Thursday, June 27, 2013

It happened under a full moon

This past weekend Summer made her presence known, and under the “Super” Full Moon, called by some the Strawberry Moon, there was a lot happening.
The Super Full Moon.

Many nesting mammals have been quietly rearing their first broods of young. Rabbits, chipmunks, woodchucks, and foxes all have young in dens and burrows. In an old favorite children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown, the Mother animals tell their young to “Wait, Wait, Wait till the moon is full” and then they can emerge to experience life beyond their nesting places. On the full moon nights all creatures great and small seem to be out and about; possums, raccoons, and skunks with families forage in backyards, hedgerows, and sadly along roadsides. It’s fun to spy their glowing eyes, but way too dangerous for the little ones. Adult mother mammals are often seen out at times you may think are unusual, like mid day, and many fear it means they are sick or rabid. It often just means they are taking a break from the kids! Be patient, observe from a distance, but do not fear unless the animal is looking very sick, or behaving erratically.
Woodchucks out for a stroll.

Many of our favorite birds are tending young and may already have fledged their first broods. Bluebirds and Tree Swallows have popped from their nest boxes, while other species are still tending eggs. Our Purple Martins at the Knox Preserve have completed four nests with five eggs each. Crows can be extremely vocal when moving around following their young who are testing their wings. Most birds do not fly at night unless they are migrating. If you were out wandering on the Full Moon night, you may have startled a roosting bird or come upon a fledgling on the ground and created a commotion. The adult birds will bring food to their young on the ground and will often create a noisy diversion to lure a predator, or curious human, away from a hiding baby.
Bluebird on nest box.

A group of dedicated Horseshoe Crab taggers, intoxicated by the lure of the full moon and high tides, just like the crabs, paddled out to Avalonia’s Sandy Point to survey the island on several of the nights around the full moon. These nights are prime time for the crabs to come up on the shore for egg-laying in shallow sandy nests. Click here for more about Horseshoe Crabs.  We tagged hundreds but had to leave many hundreds more untagged simply because we ran out of tags. Part of the adventure is recapturing those with tags that were attached in previous years, as far back as 2009, returning to the same beach for their full moon ritual.

On Monday night the moon was just past full. It rose huge and nearly blood red on the eastern horizon over Watch Hill. There was enough light from the moon to illuminate the hundreds of gulls nesting on the island, all complaining as we disturbed their night. Canada Geese with young of all sizes, grumbled as they made their way off shore to wait until we passed. Oystercatchers and Willets peeped and called in the moon light. Once in a while, a small pale sandpiper would fly up in front of our head lamps and look ghostly in the beams. We nearly stumbled upon a resting sub-adult loon, sitting quietly, close to the water’s edge, surely confused by our lights and appearance out there.
In the shallow water the horseshoe crabs came and created a frothy mass of bubbles as they laid their eggs close to shore. Seemingly attracted to their activity were schools of Spot-fin Killifish, most likely also spawning in the warm shallow waters. They were so intent on their activity, we could scoop them up in our hands! We watched Green and Blue Crabs foraging in the moonlight, Snails and Hermit Crabs making their way on the sand flats.
A swimming lesson for young Canada Geese.

We paddled home on the calm sparkling waters under the light of that still full moon.
There will be other lovely summer nights, other full moons in July and August, but nothing can compare to that first full moon occurring near the Solstice and the first warm nights of summer.

Written by Beth Sullivan.

Photography by Beth Sullivan (Full Moon), Maureen Dewire (Woodchucks), and Rick Newton (birds).
Find out more about the Super Full Moon here. The next Super Full Moon will be August 10, 2014.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Girl Scouts blaze new trail

There is a new trail in Connecticut. Two Girl Scouts from troop 63210 in Mystic, CT have cleared and blazed a connector trail from Avalonia Land Conservancy's Moore Woodlands in Mystic to Route 215 to complete their Silver Award project. They have named this trail, Mother Nature's Highway, as it can be a bit of a hiking challenge.  The scouts have also hidden six letterboxes along trails on the Moore Woodlands property, and created an 'I SPY' hunt for hikers to do while outside exploring nature.  They hope you and your family will enjoy this wonderful outdoor experience.

 Mother Nature's Highway is located on Avalonia's Moore Woodlands and connects Route 215 to the Beebe Pond Park train system in Mystic, CT.

