Thursday, May 30, 2013

Planned forestry work on the Barrett Preserve in Ledyard

During 2011, Avalonia Land Conservancy contracted with Connwood Foresters under a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to study the Barrett Preserve in Ledyard, and prepare a Forest Stewardship Plan. This study revealed a problem common to most of the Connecticut forests-a lack of new understory growth.

The understory is one of the distinct layers in a healthy forest. Below the understory is the forest floor-the recycling center of the forest. Fungi, insects, bacteria, and earthworms are just a few of the recyclers at work here, constantly converting the debris of the forest into nutrients.
Above the floor are the herb and shrub layers. These are the layers that contain the grasses, soft-stemmed plants, and shrubs, Here is where humans hike and fauna live.
The lower forest levels teem with life

The understory contains immature and small trees that are shorter than the main canopy trees. The shading of the canopy reduces the light reaching the understory, so the shorter trees must be shade tolerant to survive. The understory is usually more humid than other parts of the forest. That refreshing chill that we experience walking from an open meadow into the depths of the forest is direct evidence of this trait. The understory also helps support many of the forest fauna. If the understory fails, the habitat for species such as the New England cottontail is lost.

The forest in the Barrett is now middle-aged. The larger trees are dense enough to shade out the forest floor, allowing only a few shade tolerant species to start life. In addition to the loss of habitat, the loss of understory leaves the forest vulnerable to complete destruction should we have a hurricane or other bad storm. It would take years for the property to become forested again without an existing growth of young trees. These younger trees usually survive storms better than the big trees which protect them. A forest fire burned most of the trees over some of the southern part of the property in 1989. This was followed by a dense re-growth of black birch. The Forest Stewardship Plan recommended clearing a portion of this fire damaged area to promote re-growth of a mix of species rather than all black birch.
The Barrett Preserve

This year Avalonia applied for and was awarded a grant from NRCS to clear about six acres of the Preserve in the places shown dark in the map. The three areas in the upper right are one acre tracts that are covered by mature trees and shrubs. We are contracting with a forester to have professional loggers either clear cut these areas or do a shelter cut leaving only a few seed trees and snags. The area to the lower left is a three acre tract of mostly black birch poles interspersed with some young trees and a few trees damaged by the fire. Our plan is to cut out most of the black birch from this area and perhaps thin out some of the large damaged trees to promote the growth of the young trees of other mixed species. We hope to do some of this clearing work ourselves but may hire professional help. Most of the black birch trees are four inches or less in diameter.

Part of the contract with NRCS requires clearing invasive plants from under the groves of dogwood trees near the entrance. The Ledyard town committee is working on this project now and will continue to work for years to come on this project. Visit the Barrett Preserve often, and watch how we restore this preserve to a healthy forest.

Written by Mike Goodwin, with additional text by Al Bach. Photo by Rick Newton.

Find out more about the NRCS here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Connecticut Trails Day Hike on the Avery Preserve

On June 2, as part of the 2013 Connecticut Trails Day activities, Avalonia Land Conservancy will sponsor a hike on our Avery Preserve. From 9 AM to about 11 AM, this will be about a moderate 2 mile hike on well used trails through open woodlands. Meet Mike Goodwin, Ben Anderson, and Joan Nichols at 35 Avery Hill Road in Ledyard. Please park at the ball field off Stoddards Wharf Road as shown on the map above and follow the signs to the meeting place. You do not need to register. Please come and join us.
Avery Preserve

Avalonia’s Avery Preserve in Ledyard is one of our oldest preserves. The West Tract, where we will hike, was donated by Amos Avery in 1970. It was part of a 1653 land grant to the Avery family that had been handed down through 10 generations. The property was studied by a State Environmental Review Team in 1985. The team’s report recommended clearing up to 20 % of the property to enhance wildlife and regeneration of the forest. Avalonia did not act on the report at the time. This year we contracted with Joan Nichols, a forester from Lebanon, CT, to prepare a Forest Stewardship Plan for the property. The plan will provide recommendations on how to manage this important preserve. Joan Nichols will be with us on the hike to give us her recommendations for the property, as well as discuss how the property has changed in the last 28 years. Don't miss this opportunity to walk the Avery Preserve with a trained forester.

Written by Mike Goodwin. Photo by Rick Newton.

