Monday, August 19, 2019

Growing up in nature

By Beth Sullivan
This period of later-mid summer is really a great time to be a nature watcher, particularly of the younger generations. So many species had their young earlier in the season, and they are beginning to step out and explore a bit more. Like kids everywhere, their learning forays are often awkward and can be quite hilarious to observe. It is interesting to note the similarities and differences between species, including our own.
Baby rabbits are independent pretty early on, yet somehow know to find the tastiest morsels to nibble. 

Baby rabbits

This year I am over-run with rabbits, and I am quite sure they are not the cherished, protected, New England cottontails I spent so much effort on to protect on Avalonia’s Peck-Callahan Preserves. These common eastern cottontails are quite prolific but have never quite taken over my yard and garden as they have this year. My first discovery was that all the string beans I had in my garden were nibbled, and then gone. There is a fence around the garden that has always kept out larger rabbits, but these little ones seem to have an early talent for independent foraging and take advantage of their really small size to squeeze through the holes. They never seem to be with an adult rabbit. Besides, the parent wouldn’t fit. At first they seemed somewhat fearless, staying and nibbling as I approached, then scooting out when I got too close. Over time they began to tease my dog, sitting still to remain invisible. Then, with a flick of the ear, they would catch her attention, and wait until the very last moment as the poor dog gamely tried to get up some speed. She was never fast enough and I believe the torment is deliberate. How did that little rabbit learn so early, about string beans, fence holes, and the delicate timing it takes to torment an old dog and remain safe?
Raccoons on the other hand like to hang with their families. I think they learned as a gang, with parents teaching them how to open my metal can full of bird seed. My can has heavy pavers and bungee cords to hold on the cover. It takes a tribe to figure that out and accomplish the task. I have caught families on my deck, walking the rails, testing the seed feeders and learning how to guzzle the hummingbird nectar. You just know those kids are learning new tricks and loving every minute.
The young squirrels will sometimes come with siblings which is true fun. I believe the game of tag was invented by squirrels. But even solo, you can almost see the wheels turning as they try and figure out the best way to climb a pole, reach a feeder, or balance on a very small branch. They can be pretty clumsy, and watching them tumble into the bushes and rise out, sheepishly looking around, has made me laugh out loud many times. They never give up.
One evening we watched a doe come out carefully into the road. She was followed by her spotted fawn. In the middle of the road, the little one gave a quick jump and kick, apparently just for fun, then continued on its way past mom. I wonder what she was thinking.
Young raccoons always seem to be looking for some trouble to get into, and often do, as a gang. 

You can almost hear the gears turning as a squirrel tries to figure out the approach to a loaded bird feeder.

All legs and spots, fawns are often left alone, but show great playfulness when out and about with mom. Photograph by Rick Newton

And baby birds

This past week I have mostly enjoyed watching families of different birds approach the feeder outside my kitchen window.
The ones I have enjoyed most are the chickadees. A family of five has been coming to the same tree and feeder for over a week. The young ones remind me of inquisitive little monkeys, without the hands. They pick at everything. They explore the bark and lichen on the trees. They pick at leaves and try to catch bugs. They approach the feeder from every angle, and often times will be seen hanging upside-down from some part of a branch or feeder perch. One little one fit itself entirely into the hole of the hopper feeder, then emerged head first out a different hole. They are a bit impudent as they will fly at a much larger cardinal, for no apparent reason. The only bird I have seen stand up to a chickadee, is a titmouse. This family also comes in with a lot of energy and flits around all over the tree, at times diving down to the feeder to grab a seed or sometimes splashing around in the birdbath without a worry as to what other creature might be using it. A young squirrel was at the feeder when a titmouse dove in, frightening the squirrel into falling off the feeder he had just mastered.
The house wrens have had multiple broods in my birdhouse. They are unbelievably noisy when they are awaiting a parent with food. When the little ones exploded out of the house on the day they fledged, they scattered all over the yard and could be heard begging for food from all corners of the yard and seen popping up and down in the bushes. Busy parents!
Just for a moment compare all this wonderful energy and learning behavior to our own young ones. It is not all that different. Nature offers the best playground, and the best education, for all species.
Chickadees are acrobatic, nimble, and comical. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The titmice come in with attitudes and energy.