The Girl Scout Silver Award is the highest award that a Cadette Scout (6th, 7th, and 8th graders)  can earn.  It is awarded for a service project that improves the community and demonstrates leadership skills. Learn more about Girl Scouts and the Silver Awardhere.

Letterboxing is a combination of orienteering and rubber stamp art.  Similar to geocaching, these activities get people outside and hiking.

Learn more about letterboxing here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


In conservation, the concept of creating greenways has grown from the understanding that animals and birds, and even plants, need corridors of land to move along. In the past it seemed enough to protect any parcel, even an isolated one. Every bit counted. Now we realize that finding and protecting land that is connected to other preserved and protected land is a greater goal. When Avalonia Land Conservancy seeks new properties with hopes of acquisition, we look at surrounding areas and see how each piece of the puzzle can fit and enhance the whole.
One such greenway in the town of Stonington is made of the combined lands of several organizations or institutions, and not only is it a green corridor for animals to utilize, but contains a lovely length of trails and side loops to be explored, and all are in walking distance from the hub of the Mystic tourism area.
Trail map of the greenway area.

There are several parts to this trail system. The most Northern parcels are the White Cedar Swamp and the Deans Mill Preserve, owned by Avalonia, that are accessed from Jerry Browne Road and a small road-side parking area. A lovely winding path rises high and overlooks a small white cedar bog on one side and the Deans Mill reservoir on the other. The water company land, while not open to the public, contributes to the greenway of protected acreage. The trail goes as far north as the I -95 interstate and loops around through land that contains vernal pools and seeps as well as old stone walls, glacial erratics and beautiful old trees. Returning to Jerry Browne Road, you can cross the street and head up a short distance to a new connector trail through Avalonia’s Perkins Wildlife Corridor that goes into the woods, crosses a stream and then abuts another Avalonia property: the Pequotsepos Preserve. This connects to land owned by the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and continues to land held by the Denison Society. A walk in this area takes you down to the Nature Center fields and habitat restoration project.
Trail head in the greenway.

This collection of green acres also adjoins more protected space and another set of connecting trails to the west of Pequotsepos Road. These are most easily accessed from the overflow parking area directly across from the Mystic Aquarium and off Maritime Blvd. The first segment is owned by the Aquarium and goes through varied habitats, mostly early successional brush and shrub lands and then leads into more Avalonia land, the Pequotsepos Brook Preserve that is second growth forest and follows a stream and walls that indicate former farm use. One of the most interesting aspects of this segment of the greenway trail is that it skirts several settling ponds and as it follows the Pequotsepos Brook, volunteers have uncovered several historic stone bridges. Huge stones, many of which were quarried from this same property, were placed to create these crossings. These provided solid crossings for farm carts, animals and vehicles from the past century. These are scenic and peaceful places to stop and listen for the wildlife hidden here. At one point the trail comes out into a large open field at the end of Maritime Blvd. It is here that there will be a connection to the Coogan property being purchased and protected by the Nature Center.

Stone bridges in the greenway.

Continue the walk through the woods, behind the Denison Homestead, and you emerge into the Farmer’s Market field and you can enjoy the sunny habitat and multiple bird houses with Bluebirds and Tree Swallows in residence. You may be lucky enough to spy a deer or a fox.
Walking to the south edge of the field you go back into the woods a short distance before coming to the end of the trail on Mistuxet Avenue and overlooking the head of the Pequotsepos Cove.

These are not long or difficult trails. There are loops and side trails, varied habitats, and within them, a wide variety of wildlife to be discovered. It is only with the cooperation of multiple organizations, with the same goals, that we can continue to protect and connect the open spaces in our town and provide Greenways for all to enjoy.

Written and photographed by Beth Sullivan.

You can learn more about greenways in Connecticut at the DEEP website.
There are maps and other information about the preserves mentioned here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Knox Preserve Brochure

As part of our collaboration with students from Connecticut College's, Goodwin Niering Center for

the Environment, Mara Lookabaugh and Michala Tepler, sophomores in the program,
researched the acquisition history and ecology of the Knox Preserve in Stonington, where all the students were  focused this year.  Their intent was to create a guide to the preserve.

After deliberation, they decided to create a digital document to be posted on the Avalonia
website that can also be downloaded and printed as they needed.

Enjoy  the results of their work!

