Monday, September 30, 2013

Preserving a rocky corridor

To a novice hiker, Babcock Ridge in North Stonington may seem daunting: steep hills, rocky ridges, walls and wetlands. To others, including wildlife and birds, it is a beautiful corridor of habitat, woodlands, hiding places, nesting sites and food sources. Those rocky ledges are denning sites for many types of creatures, from foxes, coyotes, and bats to possibly bears and likely some great snakes! Areas around rock ridges provide microhabitats for special birds like Worm-eating Warblers. Large unbroken areas of forest canopy are home to Scarlet Tanagers, Orioles, Thrushes, Warblers and Vireos. The mature large trunked trees and old snags can support woodpeckers, including the Pileated Woodpecker, our largest, and other cavity nesting birds. 
What might call this ledge home?

Perhaps the work of a pileated woodpecker?

 The wetlands include vernal pools, springs and seeps, all of which are fragile and imperiled habitats. In addition to unique plant-life to be found here, the wetlands support all number of amphibians, including Spotted Salamanders and Wood Frogs which lay eggs in the vernal pools. The adjoining forest habitat gives them perfect areas for dispersal.
Spotted salamander egg masses.

Upland woods are home to Great Horned Owls and Red Tailed Hawks, while the lowland areas have nesting Red Shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls. They prey on the abundance of small mammals present here, including squirrels, chipmunks, mice and other rodents.

A walk in the spring and summer will find the area lush with the green of a dense overhead canopy. Mosses and lichens cover the rocky ledges and cliff-sides. Look for special plants, ferns and others that make their homes in the cracks and crevices and seeps off the hillsides. As fall turns towards winter, the “bones” of the property are revealed: stone walls, abandoned foundations and more stark rocks and ledges. It makes for great exploring.

Avalonia Land Conservancy already owns one quarter of the 74 acre woodland, by virtue of a bequest from the late Ruth Goldsmith. It seeks to purchase the remaining portion to complete a large, 220 acre, unbroken greenway of protected Avalonia land. To the north is the recently acquired Erisman Woodlands on Reutemann Rd. To the south, across Babcock road, is the lovely Henne Memorial Tract of Avalonia’s Shunock River Preserve. The whole area is part of the protected watershed of the Pawcatuck River and hosts multiple varied habitats and unique wildlife, including native Trout in the Shunock river. If you were to look on a map of the area, the state-owned Assekonk Swamp, Pachaug Forest and the town-owned Hewitt Farm Preserve are all connected….as a crow might fly!

Donations from individuals and organizations, and funding from grants and State Programs are being sought. If you would like to walk on the Babcock Ridge trails to see how special it is, please join Avalonia for one one of the scheduled guided hikes listed in this post. Come take a look.

Please support the fundraising effort. You will help preserve something your grandchildren will be able to appreciate!

Written and photographed by members of Avalonia Land Conservancy.

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