You can find more information about the 2013 Connecticut Trails Day here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Horseshoe Crab, a living fossil

On the list of the Nature Conservancy’s top migrations is that of the horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus)… it is truly a wonder to experience.  Horseshoe crabs are called a living fossil; they have been around for over 350 million years virtually unchanged.   It is not really a crab as it is associated more closely with spiders and scorpions.   Worldwide there are four species of horseshoe crabs but only one in the United States on the east coast.
Horseshoe crabs spawning on beach

Volunteers tagging horseshoe crabs on Sandy Point.
In late spring and early summer, mainly around the times of full and new moons and on the hide tide cycle, horseshoe crabs migrate from their wintering grounds to local beaches to lay their eggs.  The female crab, usually with a male crab grasping on to the female’s shell with a pair of modified legs resembling boxing gloves, buries herself into the sand laying a cluster of around 4,000 eggs.  Over several nights the female may lay as many as 100,000 eggs.  About a month later, the eggs will hatch and tiny horseshoe crabs will spend the first few years of life on tidal flats and marshes.

Because horseshoe crabs have a hard shell they must molt to grow.   They will molt around six times in the first year and up to eighteen times before reaching sexual maturity.  Once the crabs reach sexual maturity, which takes about nine or ten years, the molting stops.  When the male crab completes its final molt, the front claws take the shape of boxing gloves that he uses to grab on to the female for spawning.   A horseshoe crab's lifespan is believed to be 20 – 30 years.

Horseshoe crab bodies are composed of three parts: the prosoma (head), opisthosoma (central area) and telson (tail).  Horseshoe crabs cannot hurt you. Many people think the tail is some kind of stinger, but it is mainly for allowing crabs to flip themselves over should they get turned upside down.  Horseshoe crabs have ten eyes, and much of the research on human vision has been accomplished using horseshoe crabs.   Horseshoe crabs have book gills to get oxygen from the water and can live on land for up to four days if they get stranded.   Their food consists of razor clams, soft-shelled clams and marine worms.

Horseshoe crabs are important for a few reasons.  First, shorebirds migrate from South America to the Artic.  Most need to stop and rest and feed on their travels north to their summer breeding grounds. Their migration coincides with horseshoe crab spawning.   Eggs that are exposed to air by wave or boat wake action or by the digging action of other crabs quickly dry out and won’t hatch.  But these eggs are the primary food source for the migrating birds allowing them to double their body weight in less than two weeks.

Second, horseshoe crab blood plays a vital role in human medicine.  Their copper-based blood, which turns blue when exposed to oxygen, contains blood cells called amoebocytes.  A testing reagent called LimulusAmoebocyte Lysate (LAL) is derived from the amoebocytes of the horseshoe crab.  The LAL is used to test the sterility of vaccines, drugs, and other medical devices.  There is no substitute for the LAL test.

A tagged horseshoe crab 
Horseshoe crabs have few natural predators except for seagulls or raccoons that may feed on an overturned crab.  Major threats are from harvesters (who sell crabs as bait for conch, whelk and eel), human disturbance, and loss of habitat due to beach development or shoreline modifications as communities harden the shoreline to deal with rising sea levels.

Avalonia’s Sandy Point Nature Preserve is one of the primary spawning areas for horseshoe crabs with thousands of crabs coming to the beach on peak cycles.  Volunteers from Avalonia, Mystic Aquarium and others support Dension Pequotsepos Nature Center’s coordination Project Limulus (Sacred Heart University & USFWS) in southeastern Connecticut. These volunteers are citizen scientists counting, measuring, and tagging horseshoe crabs during the early spring and summer.

Anyone can help by just walking the beaches and looking for tagged crabs.  If you see a tag on a dead crab, remove the tag and call the tag number, date, time and location to the number on the tag or provide this information via the internet at: http://www.fws.gove/crabtag/ If you see a tag on a live crab, just write down the tag number and report it as above, leaving the tag on the crab.   If you see any crab upside down, just flip it over by grasping it by the side of the shell (not the tail).

Find out more about Project Limulus.