House wrens make a huge amount of noise as they present their big yellow gapes waiting to be filled. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Every young creature needs to spread its wings. The best place to do it is in nature.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Collaboration, Community, Construction

By Beth Sullivan
A few months ago, I wrote about the power of water and some of the damage one of our beautiful trails had endured due to flooding conditions over several months last winter and spring, found here
The Pequotsepos Brook Preserve is home to several beautiful stone bridges which cross the brook. The bridges have been in existence for generations as old solid farm trail crossings. They are on the yellow blazed side paths off the main purple/yellow marked trail that runs from West Marine at Coogan Boulevard down to Mistuxet Avenue. Avalonia preserves the center part of this complex with a main access stairway and bridge off Maritime drive. The southern portion is Denison Society land.
The Connecticut College group got the effort started.

The Trails Team divided duties. This group used equipment to move bigger rocks into place.

A popular preserve

The preserve is well used by a wide variety of people: tourists staying nearby and visiting Old Mystic Village, and employees and families affiliated with Pendleton Health Care. Groups from the Aquarium hike through and monitor the wetlands for amphibians, and residents from the Stone Ridge community access the trails right from their back doors. When the main stone bridge trail became badly flooded, the power of the water over-washed and removed soil, plants, and small rocks. What remained were roots that were easy to trip on, and the huge old stones from the bridge itself. Footing was hazardous.
So we hatched a plan and got proper approvals and began a collaboration to get the job done. First, we were able to determine that there were plenty of rocks available from the quarry on site. Pretty lucky to have that resource. At the end of April, the students from the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College, had a work party and managed to haul several cart loads of rocks from the quarry to the work site. It was not an easy task as it was quite a distance, over muddy areas, narrow passages, and a couple of wooden bridges.
Next step: we needed bigger rocks to anchor the trail and break the forces of the water as it washed downstream. Avalonia’s new Trail Team leader Neil Duncan came out to evaluate with another volunteer who has a small tractor. They tagged a few good rocks, and on a hot sticky Saturday, about six members of the team and a few other volunteers showed up to place many of the smaller rocks and help position the bigger ones once the machine was able to extract them . Having the right equipment and many hands makes all the difference. By the end of several hours, we had a good portion of the washed-out area filled with rocks, stable enough to walk on, several larger rocks to serve as step stones and water breaks, and one flat tire. Seems no good deed goes left unpunished. We couldn’t do any more big rocks. Though we got a lot done, there was a lot more to do.
By hand the team placed the rocks to be as even as possible for stability.

More rocks moved and unloaded.

This group placed the smaller rocks to create a more solid trail base.

Pine Point School joins in

Enter Pine Point School and teacher Jon Mitchell who is Director of Social and Environmental Responsibility there. He was working with a dedicated group of teens in a summer program involving hiking and trail work. In an effort to help them really understand what it takes to maintain a trail system or do repairs, Jon contacted Avalonia to request some stewardship projects that would have a positive impact on the greater community. Jon himself was part of the earlier trails team effort on the Pequotsepos site, so he knew what our goals were and what the challenges were. On yet another hot sticky and rainy summer day, Jon and his team of teens added their energies to the project. They hauled more loads of rock from the quarry, and with patience of those who do jigsaw puzzles, they pieced and placed the rocks into a more solid trail base. They walked the walk to test for stability too.

The following day the remnants of Hurricane Barry dumped inches of rain on our area. It was torrential. I just had to go check on the trail work. Before I got to the bridge, I could hear the low roar of the rushing water. As I rounded the corner I could see that there was flooding upstream. The water was as high as the stones in the bridge. The overflow piled up and washed across the trail-but not over it, through it. The rocks stayed in place and allowed the flooding water to run through the porous layer and exit the other side, without washing away. It worked!

This is a great example of how community collaboration works. We are an organization of somewhat graying stewards, but with our experience and ideas, and ability to engage with students of all ages, we can get work done. We can teach the next generations of conservationists how important our work is and let them know how much we value their input and effort. Our Preserves will be in good hands when this next generation steps up.

