoom will reveal details like stone walls and wetlands. At this scale you can follow your movement along the trails.

Another helpful background shows the landscape.

You can also change the background to see the topography.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.