Monday, May 26, 2014


By Beth Sullivan
In honor of the holiday, we took the time to visit several of the cemeteries and family burying grounds that are within or near our Avalonia Preserves.
Since the first settlers came to our shores and established homesteads and farms, they created spaces dedicated to their family’s deceased. Many of these small plots have become forgotten and over grown. Others became incorporated into or surrounded by, the land donated to Avalonia for conservation and preservation. It is an interesting walk through history to examine some of the stones and their inscriptions-family groups, youngsters, soldiers and laborers are represented.
In the Perry Natural Area, in the far corner, is a small plot. Most of the stones are unmarked, merely designating head and foot. Two others are larger, with writing legible still. 
The grave of Prentice Brown in the Perry Natural Area.
Most graves are unmarked, just stones placed at head and foot.

In Hoffman Preserve there is the Bennett Yard. Also within Hoffman are many stone mounds, thought by some to be markers of burial sites from even pre-colonial times.
Sometimes stone cairns mark old burial sites.
Out on Barn Island, on the way to the Continental Marsh Preserve, is yet another cemetery. This one is surrounded by more imposing stone walls. 
Family groups include graves from all ages.
There is one lovely spot, a plot carved out of the Stony Brook Preserve on Sommers Lane. It is not easy to access as there are no trails. Here members of the Davis and Beebe Families are buried. 
The Davis family was prominent in Stonington.

Some stones have toppled but remain memorials.
It is in the cemetery near the Knox preserve where some of the most detailed history is found. Wives of an original founding father, in the Minor family, members of the Hoxsie, Latham and Wilcox families as well are buried here. Included here is a stone dedicated to two “Indians” who lived and presumably worked on the farm here. They were given an impressive stone and a place with the family.

Native Americans and farm laborers were also included in family burial grounds.

The Minor family is one of the oldest founding families.

Veterans are included in these old graveyards 


What is notable is the number of American Flags that dotted the land on this Memorial Day Weekend. They honor those from several wars and include a number who served in the Connecticut Volunteers.
We live in an area rich with history. It is good to see that preserved and to see there is still honor bestowed on those who served this country, long, long ago.
The grave of John Hoxsie who fought in the Civil War and survived.

The grave of Lenard Wilcox in the Miner Cemetery by Knox Preserve.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Rick Newton.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sea level rise-A timely topic

by Beth Sullivan
In the last weeks we have had ample opportunity to read about the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. On Sunday, May 11, Judy Benson wrote an excellent , detailed, piece on the topic in the New London Day. Shoreline towns all up and down the Eastern seaboard are addressing issues that have come to the fore since Super Storm Sandy. Here in Connecticut , a number of towns along our shoreline have already begun, or in some cases, completed plans to address these changes and set long term goals on how the town, its infrastructure and its coastal properties can best prepare to deal with the effects of these changes.

A healthy marsh is lush with adaptive native grasses.
Avalonia owns and manages several coastal properties, most in Stonington. As stewards, over the years, we have noticed these changes first hand. Literally hunks of peat banks that form the marsh edges are falling off into the water as higher waves and tides batter them. The marshes themselves stay wetter longer, which is actually a detriment to the plants and animals that rely on the tidal cycles of highs and lows, wets and dries, to survive. Areas of healthy marsh are becoming wastelands, of sorts. There are spreading “pannes” of brown slick mud where nothing can grow but host mosquito larvae. The healthy marsh grasses are being replaced in many areas by other plants that tolerate more water and salt. As the grasses change, so does the wildlife that depends on them. Mussel banks fall into the water; crabs that burrow along the marsh edges are flooded too often. Birds are displaced, and their nests fail with the rising waters.
Ribbed mussels that are embedded in the bank help support the marsh edge.
In one area we have been able to witness changes happening, literally, before our eyes. Over the last year we have reported on Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve, at the end of Wall Street in Stonington Borough. Those who have lived in the area can remember the not too distant past when the land was dry enough to play ball on. The grasses were mown to be like a lawn. There was a small brackish pond that supported native plants and wildlife.
A view of the Paddock in May 2006.
Over the last decade, these residents have witnessed the changes brought by higher water levels and stronger storms. As water tables rise, it is not just the salt water causing the problem, but fresh water running off into the area and not draining away. This encouraged the growth of the non-native and invasive Phragmites. These aggressive plants rapidly spread, crowded out other native plants and degraded the habitat so very little else could. The wetter land has made it impossible to mow, compounding the problem. Super Storm Sandy pretty much topped it off, destruction and inundation and debris impacted the entire area.
In 2014 the area is degraded and flooded.