Written and photographed by Rick Newton.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sandy Point Island

Sandy Point

Just off the shore from Stonington and Westerly is a little gem of a Preserve: Sandy Point. It was a gift from the Gildersleeve family a number of years ago to Avalonia Land Conservancy. While it is owned by Avalonia, it is managed by teamwork. The Stonington COMO manages it for the public use. It is a favored beach and boating stop. Good swimming, beautiful beaches and great wildlife watching. Fires and over-night camping are prohibited. Dogs are not allowed on shore at all, to protect the wildlife. The COMO employs stewards during the summer to enforce regulations, check beach passes, interact, and answer questions.

Sandy Point

To further protect the nesting shorebirds, the US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists monitor the island, and rope off the areas used by nesting Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers; all of which are species that are endangered, or threatened. It has been established that colonies of these birds can be quite successful, and still leave plenty of room for people to enjoy the island as well. The USFWS biologists are always eager to answer questions and engage the public to help with stewardship when they visit the island.
American Oystercatcher

During May and June, full moon and new moon high tides, the island is also a sanctuary for horseshoe crabs coming to lay their eggs on the shoreline ( Look for the May 23rd post for more about horseshoe crabs.)
Piping Plover
For a small island, there is a lot going on. To visit, please obtain your season passes from the Stonington Como. They are available now. There are daily passes available, as well as, discounted rates for COMO and Avalonia members. The COMO is located at 28 Cutler Street, Stonington. Phone 860-535-2476.

Enjoy what makes this a unique and valuable place. We are lucky to have so many people and agencies working together to preserve the habitat, for people and wildlife together.

Written by Beth Sullivan.
All photos by Rick Newton.

Learn more about Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Living Color: The arrival of the migrant Warblers

After a long winter of brown and gray drab, we are now getting to experience sensory overload in full color. Not only are we wrapped in greens of every hue; flowers of all colors are appearing everywhere we turn. But the arrival of migrating birds, most especially the Warblers, brings a new wave of color.

Almost all Wood Warblers migrate south for the winter. Being insect eaters, most cannot survive a winter here unless they can adapt to eating berries. Now that Spring is in full swing, they are moving up from wintering grounds as far away as the southern reaches of South America. Some will stop here for a short time before moving farther north to breeding grounds in Northern forests, but others remain to nest here.

Each species of warbler has a niche, a favorite habitat that it prefers and where we can expect to locate it. While many warblers migrate northward along the coast, by the time they reach this far north they are beginning to disperse and seek out their preferred habitat. Avalonia properties throughout Southeastern CT host a vast array of varied habitats, and therefore many of them are great places to pick up some “spring color”.

Yellow Warbler
The YellowWarbler is just that: very yellow! Some show streaks on their chest and sides, and they are quite widespread. They prefer to nest near and around wetlands and waterways as well as shrub areas. They are already at Knox and Anguilla Brook Preserves in Stonington, Henne in North Stonington, Pine Swamp in Ledyard as well as many others with swamps and wetlands. The Common Yellowthroat is another wetland lover, but the male of this species sports a black mask: very distinctive against the bright yellow.

Common Yellowthroat Warbler
The American Redstart male is stunning black and orange while the female is olive with bright yellow flashes. They prefer second growth woodlands, woods with brushy undergrowth and hedge edges as well. Many open space areas have their required habitat conditions. They can often be found on roadside edges as well. Knox Family farm is a good area for them.
American Redstart Warbler

Blue-Winged Warbler

Prairie Warblers, Blue-Winged Warblers, Yellow Breasted Chats and Chestnut-sided Warblers are the ones who benefit from shrub land regeneration projects and young forests. Power line cuts have some of the best shrub habitat, and areas within Pine Swamp Wildlife Corridor as well as the Knox preserve are being managed for such habitat. The Peck and Callahan Preserves in Stonington are being restored as habitat for the New England Cottontail, but that same habitat will benefit these endangered birds as well. The Preston Preserve is being cleared of invasives, and anyplace native shrubs are being re-established, these shrub land specialists will thrive.

Many of the woodland species move right on through, like the Yellow-Rumped Warblers, but several make their homes in our woodlands including the Ovenbird, Black-and-WhiteWarbler, and Worm-eating Warbler.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

There are great field guides to carry out on a hike to help you identify those flashes of color we see now. If you have a smart phone there are great apps that help with not only visual ID but will play recordings of their songs as well. Spend a little time studying and practicing with those apps. It will be worth the effort. And don’t forget to schedule a neck massage after a day of warbler watching. They tend to take to the high treetops!!

