Monday, October 27, 2014

This and That: Updates from the field and forest

By Beth Sullivan
We have all been working pretty hard over the last month: starting some projects, finishing others. I thought it might be fun for a little round up.

Anguilla Brook Bridge

Earlier in the year a team of Avalonia volunteers dismantled an unsafe and unstable old bridge across a marsh outflow. With patience and effort and a lot of team work, the project is now complete. The DEEP was able to deliver right to the crossing two long poles to span the gap. Set in place, they became the base. Our building team rolled them into the correct position, secured them, and then used old timbers to shore up and reinforce the banks from further erosion. With a generous grant from the Rotary Club of Stonington, we were able to purchase materials for the decking. In another effort, cedar trees that needed thinning from another preserve were cut, trimmed, and moved to this site to create a hand rail system. The bridge is sturdy, and safe, and beautiful! In the future, we will look into assistance and funding to have the marsh water levels studied and possibly a water control structure place in order to maintain the marsh at its most productive and beneficial for wildlife. Thanks to the many participants that made this happen.
DEEP donated and delivered the poles and set them in place.

Finished bridge over a portion of the Anguilla Brook and marsh.

The old bridge was dismantled in the Spring.

Knox Preserve

Many people have questioned all the orange flags and white pipes dotting some of the preserve areas. Those are test plots set up by a Trinity College professor and his undergrad team, who are studying invasive plants, how they are treated, how they respond to various treatments, and how regrowth occurs in different areas. While fighting invasives is a continuous battle to prevent them from taking over and degrading the natural habitats, allowing the study will hopefully give us some answers and insights on how to win the war!
The orange flags and poles mark test plots.

Fennerswood Walls

Several weeks ago we launched an effort to clear the walls of shrubbery and vines that obscured their beauty. When we discovered the walls were in disrepair and, in some cases, disappearing due to theft of rocks, we embarked on a low-key local campaign to raise funds for restoration. With amazing generosity from a few early donors, we were able to actually begin work already by hiring a duo of skilled stone workers with talent and strong backs. In another interesting irony, these two young men have been questioned by neighbors, travelers, and police-all of whom fear they are removing rocks! We are truly grateful to all of those who are keeping an eye on our properties. The police now know what is happening and can field the many questions and reports. Please continue to keep an eye on these walls; watch them rise to line North Main Street, thank the fellows doing the work, and feel free to join our effort to fund the entire project!
A finished section of wall along North Main Street.

If you see these two along North Main Street- they're with us!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In a Child’s Eyes: dedicated to E.J.S.Y.

By Beth Sullivan
There is nothing like becoming a Grandmother to shake up perceptions, open eyes and think of hope.
When we have our own children, we are busy being new parents, and trying to do things right and keeping them safe. More than thirty years later, we are armed with more knowledge, different priorities, as well as so many more experiences to share. While working with elementary school age children has always been my passion, thinking about starting with a blank slate, a brand new open mind, is a little daunting but at the same time is opening my eyes as well. I am truly seeing things differently and thinking how they might be seen for the first time by a little one.

Many questions to answer in the future

Really: how does one explain color? This time of year it is so abundant. All colors are mixed up with leaves and trees. How do they change? Why do they change? Do we explain by science or miracles and magic to a little one? October sky blue, filled with flying squawking Blue Jays, blue sea. Off shore waters change blue hues in a blink.
How to explain the colors of Autumn?

How to describe the changing color of the sky and water?

How do we begin to explain the mystery of birds and flight? I am not sure I understand it well enough to explain simply to a small child filled with curiosity and questions. Will there still be flights of Tree Swallows that create magic formations as they come to roost at night in the reeds along the coast? Will he wish to fly as I surely did…do?
How do birds fly?

Will Swallows still gather?

How about those little creatures, often overlooked and reviled- Spiders and slugs and bugs? They are special creatures too. Look closely at a slug….wait for those antennae to come out as it explores your finger. Watch the slow twisting gliding of its body as it changes shape and moves – mysterious, not “gross”. How do we instill caution about spiders that can bite but are not evil and mean, without creating fear?
What about the magic of butterflies? Light and airy yet strong enough to cover continents with their flights. Will there be Monarchs for my grandson to watch when he is old enough to understand how special they are? And how on earth do caterpillars become butterflies??
Will there be Monarchs to wonder at?

Woolly Bears are every child's favorite Caterpillar.

I can’t wait to take him on walks, let him climb a tree, look under a log, let him hold a bird and watch his face the first time he does. I will look forward to bringing him into swamps and getting muddy and helping him learn how to catch frogs and sneak up on snakes.
How to catch a frog?

In the mean time

All those things are still years away. But in the mean time I can look at things I love and try to imagine how a fresh young open mind will perceive them. I challenge you to do the same, just for yourself. It is quite eye-opening and a cause for hope. It also reinforces the conviction that we must do our best to preserve what we can so that there will be places for our next generations to explore and cherish.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sea level change update

By Beth Sullivan

Because of concerns about sea level rising Stonington Town, including the Borough, has now created a Climate Change Task Force. The group is comprised of a wide cross section of concerned citizens and will meet for the first time this month. Avalonia played a part in the creation of this Task Force, and to emphasize the importance of this issue, we're repeating our previous blog post about sea level change and its effect on the Dodge Paddock Preserve.  No matter where you live, let your elected officials know that you are concerned about sea level changes.