You can learn more about the Goodwin Niering Center at their web site

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Knox Preserve Welcomes Purple Martins

In the Fall of 2012, the Stonington Town Committee of Avalonia Land Conservancy gratefully accepted a Grant from the National Audubon Society for the purpose of establishing a Purple Martin population on the Knox Preserve.
Purple Martin seeks gourd with northern exposure, can you help?

Martins are one of several species of birds that are aerial insectivores, meaning they eat insects while on the wing. They prefer open spaces for hunting, and insect levels are often higher over naturalized fields, especially those with a water source nearby. The restored fields, small pond and location near the shore make the Knox preserve a perfect site. Martins are cavity nesters and originally used abandoned woodpecker holes. However, from as early in historical records as pre-1800 it has been reported that Native Americans in the Southeast provided hollow gourds, set in colonies, to entice the Martins. They have become not only dependent on humans for their home sites, but are also very tolerant of human activity near and even within the nests. Due to loss of housing, loss of habitat, and pesticide use decreasing insects over cultivated fields and lawns, Martin populations are plummeting and they are now considered threatened in CT.

With our Audubon grant we purchased a 12 unit Super Gourd -Housing system with pulleys and locking winches to make our Landlord jobs easier. With help from a team of CONN College Students from the Goodwin -Niering Center for the Environment, we did our research and set up the system on April 27. The very next day Purple Martin scouts, the earliest arrivals, were on the location and checking out the new real estate.

Being a Martin colony landlord is a big responsibility. The houses have to be prepared with beds of pine needles to entice the nesting pairs. We do nearly daily checks to observe behavior and signs of nesting. They have been taking forever this spring to make their decisions about gourd choice! We also have to be vigilant about nest site competitors and even predators. House Sparrows frequently invade and take over Martin cavities, and they have even killed nesting birds to evict them. As landlords we need to be on the watch for this and have the instructions to remove nesting House Sparrows (which are not covered by Federal Protections as they are non -native and invasive). Another strategy is to provide alternate nesting sites. Visitors to Knox will notice 12 new Bluebird nest boxes. As of now we have no nesting bluebirds, but we do have several pairs of Tree Swallows (which is great), one box with a House Wren investigating and a few boxes where House Sparrows have taken over.
Tree Swallow headed home

In the next weeks we expect nesting behavior to intensify as the pairs get busy enhancing the nest material inside the gourds. We will regularly take down the colony (that’s the reason for the winch system) and, when lowered, we can inspect each nest for eggs. Throughout the season we can check for hatching success, chick count, fledging dates, and when needed, even do nest material change outs to decrease infestation by mites. If we have successful nests, we can also do Federal Bird Banding on our young which will further assist with studies of the species. The Martins not only tolerate this intrusion, they seem to welcome it and thrive!

We will keep you posted on our nest checks and observations as the season goes on. You can stop by and observe the colony from a distance, so bring your binoculars. At this time of year we ask visitors to stay out of the fields to avoid disturbance to all nesting birds. The Purple Martins put on quite a display with their flight and twittering chatter. Enjoy them.

Written by Beth Sullivan.
Photos by Beth Sullivan (top) and Rick Newton (bottom).

To find out more about Purple Martins visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Poquetanuck Cove Clean Up June 8, 2013

The EasternConnecticutConservationDistrict (ECCD), in partnership with the Towns of Preston and Ledyard and The Last Green The Last Green Valley, is sponsoring a clean-up of Poquetanuck Cove, an embayment of the Thames River in Preston and Ledyard. The clean-up will be held on Saturday, June 8th (rain date Saturday, June 15th).  Paddlers are especially sought as most of the Cove is best accessed by water, but land based clean up is also a priority. Check in will begin at 9 am the Brookside CafĂ© parking area, Route 2a in Preston.  Volunteers will be assigned clean-up areas when they register. Please call Judy Rondeau at 860-887-4163 Ext. 401 to sign up.  After the clean up events, there will be light refreshments for the volunteers involved in the clean up.
Poquetanuck Cove

ECCD has been working with local stakeholders to develop a Poquetanuck Cove Conservation Action Plan to protect the cove from degradation. In an online survey, nearly half the respondents expressed concern about trash in the cove. To see the other outcomes of the Poquetanuck Cove Opinion Survey, please visit, click on Current Projects and then the Poquetanuck Cove CAP tab. The Poquetanuck Cove Conservation Action Planning Process has been funded in part by a grant through the Long Island Sound Study.

Photo by Rick Newton.