Written by Beth Sullivan.
All photos by Rick Newton.

Learn more about all these colorful warblers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Early May

This is such a wonderful time of year. It is so hard to decide where to go and what to look for. Everything happens fast, and changes occur before our eyes. Early May is perfect for walks in the woods before the leaves are fully out and blocking scenic views.

A great place to hike now is Avalonia’s Henne Preserve on Babcock Road in North Stonington. It is an area of varied habitats, but the gem, the most special center piece, is the large fresh water wetland created by beaver damming activities. The wildlife is easy to view, but it is best with binoculars.
Entrance to the Henne Preserve. Photo by Rick Newton.
The first glimpses of the pond and marsh are from high on a rocky esker. Looking through the trees, you can see a large portion of the marsh, emerald green with new grasses and sedges, meandering watery channels. Stark snags, trees long drowned by the rising waters behind the beaver dams, punctuate the area and rise high over the water. Scan the tops and trunks of these trees and you will see that many are riddled with perfectly round holes. Over many years Downy Woodpeckers created nest holes, probably while the trees were still alive and part of a forest. Now these holes are occupied by Tree Swallows. At this time of year there is great competition over nest sites. Males and females soar and swoop and frequently squabble a bit over prime real estate. In the late afternoon the air is filled with chatter and chirps of the Swallows, and the deep dark backs of the adult males go iridescent purple and blue in the sunlight.

An Osprey on its nest. Photo by Rick Newton.
Great Blue Heron nest inside the red circle.
 Photo by Beth Sullivan
From your vantage point on the esker, you will note a large dead, tree trunk in the center of the marsh. It is still strong and solid, and atop the trunk is a wonderful, huge Osprey nest. Most of us are used to seeing the man-made nesting poles along the shoreline. It is quite unusual to find a natural one like this. The Osprey are actively nesting now; often one is sitting still, most likely on eggs now, and the mate is perched nearby. There is a lot of calling and whistling between them. Scan with binoculars to the left of the Osprey nest and you will see a Y shaped snag tree. Look carefully inside the red circle. On top is a very different nest; all airy and light with twigs. If you are lucky and observe closely, you may see the Great Blue Heron fly in and settle down on her nest there. We get used to seeing these long legged waders in the water or along shorelines. It is quite a treat to see them land in a tree and, somewhat gracefully, nestle down.

If you choose to follow the path around the pond and down to an overlook, you will be able to notice signs of the beavers working on trees along the path. All sizes of trees show the tell-tale marks of beaver lumbering. Each stump, large or small, shows the cone shaped top of beaver work. Down on the overlook, the dam itself is visible, and the lodge is a large structure out in the deeper water behind the dam. They are pretty secretive creatures, but by sitting still and quiet at dawn or dusk, you maybe rewarded with a glimpse.
Timber! Beavers at work.  Photo by Rick Newton.
Beaver lodge. Photo by Beth Sullivan.

On a sunny May day you can hear frogs, see turtles basking, and watch Canada Geese and Mallards. Wood ducks are present there as well. Several species of warblers make the marsh area home. Listen for the Barred Owl hooting from the swamp edges. Enjoy the show put on by the swallows, and witness the Osprey and Great Blue Herons nesting. So much to see and hear, so much reward for a short trip on a beautiful Preserve. Explore during all seasons and observe the changes. It is beautiful not just in May.

There are trail maps and photos on the Avalonia website.
Follow nest webcams for Osprey and Great Blue Heron at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Written by Beth Sullivan.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Update on Birdhouses on Knox Preserve

Photo By Beth Sullivan

It has only been a week since Tom Frohnapfel and his group of home school students and Avalonia volunteers put up the 12 Bluebird houses on the Knox Preserve. I am thrilled to report that one box has had a beautiful Male Bluebird in and out over several days. It’s too early to tell if there is real nesting going on; but at least there is interest. Other boxes have attracted Tree Swallows, and on one occasion there was quite a squabble among several swallows, over what must have been prime territory!

Many thanks to Tom who initiated the project, requisitioned and obtained the lumber from UBS in Westerly, cut and fashioned the houses and organized the students and guided the construction and decoration.

His children, Fiona and Ethan were instrumental in setting them up that day. It was great to see students, both college and elementary age, working together for the birds!

If you go to Knox, take your binoculars and keep your distance. Please let us know what you observe.