Thank you to all who helped with this effort. I am sure all our hikers will be grateful.
A job well done.

As the water rose after the storms, it flowed through the rocks and didn't wash away the trail.

Photographs by Jon Mitchell, Phil Sheffield, and Beth Sullivan.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Purple Martins 2019

By Beth Sullivan
This is our sixth year monitoring and stewarding the purple martin colony at Knox Preserve. I always start off the year with so much optimism and high hopes. The season started out great, with reports of scouts in the area as early as April 11th. We took the hint and got the first set of gourds up on April 14th. There were birds on the pole as soon as we pulled up the gourds. The second set went up soon after. The first days and weeks are all about scouting, with mature birds returning first, to territories they are familiar with and often taking first choices on their nest sites. We were enthusiastic and guardedly hopeful.
The adult males are usually the first scouts and arrive early to stake out their favorite spots.

Nests are complete with a cup of green leaves ready for the beautiful eggs.

A wet Spring

Those last weeks in April and early May were really wet. It was cloudy, cooler than average with frequent rain, and often even when it wasn’t raining, it was foggy and damp. That was not good. The insects that are the staple of the martins’ diets were not flying. Martins tend to feed at higher altitudes than other birds so maybe those closer to the ground and tree tops were doing ok, but the high flying dragonflies and butterflies were just not there. This had at least two bad effects. Many martins simply kept moving north. If it was too cool and damp at the shore, apparently inland sites were more acceptable, so they settled there. Lack of food weakened the birds, and their attempts to find mates, make nests, and establish themselves were less than successful in many cases.
In mid-May I like to try and check the gourds, to see if there is sign of nest building. This is simply extra material added to the pine needles I supplied. I was happy to find several enhanced nests and see birds in the area. However, we also found a pair, dead, inside one of the gourds. The female was actually banded and identified as one who had been born there at Knox several years earlier. When I reported to DEEP, they confirmed that it was likely due to the cold and wet. They likely had taken shelter together in the gourd and just starved. I was devastated.
Over the next weeks we watched and waited. The weather improved. A number of the gourds were filled with nesting material, but not nearly as many as in previous years. One sign I always look for is the addition of green cherry leaves to the central part of the nest. There are several thoughts about why the birds do this. Some believe they are insecticidal and deter mites. Out of our 24 gourds, we had 11 nests completed with green leaves, less than half occupancy. Meanwhile, reports from friends with inland colonies in Ledyard and Norwich, seemed to have an overflowing abundance-full houses.
Our first eggs were laid around the very end of May. The female will lay one egg a day until her clutch is completed. The average number of eggs is five, but occasionally six or seven can be found. There are instances of a second female sneaking an egg into an established nest. This will result in one hatchling being of a noticeable difference in size. Hatching begins about 15 days after the last egg is laid. Our nests were created over quite a wide span of time, and thus the eggs were laid over quite a long period within the colony.
We also had a few mysterious and sad occurrences. On two separate occasions, a nest was discovered completely empty of eggs. After being full on one check, a week later all were gone. We have predator guards against snakes and raccoons, so this predator may have been another bird. We have had problems with house sparrows ousting martins. This may have been the case.
In the other gourds, hatching began mid-June and has continued. We even had one new nest full of eggs at my last check July 8. I wonder if it was from a pair who lost their eggs early on.
They go from pink and helpless at hatching to feathered and alert in just a couple of weeks.

One of these birds is several days younger than the rest. It may have been an egg from another female.

Between two and three weeks of age, when the shiny blue-purple begins to appear on their feathers, they become more active and I stop monitoring them.

