Monday, October 28, 2013

A Bird in the Hand……..Is really a wonderful experience!

Early on Sunday morning, Oct 20, a group of citizen scientists converged on the Knox Preserve to join Federal bird banders Bob Dewire and Beth Sullivan for a morning observing the process ornithologists use to study and track songbirds. The process was new to several observers, but has become a rite of the Autumn season for several others present. 
White Throated Sparrow about to be released after banding.
Over two decades of banding records have been compiled for the Knox Preserve where we have studied mainly the migratory birds. Some are just passing through, others arriving for the winter, but of course there are several species that remain year round. During the fall, many species of songbirds fly south following the visual line of the coast line. Many fly by night, and at first light, they seek out a welcoming patch of shrub-land for food, cover and rest. Knox Preserve provides that oasis along a very densely populated coastline.
On several days during October, at the peak of migration, mist nets that are seven feet high and forty feet long are strung up in the pathways through the shrub area of the preserve. These nets are nearly invisible to the birds as they move from area to area in search of food. When they encounter the net, they drop lightly into the mesh pockets and usually remain quite still.
On Sunday we set up five nets at dawn. By the time the group arrived, it was time to make our first rounds of checks. When we approach the nets, it is always a bit like Christmas, eagerly anticipating the treasures we will encounter. We have had some wonderful surprises over the years, from Endangered Species rarities , to hawks and owls. Mostly they are a variety of songbirds that use this habitat for forage. Birds are gently removed from the nets and placed in a special box or small bags and then transported to the station set up with our supplies.
Removing birds from the nets.
Birds in bags waiting for banding.
This Sunday morning was quite successful. In a very short time we captured 26 birds and as all observers were quite quick to note, almost all of them were the same species: Myrtle Warblers, otherwise known as Yellow Rumped Warblers , for the bright yellow patch of feathers on their rump! This is their peak of migration and the big draw for them at Knox is all the berries they can find. Many warblers are purely insect eaters and have had to move farther south as it got colder, but the Yellow Rumps adapt and thrive on berries, some remaining in CT even over the winter. They especially love the Bayberry and waxy Cedar berries that are especially abundant this year.
Yellow Rumped Warbler.
The banding process itself involves placing a light weight metal band on the leg of each bird. Each band has a unique series of numbers, much like our social security number, which will remain with that bird for its life. If it is caught again, or found dead, the band number can be reported and traced. A Gray Catbird, banded here in Stonington was found dead in Guatemala. A small warbler, an American Redstart, was banded here and only several days later was re-caught in the Bahamas! Quite the traveler.
Placing the band.
While we have the bird in hand, it is an opportunity to measure and record other data about the individual birds. All this information is dutifully entered into a USFWS banding database. We determine their gender, when possible, by looking at plumage and sometimes taking certain wing measurements. As on a bell curve, the very smallest of a species of songbirds are often the females, the largest, the males, but there are a lot in the middle and there is just no way to tell male from female, unless you are another bird!
Checking plumage on a Yellow Rumped Warbler.

Measuring the wing chord.
We weigh the birds; every little berry counts for these lightweights. We can also determine if they are the young of this year by checking the skin beneath their feathers on their head. A young bird’s skull bones are not fully fused yet, and the skin will show pink. An adult bird will have full bone cover on their skull and the skin will reveal white beneath.
Weighing a newly banded bird.
Each participant was able to hold and band and do most aspects of the review of these little treasures. Then they were released to the bushes with just a few chirps and mutters, to return to foraging, no worse for the experience.
Song Sparrow about fly away.
In two days this season, we captured and banded over 100 birds. They included Song Sparrows, a White Throated Sparrow, a Red Eyed Vireo, a Common Yellow Throat, a Black Capped Chickadee and over 90 little warblers with the bright yellow rump!
Written by Beth Sullivan.
Photographed by Rick Newton and Al Bach.

For more information about the Federal Bird Banding program visit  USFWS Bird Banding Lab's website here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Local author luncheon

On Monday, October 28, local author Richard King, will be at Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT for an author luncheon to celebrate his latest book "The Devil's Cormorant."  It's a great opportunity to learn more about this intriguing bird! 