Written by Beth Sullivan.

Avalonia's Annual Meeting, May 15, 2013

Avalonia members, friends and the general public are all invited to join us at Avalonia’s 45th Annual Meeting, Wednesday May 15th at 7 p.m at the Lisbon Community Center Barn, 19 South Burnham Highway, Lisbon, to celebrate our achievements in acquisition and stewardship and to meet and honor the members, volunteers and donors who make it all possible. We will have the usual business meeting at which we elect our officers and board for the new fiscal year starting June 1st, 2013, but we hope to keep that brief so as to allow the maximum amount of time for celebration, social interaction and of course our evening’s program: On The Wild Side:  Exploring the Flora and Fauna of The Last Green Valley to be presented by Bill Reid, Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley (TLGV), a conservation and National Heritage corridor located in the river valleys of the Quinebaug and Shetucket.

Several of Avalonia’s recent acquisitions lie within TLGV, which includes the towns of Griswold, Lisbon, Preston and Sprague: Burleson Woodlands (20 acres, purchased in 2009), Linnea Richardson Nature Preserve (20 acres, bequeathed, 2010) Peltiers’ Lost Pond Preserve (45 acres, donated, 2010) Scola Preserve (including Burton’s Island in Pachaug Pond) (75 acres, donated 2011) , Dutka Family Preserve( 17 acres, donated 2012) , Robe Conservation Restriction, (40 acres, donated 2012), all in Griswold, and in addition the Greenwood Tract in Preston (30 acres, purchased 2011).

Light refreshments will be served and there will be prizes. Please join us to celebrate our achievements and to meet your fellow members.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Special Collaboration to Celebrate Earth Week

Last Saturday, April 27, a very special group of people gathered to combine their skills and passions for the environment: specifically the environment at the Knox Preserve in Stonington.
For the last several months several of us, as representatives from Avalonia Land Conservancy, have been working with a group of students and professors, from Connecticutt College. They are working on a pilot program for an Environmental Certificate from the Goodwin- Niering Center at the College. These 11 students chose projects that would either enhance the habitats at Knox or assist with community outreach and PR for Avalonia as a whole.
Photo by Beth Sullivan.

Photo by Beth Sullivan.
Some studied the small pond and its salinity, plant life, and elevations to better establish a management plan. Others studied the bird life on the preserve to determine what was needed to establish a successful Purple Martin colony on the site. Another team investigated the native and non-native flora of the fields to better assist with restoration there. Yet another team worked on a presentation for the Avalonia website to describe and map the preserve and its history, ecology, and special features. The last group is working on better ways to reach out to the public for membership and involvement.
In the same time period we made a connection with a group of wonderful home schooled students from Stonington. With guidance from dedicated parents, and lumber donated by UBS in Westerly, they constructed 12 perfect Bluebird houses for placement on the Knox preserve fields.

Add in a dedicated group of Avalonia volunteers for guidance, and the total came to 30 people: from elementary age, to college age, to parents, and grandparents, all working side by side for the day. That collaboration in itself was an amazing opportunity and learning experience. Together we logged over 144 hours on site that day! The birdhouses are up and look beautiful, each decorated with a hand painted bluebird. We now have a Purple Martin housing system awaiting tenants. (A recent check indicates that the Martins have already discovered the new houses.)
Invasive vines were beaten and pulled and cut providing great opportunities for “venting”! Evergreens and fruit trees were freed up and are ready to bloom. Phragmities were cut at the pond. Brush piles were removed to the dump; paths were raked, trash was picked up. Stewardship is an ongoing process; we will continue to try and eradicate the invasives along the walls and around the pond. We will monitor the birdhouses and keep records.

Take the time to visit the preserve. We ask that the fields be left undisturbed now, since breeding season is beginning. Please use the established trails and bring your binoculars to observe nesting behavior at the houses. Please leash your dogs. This is a very vulnerable time for small mammals and birds that are establishing homes and families both in the shrubs and on the ground. Dogs with their enthusiastic curiosity create a terrible hazard for them. Check out what “kids” of all ages were able to accomplish in a very special collaboration on Earth Week.

Thank you to all!

Photos by Beth Sullivan.

Written by Beth Sullivan.

Learn more about the Eastern Bluebird and the Purple Martin at the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Learn about invasive Phragmities in Connecticut.