Damage at the marsh edge shows bare mud, few plants, and dying mussels.

As tides become higher, waves become more forceful and erosion increases.
After over a year of working and collaborating with DEEP and state agencies, we are hopefully seeing not only a light at the end of the tunnel, but possibly a rainbow as well. The Phragmites have been nearly eradicated. The DEEP has continued their efforts to correct the drainage and have re-dug a channel to direct the standing water out of the pond. Work will continue to open up drainage flows farther west up into the Beal Preserve. There are plans in place to make the drainage channel more permanent and easier to maintain, and they will grade and even out the disturbed landscape when they are done.
Monoculture of Phragmites had begun to dominate a large area.

The drainage channel has been widened.
We, Avalonia, are beginning an amazing collaboration: a team made up of experts in areas of coastal restoration, landscape design and adaptive coastal plantings and an experienced grant writing team. Together, we are planning a project here to not only restore the habitat, but make it better, make it more adaptive in the face of future storms and flooding events. The area will never be as it was, historically. Mother Nature has seen to that.
The Borough of Stonington has a proactive leader. The Borough Warden has begun a discussion with other experts in the area of coastal resiliency planning . We all need to raise our voices to ask our leaders, all along the shore, to begin formal planning so that all areas, not just treasured open spaces, can benefit from teamwork and planning for the future.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Jeff Callahan.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stone walls

Walking the trails of Avalonia preserves we see stone walls everywhere. The old stone walls are so common they seem to blend into the beauty we see and can almost be lost as distinct features. 

 Did you ever wonder why there are so many stone walls in southeastern Connecticut?

This wall on the Paffard Woods Preserve gets the once over by the Connecticut College Track and Field Team during a recent work party.

Tonight (Thursday, May 15) author Robert Thorson  will explain all during a lecture at the La Grua Center in Stonington. The program starts at 6 pm.

Find out more here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Perfect Weekend!

By Beth Sullivan
One weekend: Mother’s Day, Migratory Bird day, glorious weather, a perfect trifecta! Had to get out into my favorite habitats and once again, I hit the swamps! This time a hike on Avalonia’s Henne Preserve in North Stonington was the perfect way to enjoy all three elements.
The cooler weather and slow start to the season has kept the trees from being fully leafed out. The northward migration also may have slowed a bit, but the beautiful south breezes this past week have pushed up all the migrating birds, and they were still easy to see high in the trees.
Walking into the Henne, along the grown in fields, Blue Winged Warblers and Eastern Towhees were singing. The forest floor was just greening a bit with Canada Mayflower, also known as Wild Lily of the Valley. Stooping to check out some of the minute flowers, I was aghast to see I had knelt in a patch of just sprouting poison ivy. Beware: its leaves are small and red right now, but still potent!
Wild Lilly of the Valley.

Poison Ivy is small and red and will still make you itch. 
Walking into the preserve, passed a large woody vernal pool and the deep base of a bull frog rang out. They are the last to emerge from hibernation and will be calling for the next month or more. Small wet seeps run down from the hillsides, and they are lined with blue violets and anemones and skunk cabbage. Both color forms of Jack-in-the-Pulpit were really becoming more open and visible along the trail.
Walking along the glacial esker we had a perfect overview of the entire marsh below. The wooded slopes down to the water have several large trees showing signs of ambitious beaver work.
This trail follows along the esker.

Busy Beavers.
Canada Geese were the most noisy and active. Red-winged Blackbirds were a close second for noise. Tree Swallows flashed and twittered out over the grasses and waterways. They seem to have an abundance of tree holes for nesting opportunities.
Canada Goose takes wing.
An osprey screeched from its huge nest atop a large and solid snag in the center of the marsh. From the edges its mate called back and forth. They are likely on eggs right now.
Osprey on tree nest.
As the trail drops down toward the water level we were greeted by the sounds of other wet-shrub land birds: Yellow Warblers were all over, Yellow –throated Vireos chattered and rattled, and Song Sparrows seemed to sing from almost every other bush.

