Avalonia Land Conservancy’s mission statement reads: “…Preserving natural habitats in southeastern Connecticut by acquiring and protecting lands and by communicating the value of these irreplaceable resources”.
In order to better understand and communicate the value of our resources, Avalonia promotes educational efforts on our preserves. By welcoming students and supporting their projects we benefit from their knowledge and insight as well as make valuable connections to the extended resources they represent.
Here in Stonington we have a widely varied offering of habitats and preserves. Over the last several years we have made some wonderful academic and scientific connections and offered numerous opportunities for study. We have had students as young as preschool, and all the way through college and graduate school, working on projects on Avalonia properties.
In 2011-12 a student from Brown University studied the presence and effects of Sesarma (Marsh Crab) on the Cottrell Preserve. These crabs burrow in the mud along salt marsh edges, consume the grasses that support the edges, and seriously erode the marsh when their populations are large.
Holes used by Sesarma Marsh crabs can cause erosion.
For several years, including 2013, University of Connecticut students have visited several marshes in town, including the Woolworth Preserve and Paffard Marsh this year, to study the birds that make use of the different habitats associated with these areas. Arriving at dawn, the different teams looked for the uncommon Seaside Sparrows and Salt Marsh Sparrows as well as other marsh nesters. Other teams surveyed the areas where the woodlands met the marsh for birds that use these areas.
Yellow Warbler is one of many species that use marsh edges.
On the Peck and Callahan Preserves, the USFWS and DEEP, along with Avalonia volunteers, will begin a long term study of the wildlife that makes use of the newly created shrub and young forest habitats. We will especially be looking for the New England Cottontail and several shrub dependent birds like the Brown Thrasher and Yellow Breasted Chat.
The Knox Preserve has been the focus of many studies over the years. For two decades, Federal Bird Banding has been conducted on the preserve and meticulous records kept of observations and populations and species. This year, with the successful establishment of a Purple Martin colony, the DEEP conducted a special banding operation to add to the data being collected about this species, their migrations, returns and dispersals throughout the area.
Robin being processed prior to banding.
Purple Martins at the Knox Preserve are now part of a migration and dispersal study.
Connecticut College students from the Goodwin Neiring Centerfor Environmental Studies, conducted numerous projects this past year. They included studying the drainage and plant life of the brackish pond there. Another group studied the field restoration effort and introduced native plants; others enhanced the bird housing availability on the property.
Sandy Point, our Island just off Stonington Point, has long been studied. The bird populations are documented frequently during the nesting season with special attention to Piping Plovers, Least terns and American Oystercatchers. Horseshoe crabs are tagged and counted as part of an ongoing study, Project Limulus, conducted by Sacred Heart University. The island is well renowned for its population and nesting habitats for these ancient and valuable animals.
Project Limulus studies the Horseshoe Crabs at Sandy Point.
Dodge Paddock, which has been the subject of efforts by Avalonia and DEEP to improve the habitat by improving drainage and removal of the invasive Phragmites, will also now get its own study group. A doctoral fellow and team from Trinity College will be monitoring the Phragmites removal efforts, and will concentrate on regeneration of native plant diversity in the areas where the Phragmites have been eradicated and the effect the treatment has on the soils in the area.
A new team will study the long term treatment of
Phragmites that have taken over Dodge Paddock.
Every time we encourage a study effort, we benefit from the knowledge they have gained and in turn are better able to steward the lands entrusted to our care.
Written by Beth Sullivan. Photography by Beth Sullivan and Rick Newton.
Learn more about the preserves mentioned here at avalonialandconservancy.org.