Egg to flying in 21 days

We are nearing the end of the time for checking nests. As the young ones go from pink and helpless, they grow rapidly with noticeable changes on a daily basis. The feathers emerge in predictable patterns so we can estimate age more accurately. Once they get to about 21 days old, they can become quite jumpy and could leave the nest before they are ready, so we do not peek as often. Usually though they are tolerant of disturbance and have gotten used to the intrusion and behave quite calmly. The parent birds always stay near, often waiting with an insect meal in its mouth.
At last count we had nine successful nests with a potential of 35 young. While I am a bit disappointed, I know that some of the inland colonies did very well this year. CT Audubon and DEEP report that due to caring stewardship of purple martin colonies, the birds are faring far better than they have for decades.
There are numerous online resources about purple martins, including one on the CT DEEP website. Check them out. You might get hooked.
This was just an off year, but I am happy with my small success. There will be next year, and hopefully these little ones will return and give me some full houses.
The Martins fly high to catch dragonfiles and butterflies to feed their young.

When the nest is jostled a bit, the young respond by opening their beaks, expecting a meal.

Photographs by Mariano Librojo and Beth Sullivan.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Birds and Bees

By Beth Sullivan
People are paying a little more attention to the birds and the bees in recent years. There is a growing awareness of the absolutely critical role they play in so many aspects of our life and economy. Finally even school children are being instructed on the importance of pollinators and are creating gardens and doing citizen science observations of bees and other creatures that are part of this chain of life.
There is greater awareness of the harm pesticides are doing, not just to the harmful insects, but to all insects, including bees. Broad use of herbicides affects not only the targeted invasives, but if used carelessly, they kill beneficial natives and host plants for all species of insects, including our beloved Monarch. Awareness is slowly growing; there are programs and websites and projects dedicated to pollinators, and hopefully more people will understand the connection we all have at the very basic level. It takes a while to make the connection between a pollinator and a hamburger, but these links are being spelled out and kids get it.
A gardener maybe tempted to spray for the aphids, but would also end up harming the monarch caterpillar as well.

The weather

One other factor in this whole process is climate change and the weather. There is an increasing discrepancy and disconnect with the changing seasons. In some places they are warmer too early, and in others remaining cool too long into the spring. It is climate change affecting wildlife and natural cycles. Plants bloom before, or after, their insect pollinators need them. Heavy rains destroy blossoms before pollinators can do their job. Both extreme heat and cold affect bloom time and also health of insect populations. This then affects crop success and fruit and berry production. This will not only affect us, but also the wildlife that depend on these fruits for survival later in the year. Enter the next level of creatures to be affected: the birds.
This has been a very strange spring with so much rain and cooler temps lasting longer through the spring and into summer so far, especially here along the coast. We may not all notice the changes in the bird populations, but as the monitor Mom of a Purple Martin colony, I have witnessed the effects first hand this year. While it is still too early to count my chicks before they hatch, I know we will be far below our other years in terms of success rate. By mid-July, I will have a better idea of our outcomes and will report to all dedicated martin lovers.
Earlier this spring the woods were a banquet of destructive caterpillars for the birds.

One person's weeds may be sustenance for native pollinators. Let them grow.

Kingbirds are flycatchers that rely on insects to satisfy their hungry nestlings.

Tree swallows catch insects on the wing and return to their nests. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Insects are needed too

It is not just the martins though. Think of all the insect-eating birds. Earlier this spring there was a new hatch of leaf-eating caterpillars in swaths of local forestland. These were small and green, not gypsy moths. The migrating warblers settled into the woods and feasted. But after each heavy rainfall, I discovered less activity for a day or so, as possibly the caterpillars were washed off the leaves. During rainy days, flying insects are grounded. Aerial insectivores such as swallows, martins, and flycatchers, were hard pressed to find their flying sustenance. If the adults are weakened, their nest-building efforts will suffer and egg production diminished. As the cold wet weather continues, it has been difficult to find food for those that did have young. I fear nest successes of many birds will be diminished.
Even larger birds, which rely on other food, are having difficulties. Osprey seem to have experienced more nest failures this spring. They catch and eat fish, so that should not actually be affected by weather, but maybe poor visibility at the water’s surface decreased their catch rate. But think of the poor hatchlings left uncovered during these torrential downpours and chillier days, while parents are out trying to find food for them.
The changes in weather patterns affect all levels of life, much like dominoes. Some effects are more visible than others. We can grumble and complain about spoiled plans, but for most of us the weather is not impacting us in an immediate life and death way on a daily basis. Take the time to think through some of the bigger connections and see where they lead. It is sobering.
Osprey eat only fish, but seeing them through rain-disturbed water may be difficult.