The cost is $30 which includes a signed hard cover copy of The Devil's Cormorant, a catered lunch and discussion/time with the author.  Follow this link to RSVP.  

King is also the author of Lobster, an elegant little history of this tasty crustacean.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Beauty can be a beast

During this time of year, the scenery changes, seemingly minute by minute. Light changes: the angle of the sun creates shadows and details. Color changes; grasses go to warm browns and golds, meadows show off aster purples, goldenrods and Joe Pye weed magentas.
There are other colors showing up in hedgerows and shrub lands and along roadsides. This is the season for berries. Throughout the spring and summer we enjoyed the flowers, some showy, some discrete. Some are fragrant and others not at all. But now the great variety of berries, the fruits, creates a special show,
Take a ride along a back country road, or even along the highway, and it is impossible not to notice the bounty of berries. We have dozens of native shrubs and bushes that have evolved to provide the vital foods needed by small mammals and birds. Ripening over a succession of weeks and even months through fall and winter, they provide a food source for birds when insects are long gone. Migratory song birds will rely on shrub-lands full of cover and food as they stop after a long night of flight to rest and feast and refuel.

But not all berries are created equal! Over the decades shrubs were imported and planted as ornamentals. Multiflora Rose created instant hedgerows and fragrant white flowers in spring. Those flowers turned into abundant fruits, rose hips, that were eaten by many species of birds. Seeds were dispersed in droppings and now the rose has become an invader, an aggressive spreader that is quick to colonize fields and roadsides. Even though it does provide food and cover, it will out-compete other native plants in our landscape.
Multiflora Rose

Autumn Olive was planted deliberately along our highways to create visual buffers, and also to be a quick cover to prevent erosion. Now that shrub dominates the roadsides. Red berries are abundant now and robins and thrushes are quick to find them. At this time of year we can witness great flocks of starlings, along the highways, swirling and circling as they descend into the medians and roadside edges to feast on the berries and further disperse the seeds.
Autumn Olive

We all enjoy the colors of autumn decorations, but beware of using the non-native and invasive Oriental Bittersweet. It is another truly lovely berry, but a menace when its seeds are spread. The resulting vines climb and twist their way up trees and over native shrubs, strangling and adding their weight and causing death to the plant that supports it.
Oriental Bittersweet

Oriental Bittersweet vine

One of the most outstanding plants for colorful berries is likely the very worst invader: Porcelain berry. A decade or so ago, it was a sought after nursery plant, a climbing vine with most unusual berries. They start creamy white, then to pale green, then light teal, deeper aqua, sky blue and then to purple when ripe. Porcelain berry vine is a vigorous grower, adding inches, if not feet, almost overnight. It covers everything in its path. Obstructing light, smothering plants beneath, it forms a dense monoculture allowing no diversity and changing the landscape and altering valuable habitat.
Porcelain berry smothering a ceder tree.

The colorful Porcelain berry.

Walk through the Moore Woodlands in Groton, Knox Preserve or Knox Family Farm in Stonington, Pine Swamp in Ledyard, Preston Nature Preserve and many other Avalonia Land Conservancy properties. Notice the berries. Take the time to learn the non-natives and notice the beastly effects they have on our landscape and avoid them in your own. Opt for natives instead and the birds will be happier you did.

Written and photographed by Beth Sullivan.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Bird banding at Knox Preserve

Want to help ornithologists follow the migration paths of birds from Connecticut to the tropics and further south? Want to feel the beating heart of a bird as you hold it in your hand? You can share these experiences this Sunday morning by joining members of Avalonia Land Conservancy as they demonstrate bird banding on the Knox Preserve in Stonington.
Common Yellow Throat Warbler about to be banded.

Join us between 8 and 11 am, Sunday, October 20 at the Knox Preserve, located just off Route 1 on Wilcox Rd. Please park on the north side of Wilcox. To find the action, follow the trail signs into the preserve along the cemetery to the start of the stone wall and make a right. Follow the trail along the wall to the banding station.
ALC Stonington Committee chair Beth Sullivan and naturalist Bob Dewire will be our guides for this fascinating experience.