This small stream is lined with violets and spring greens. 
Out on the point we took the time to just stop and look and listen. The beaver dam still stands and the tumbling water sounds were hypnotic. Painted turtles sunned and then plunked into the water when they felt disturbed.
Painted turtles were everywhere, basking in the warm sunshine.

A Perfect Great Blue Heron Mother's Day

The very best show, however, was put on by the Great Blue Herons in the three nests. High in flimsy snags over the water, the birds seem awkward and out of place. As we watched one nest, the parent bird began to fidget. She stood up and began to peck at something down in her nest. She continued this poking and moving for quite a while as we watched and waited. We were rewarded by the sight of two fuzzy heads wobbling at the edge of the nest. A Happy Mother’s day!
Look close-there are two new hatchlings waiting for lunch.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, May 5, 2014

GNCE Work Day

by Marina Stuart and Cian Fields

On a cloudy Sunday twelve members of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment (GNCE) at Connecticut College made their way out to Knox Preserve to participate in a workday. This workday was in part to give some of the GNCE students time to work on their individual projects, and was also advertised around the Stonington and Mystic area to invite any one to participate. When everyone had arrived and plans were discussed, we all got to work. We split up, to either tackle our own individual projects or to work on other areas of the preserve. We first went to help with installing a nesting gourd system for the Purple Martins.
One Team helped setup the new Purple Martin houses.

After that we checked in with our other GNCE members. Aly and Olivia were in the process of deciding where their different plants should go; they were planting native shrub plants to restore habitat where invasives had been removed. They planted native wildflowers in hopes to attract bees and other pollinators.
Emma and Emily had arrived with their plants and were measuring out their test plots in the field and turning the soil. Their project is also about introducing diverse native plants to Knox, but also seeing how well they survive in comparison to the invasive species present in the field.
As we walked on, we ran into Caitlin and Anna; they were collecting soil samples. They were working with Cameron Douglass, a researcher from Trinity College who will analyze their soil samples. Their project is focused around the salinity in the soil and figuring out which plants work best in different areas of the preserve.
Anna and Caitlin went deep into the bushes to get soil samples

Brush piles to the rescue 
Finally we came to Natalie and Jessica who were also being assisted by Matt and Maia. Their project was to clear non -native and invasive shrubs from a corner of the preserve. Invasives provide poor quality habitat for native birds and animals. By removing them, over time they can be replaced with better quality natives. In the meantime, leaving brush piles will help provide shelter for many creatures. Since this is where they needed hands, we decided to help their project and began pulling out invasive species. The most common ones were Oriental bittersweet and Honeysuckle. We worked on the project from 10:30-3, stopping once for lunch. By the end of the day we had accomplished more than we had expected. Yes, we had made one large brush pile on the side that will be great protective cover for wildlife. But we also created a huge pile in the middle of the clearing, with large amount of space all around it; we had cleared so much out you could walk down to the water! It was incredible. Natalie and Jessica were extremely pleased. The pile in the center of the clearing will be mowed down and used for ground cover, and the other brush pile will be used for attracting more birds to the area.
A big brush pile was created.

Jessica worked on bittersweet.

Maia enjoyed tackling the vines.

Matt took a saw to the bigger branches.

Natalie attached Honeysuckle.

As we gathered together at the end of the day, we were all very impressed with what we got done. Aly, Olivia, Emma, and Emily had all planted their plots, Anna and Caitlin had gathered samples to be tested, Natalie and Jessica had cleared out their area and created their bird habitat. Maia and Matt have their project on the Dodge Paddock so they helped by first contributing to Natalie and Jessica’s project, and later went around with Beth Sullivan digging up multiflora rose plants invading the main field on Knox. We got to help and also got material to write more blogs! Thanks for reading and look out for more blogs about the individual projects coming soon!
Several GNCE students dug out the multiflora rose invading the fields.

Photographs by Marina Stuart and Cian Fields.