The May 14 Post

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.

The changing shore

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.

Changes at Dodge Paddock and Beal Preserve

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.

Progress through collaboration

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.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Art of Conservation - one week away

You can still get tickets to the Art of Conservation from Tom's News in Stonington, or from the Avalonia Office by calling 860-884-3500.

And it's still not to late to become a sponsor. In addition to the sponsors listed below, recent additions include Dime Bank and Dog Watch Cafe.  Please let our sponsors know you appreciate their support of Avalonia.

See you next Saturday 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Art of Conservation, October 18 and Bird Banding, October 19

Art of Conservation, October 18

There's still time to get tickets to the Art of Conservation at the Mystic Arts Center in Mystic. This event supports Avalonia's conservation work.  Won't you please help us continue our work? Tickets are available on-line here. More information about the event is at our recent post, here and in the flyer, below.

You can still volunteer to help by contacting Heather Milardo in the Avalonia office, by email ( or phone message (860-884-3500), to let her know what you can do.

Bird Banding, October 19

After an evening of looking at nature's beauty captured by talented artists, you can see nature at close range with your own eyes, Sunday, October 19.  Please join Avalonia for a bird banding event at the Knox Preserve in Stonington.  Located on Wilcox Rd. off Route 1, we will gather at 8 AM to weigh, measure, and band resident and migrating species.  This is a great opportunity to photograph birds in fine detail without expensive equipment.  You can read about last year's event in our post, here.

White-throated Sparrow about to be released after banding.

Monday, October 6, 2014

No Good Deed Goes Unquestioned!

By Beth Sullivan
Stewardship for our Avalonia properties can take many forms. If you go to the website and look at the stewardship activity form, there is a long list of activities in a check list, including trail maintenance, invasive control, brush clearing, stone wall clearance and building, bridge making, erecting signs ... the list goes on. Sadly, the most discouraging task deals with litter: road side trash is becoming my pet peeve. What on earth are people thinking that they just choose to toss any manner of materials, papers, plastic, glass metal, out the window. I guess they are NOT thinking, and that is the problem.

North Main Street, gateway to Stonington, CT

The Gateway to Stonington

Avalonia owns several properties along North Main Street. The road is dubbed “The Gateway to Stonington” as most traffic coming off the highway and coming into town travels this lovely road. Historic photos depict beautiful stone walls lining the roadway with ancient Maples arching gracefully overhead. This time of year it becomes a leaf peeper's photo-op. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I embarked on a mission. We decided to tackle clearing the walls along the Fennerswood Preserve, beginning at Pequot Trail, and running nearly ¾ of a mile along both sides. Shrubs and brush had grown up on both sides of the wall and vines covered the rocks and ground.
One area we have worked on.

As we began our clearing a few things became painfully obvious: there was a massive amount of litter all along the road, hidden within and under the greenery, most of which was poison ivy. And, the walls underneath were disappearing! Over time rocks have gone missing; the stature and integrity of the historic boundaries had been compromised. So our task took on another dimension.
Only two of the five bags we collected along a short stretch of  road.

In many places stones have gone missing.

No good deed deserves police questioning!

In one day I gathered three full black garbage bags of litter. It was an education in waste…and cigarette brands, and beer labels, and fast food varieties. I should have made a list but it was pretty disgusting and some was dangerous. At the end of the day we left the bags by the road side in a pre-arranged agreement with the Town that they would come and pick up. We gathered another two bags a couple of days later. When we got home from several hours of work, I noticed a police car cruising our street. Thinking a neighbor was in trouble, we went out and offered to assist. They were looking for ME! My car had been spotted along North Main Street and some good Samaritan had reported me for leaving garbage along the road!! How ironic. The Police officer had to laugh and voluntarily was going to report back to the concerned citizen, an older gentleman who was aghast that we should be so bold and rude! So the story had an interesting twist. I appreciated the concern.
Peek over the wall to get a glimpse of a lovely meadow.

Then there was the issue of the walls themselves. While working we also uncovered many stones that had tumbled off the walls to the base and were covered by vines. We began to think about replacing and restoring those rocks to rebuild those walls to a little of their former glory. Sadly, many have disappeared. Good field stones are valuable. It is not a job we can tackle ourselves. We are hiring someone with skill and machines and a stronger back to come help us do the work in phases. Sometimes stewardship efforts need professionals, or skills that we as volunteers do not have. It doesn’t come cheap either.
The walls are at their best in Autumn.

A campaign we can all support

We will embark on a campaign to raise funds for many stewardship efforts. One of the first to be addressed will be the restoration of the walls along North Main Street. Please stop and take a look. Notice changes. Let someone in Avalonia know that you approve and support our efforts to preserve and protect not only the green, open spaces, but the historic walls that surround them.
Wildlife, large and small, make use of the fields behind the stone walls. Photo by Rick Newton.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.