Photograph by Dori Charnetski.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Help Avalonia acquire the Babcock Ridge Property

The Babcock Rdige property is critical to forming a wildlife corridor between two existing Avalonia properties. Learn more about this in an article from The Day, linked here.

You can help Avalonia Land Conservancy raise the funds to complete this important purchase at a dine-out fund raiser at the 99 Restaurant in Groton on Tuesday, October 15 from 5 to 8 o'clock.  15% of your purchase will support Avalonia when you present the coupon found here.

There are several opportunities to take guided hikes through this interesting tract. See the details below.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Supporting Avalonia Land Conservancy

Sunday afternoon, Sept 29,2013: The LaGrua Center was filled with people: friends, supporters and those interested in learning more about Avalonia Land Conservancy. It was pretty much SRO, with folks even in the balcony as Avalonia executives took the floor to discuss our mission and our goals and our needs. Maureen Dewire, Vice President and Secretary, discussed the nature and science behind our conservation and preservation efforts. Backed by lovely photos of our preserves, in a Power Point presentation, she outlined the importance of our effort, the uniqueness of the habitats we are entrusted with, and our goals to create greenways of connected open space within Southeastern CT. Her enthusiasm and passion certainly convinced a number of people in the audience that their help is indeed important in our preservation efforts.
Vice-President and Secretary Maureen Dewire explains the need for conservation.

ALC President Michele Fitzpatrick then outlined more of the nuts and bolts of how we preserve land, the acquisition process, donors, funding efforts, work with grants and how important it is to generate a proper fund to support and sustain our stewardship efforts on the properties we are responsible for and develop a fund for future acquisitions. Special mention was made of the North Stonington Babcock Ridge fund raising effort for acquisition. I am sure it was eye-opening for many in the audience who may have had no idea of the depth and scope of Avalonia’s holdings and the efforts required to sustain them.
President Michele Fitzpatrick addresses the audience.

The presentations were followed by some good Q&A time and then, socializing. Wine and light appetizers were available as guests mingled and talked. There were numerous opportunities for visitors to seek out Avalonia representatives for special questions, exchange ideas, and offer their pledges for membership and donations as well!
All of this was made possible by our sponsors. In the months before this event, Avalonia volunteers sought donations and support from local businesses. We learned a lot from our efforts, but mostly we discovered how generous even the smallest of businesses can be, when they support a mission such as Avalonia’s.
Please support our sponsors that are listed here. Tell them you appreciate their support of the Avalonia Event and let them know they made a difference!

Written by Beth Sullivan.  Photographs by Jim Sullivan.
Here is a text version of our sponsor list:
Aquarion Water Co.
Bank Square Book
Big Y
Brumble Bikes
Charles Schwab
Coogan Gildersleeve Appliances
Dog Watch Cafe
Hunter Moore and Stearns
Johnson Hardware
Kitchen Little
La Grua Shop
Lindberg Marketing and Media
Mattern &Stefon Land Surveyors
Mystic Cycle Center
New England Science & Sailing Foundation, Inc.
Okeefe's Package Store
Poor Morgan Screen Printing
Stonington Eye Care
Stonington Pizza Palace
Stonington Veterinary Hospital
Stop and Shop
The Company of Craftsmen
Zest Bakery

Another Opportunity to support Babcock Ridge

We recently wrote about the importance of conserving the Babcock Ridge corridor in North Stonington. To help raise the funds needed to acquire Babcock Ridge, there will be a dine-out fund raiser at the 99 Restaurant in Groton on Tuesday, October 15 from five to eight o'clock. The restaurant will give Avalonia 15% of what you spend (tax and gratuity not included) when you present the coupon found here. (You need Adobe Reader to view this pdf file. Many computers have this program. If  you need it, you can download it here.)

You do not need to be a member of Avalonia to participate in this event, just present the coupon when you order. Please tell you friends and family about this event. Better yet, invite them to join you for dinner. It's a wonderful way to explain the importance of our conservation efforts and invite them to join us.