Dragonfly eat insects and are also food for Purple Martins.

Your can learn more about birds, insects, and bees at these links:

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A New Perspective

By Beth Sullivan
June is a most beautiful time here, and while I hated to leave home, we had the opportunity to go out west, Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone area, so we spent the last week exploring spring in a new area.
I always find it so interesting to compare and contrast wildlife, plant life and landscape when I travel to different places. There are many similarities and when noting differences, it is obvious that those differences really reflect similar niches to the ones we have here.
Hidden reservoirs, rolling sage brush covered hills, and always snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Imagine the forces that created such an upheaval in the earth.

Not in Connecticut anymore

The biggest difference was the altitude. We are used to sea level and barely above. I was quite surprised at the effect that 7,000+ feet had on my stamina With the altitude comes the very big difference in temperature and life zones. At lower levels it was a little warmer, and spring had begun. Early wild flowers dotted the fields and woodlands. They had experienced a spell of warmer weather before our arrival and the snow melt had begun. The record snowfall and warmth had created roaring falls and streams.
At the mid elevations, it was still pretty cold, and at the highest points there was still a lot of snow pack. On June 8 we even experienced a snowstorm. Not exactly what I was hoping for on our vacation, but it made things quite beautiful and allowed us to spot a moose and calf which stood out against the whiteness.
It is interesting to see the progression of the wildflowers, in full bloom lower down; the same flowers would be barely breaking the ground or in bud higher up. There are some similar flowers there: white trillium and trout lily are flowers we have here, but ours bloomed in mid April. Native orchids are a treasure for me, no matter where I go, and the Calypso orchid was a gem hiding at mid-elevations in the moist forests near streams. I felt most at home in the green forests and stream sides.
We would never have seen the moose and her calf, if not for the snow.

Calypso Orchid

The snow melt made for some beautiful waterfalls.

Some familiar birds

Some of the bird life was familiar. The yellow-rumped warbler we have here as a fall migrant is the Myrtle form with a white throat. In the mountain west it is the Audubon’s form and has not only a yellow rump, but a yellow throat. There were red-winged blackbirds, but also yellow-headed blackbirds sharing the same cattail swamps.
The vastness of the landscape can be disconcerting. The rolling hillsides, sage bush covered and soft gray-green, seem to stretch forever. There were different wildflowers dotting the dry sage brush flats. A favorite was the Indian Paintbrush, very rare here, which is the State flower of Wyoming. It was there we found the pronghorn antelope with their young, some beautiful wild horses, and in Yellowstone, there were the herds of bison and elk. The local deer were the mule deer, which are huskier than ours, with a black tip on the end of their tail. Like our white tailed deer, they are having their young now, and the males were loosely traveling together in smaller groups, sporting velvety antlers. Everywhere the trees showed signs of buck rubs: worn areas where they have scratched and rubbed their antlers much like we find here. The black bears used the buck rub trees as back scratching posts.
Always in the distance were the snow covered peaks of the different mountain ranges. They were stunning sights on our blue-sky days. We didn’t have a lot of sun, but when we did, the landscape lit up and truly glowed.
We traveled to Cody, Wyoming and there again, we were astonished by the landscape. I was never much of a geology buff, but seeing the rock formations and jagged cliffs, it was impossible not to wonder about the violent, ancient history of the Earth hidden in the rocks themselves. It was a harder, browner, less welcoming landscape, but those who live there have come to love the shapes and views and the way the sunlight plays on the rocks. We were guided to hidden lakes with large rainbow trout. Swallows of all kinds, as well as nighthawks, swooped low over the water. Osprey nested on telephone poles ,and bald eagles occasionally chased them for the fish they were carrying. The pine siskins we have here in the winter nest there. We saw cedar waxwings, and the bluebirds there are mountain bluebirds which are fully blue, no rusty chest.
So many wonders our country holds for us. Great swaths of land preserved for future generations. It was pretty amazing, but as always, there is no place like home and the familiar embrace of our local preserves.
Yellow-headed blackbird

A black bear enjoys a back scratch.

Indian Paintbrush

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Finally June

By Beth Sullivan
Whichever way you choose to look at it, June signals the beginning of the summer season. Memorial Day has passed, the Solstice is still ahead, but the weather remains fickle. We are all ready for summer to get going so we can get out and enjoy it. It has been a long time coming.
Get up. Get out. Get Healthier.

One bit of business to take care of first. Starting this month, Avalonia eTrails will be posted on the first and third Mondays of the month, not every week as it has been since we began this journal journey. We started in 2013 and, to date, we have posted 361 entries. Yes, I counted. All the entries are still archived on the Avalonia eTrails website if you missed any from the beginning. I am so grateful for all of you who have followed and enjoyed these weekly musings. Early on, they filled a space in Avalonia’s social media presence. Now, we have some amazing writers and editors, and there are newsletters, updates, e-blasts, Facebook posts, and Instagram feeds. Communication with our members and friends continues on a greater scale than ever before.
Since I began writing, I have been blessed with two grandchildren, and another is on the way. One of my goals is to spend time with them and keep them well grounded in what I love: Nature. They are off to a great start, and readers have had glimpses of them in some of my photos. I will certainly continue to sneak them in. To cut back writing a little will give me a bit more time to be out and hike and explore myself, too.
Getting out in nature and getting children out to explore has been my primary passion for over three decades. Several years ago we developed Hike and Seek. In the past year, we have had some new volunteers and program development assistance to help move it to the next level. We have sent informational packets to several schools systems locally which will pass on the information to their students and families. Avalonia has so many wonderful properties, and offers opportunities to enjoy, explore and hike, all for free. The Hike and Seek program helps provide parents and kids with the added depth to look deeper and learn more. Check it out on line: . Originally we made sure the targets were things that could be observed all year round, in all seasons. One of my goals for this summer is to get out on preserves and find some new targets, things that may be only seasonally visible, but worth looking for during the prime hiking season.
Everyone loves a lesson at Moore Woodlands. Photograph by Kent Fuller

Stop and Breath. Sometimes your view will be breathtaking. Photograph by Phil Sheffield.

Phil and Java enjoying Knox Preserve. Photograph by Nina Sheffield.

Not just for kids

This brings me to the next challenge. A number of adults have suggested that this Hike and Seek idea is not just for kids. They enjoy having a goal or a focus when they hike and it is an opportunity for adults to learn more too. At the same time, we all know that exercise is good for the heart ( both the physical heart and the spiritual heart) . Hiking in nature need not be strenuous to be beneficial, but a little cardio spurt on a trail never really hurt anyone who is healthy. Building up stamina, balance and some muscle can also be accomplished out on a trail.
One of our newer volunteers, Phil Sheffield, is always out hiking himself and has recognized this. He wants to take this passion that we both share and encourage others to do the same. He has created the Avalonia-Hikes Facebook page, and its purpose is described this way:
“Welcome to Avalonia Hikes! This page was created as a way for folks to find like-minded community members who are interested in taking walks on Avalonia's beautiful properties, either scheduled in advance or even last-minute. Want to go for a walk and looking for some company? Hoping to hike a new trail but don't want to go alone for the first time? Try creating a quick post on this page with the suggested date, time and place and perhaps others will be able to join you. Please use this page to set up hikes and walks on Avalonia properties.”

What a great idea to connect with old friends, or make new ones, to get out, explore, get healthy. And, if you use the Hike and Seek program, you might learn a thing or two in the process.

Watch out for poison ivy, use sunscreen if you are not in the woods, bring water if you will be out for a while in the heat, and check yourself for ticks at the end of the hike. Better yet: ask your friend to help do the tick check.

Have fun.
Poison Ivy can make a fun hike regrettable. 

Team work helps find these beasts.

You never know what beauty may await you around the next bend in the trail.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Spring has arrived at Dodge Paddock

By Beth Sullivan
It seems that there are some areas that take longer than others to green up in the spring. Salt marshes are like that. Besides being close to the colder water of the Long Island Sound, Dodge Paddock is still recovering and in the process of changing. But it is getting green.
It has been six and a half years, more or less, since Hurricane Sandy ripped through Dodge Paddock, dumping debris, inundating everything with salt water, and altering the landscape forever. There are some things we, as humans stewards, could do to help restore the area, but others are pretty impossible. However, in the years since then, we have done our best to enhance and restore a lovely small bit of green in the Borough.
You can catch up on past projects by reading articles and past blogs on line. Our first post about Dodge Paddock is here Over these last years we have been granted several rounds of funding to help with restoration, and have been very lucky to have been supported and guided by some of the best scientists/ academics/environmental brains in the industry. With the help of the CT DEEP we have been able to control and nearly eradicate the Phragmites that created an invasive monoculture to the exclusion of everything else, including wildlife.
Wonderful new wildlife enjoys the restored marsh area in Dodge Paddock. Photograph by Rick Newton.

An engineering study may help us know if we can protect this area.

New areas of marsh are becoming established in sheltered areas.

The high storm surges beat at and erode the dune frontage.

Water tables keep getting higher throughout the preserve. 

A start with native grass

With grant funding and assistance from the Mystic Aquarium we were able to fill the now-open areas with native plants. Thousands of native Spartina grasses were plugged into the marsh mud and have now filled it in, creating a more natural expanse that is inviting to native wildlife. The neighbors continually report their sightings of new birds and mammals making use of the Preserve.
Another round of grant funding helped restore plants that we hoped would anchor the berm or dune at the south facing frontage. While some of them are doing well, the forces of the water, rising seas, and bigger storms continue to eat away that area. While new areas of marsh are establishing themselves behind the rocky outer areas, the bigger storms continue to surge in and erode the front and sides of the drainage channel. It is inevitable that some big storm will further breech that area, and we are continuing to get advice from DEEP, environmental agencies, engineers, and others as to the best way to proceed in the face of this challenge.
In this most recent round of grant funding from National Fish and Wildlife Federation’s Long Island Sound Future’s Fund, we continued to explore our options. Under the guidance of CT Sea Grant scientist and educator, Juliana Barrett, we collaborated with an engineering firm to give us baseline thoughts about the best way to preserve this area. There are many scenarios and multiple levels of options. A true engineering study and detailed plan will take a big grant to fund. Then implementation will be enormous. We are not at all sure what route we will go. There are those scientists that still believe that no matter what we do, Mother Nature will march on, and the best thing for us, any of us along the shore, to do is to adapt and make ourselves and our land more resilient.
The holes filled with water before the plants went in. Photograph by Jim Sullivan.

Volunteers dug more than 100 holes.

The water's rising

The second part of this most recent grant addresses the idea of resiliency and marsh migration. The waters are rising in the Paddock, the ground water rises as well. The plants are changing from meadow grasses to salt marsh grasses. Many of the old trees have already died. The shrubs that are growing up are those that can tolerate the salt and wet roots. In an effort to experiment and educate, we have taken Mrs. Beal’s once productive vegetable garden and turned it into a marsh migration buffer planting. The plants were researched with great care; however, the conditions of the area are extremely challenging. Just a few weeks ago we put in a large number of plants, from grasses, to perennial flowers, to shrubs and some small trees, all of which we hope will survive there. It is an experiment, but one that we hope will educate us as well. We will label the plants and keep track as they adapt. It is not going to be a garden. Weeds will grow and the plants will need to compete as they would in a more natural setting. Of course we will offer some TLC as we can.
For those visitors who come to enjoy the area, it can offer some guidance about plantings in ones’ own coastal property. It looks a little rough right now, but already we are watching the plants adapt to the very high levels of water in the ground. Over the seasons and the years, we hope these plants will demonstrate their ability to be resilient.
I guess that is something we all need to learn as we face the challenges of the changing climate.
The former vegetable garden now has native plants to fill in and adapt to their changing habitat. Photograph by Juliana Barrett

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.