Monday, November 24, 2014

To Be Thankful 2014

By Beth Sullivan
We live in a time and place that gives us a great deal to be thankful for. As an Avalonia representative, advocate, and steward, I have learned a lot in the last year, and some of that is related to what we have, and what we give thanks for.
Avalonia conserves land so future generations can experience it
We live in a beautiful part of the country. The variety and diversity of habitats and wildlife is amazing. Think of what you see every day as you go about your daily business. Think of the view to the water, a hillside in autumn, a woodland trail, or a clean clear stream. And think about what the alternatives could be: pavement and development, pollution or even lack of access.
We work to preserve the view and access to nature.

We provide a place for quiet contemplation.
We are thankful that Avalonia Land Conservancy exists to protect and conserve these elements of our daily life that we may take for granted. We are thankful that these areas will remain for the next generations to enjoy and appreciate.

Many Help Us

In order to protect them we need help. We are grateful to all the connections we have made in the last years. Collaborations have helped us purchase land, and also to maintain and manage it. We could not have accomplished as much as we have without the help of DEEP, NRCS, USFWS, Mystic Aquarium, to name a few. We have received funding from numerous sources that has allowed us to do bigger projects, for greater good. We collaborate with educational institutions, too numerous to mention that study, investigate, and supply us with information that helps us understand the best way to manage our lands for the benefit of the wildlife: from New England Cottontails to Horseshoe Crabs, and from Piping Plovers to Box Turtles.
Collaborations and connections help us succeed.

Protecting habitat protects wildlife.

We are grateful for all the stewards who step up to help us on our properties. Many times they go unrecognized as they work quietly and efficiently to keep trails open, brush cut, walls repaired, invasive species under control, and litter picked up.
We thank those who work behind the scenes, not in the field but in the offices, trying to figure out finances and budgets and strategic plans and accreditation standards. They are all volunteers dedicated to helping the organization grow and function smoothly.

Our Members make Avalonia Successful 

Most importantly we need to thank our members and donors. Without your financial support, we would not have the ability to acquire the land as an investment in our future. We could not afford to manage and protect it. Like so many other non-profit organizations, we rely on the goodness and generosity of those who believe in our basic mission, to acquire, protect and manage the lands we cherish, so that the future generations (of wildlife and humans) will benefit.
Volunteers in the field, or marsh get the job done.

Thanks to all. Beth

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sandy Point sees a different kind of activity

By Beth Sullivan
Early this past week, while a giant blast of frigid air descended on the mid west, we were graced with a lovely respite, days in the 60s , sun and a few last days to pretend winter was not on its way.
Two of us intrepid (crazy) Avalonia Stewards decided to paddle out to Sandy Point. The breezes were light and the water was still warm, and there was a lot of activity to check out on the Island.
A calm, warm, grey November day.
All last spring and summer we kayaked together to search for Horseshoe crabs and tag them. Then we waited for shorebirds to arrive: Piping Plovers, Oystercatchers, and Terns. We watched them build nests, counted eggs, helped set up roping and signs to protect their fragile beginnings. We thrilled with every report from the USFWS stewards who reported fledglings. We also tried our best to educate the people who also love the island as to why it was so important for us to dedicate our time and energy to protect this special little piece of land and its inhabitants.
Dredging map of the navigation channel
On this November day there was different activity on the island, and we needed to check it out. This time it was barges and pumps and generators and other heavy equipment that we wanted to watch. In a joint effort by the Army Corps of Engineers and with oversight by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the navigation channel north of the island and around the western tip is being deepened. Over years of storms and winds, and high tides removing the sand, the center part of the island has diminished in height. There are times during super high tides in the spring, it completely over-washes. If there are nesting birds in that area, they are lost. Depending on the timing, they may not try and attempt to re-nest. It is the sand that the island has lost, that has filled in the channel.
Hurricane Sandy changed the contour of Sandy Point

Deepen the Channel- Raise the Island

This effort is not just about deepening that channel, but also restoring height to that lowest portion of the island. As the big barge maneuvers its way slowly along its course, it pumps huge volumes of water and sand through a large diameter pipeline, that extends more than half the length of the island: all the way to the low over-wash area. After only a few days and nights of work, there are mountains of sand piled high in the area. Other machines move and spread it out. The operators of these machines are working around the clock, bright lights illuminate the site though the night. There is a short window of time to complete the effort so that the habitat was not disturbed during the fall migration of shorebirds or the spring movements of horse shoe crabs.
Main barge with massive pumps sends sand and water back to the island

Rough Weather Work

In less than three months, months that can be the most brutal, weather-wise, the channel will be dredged, sandy soils re-deposited and spread and the island readied for the return of its inhabitants. The added sand may not make much difference to the Horseshoe crabs, but by late March and April when the first shore birds arrive, some of the Plovers will seek sandy dunes where there are grasses and shrubs to partially protect their nests. But others of them, and the Oystercatchers, and especially the Least Terns, will find a higher ground, open sand, and hopefully more safety from being washed away during high spring tides. We will continue to depend on the USFWS stewards and monitors, to protect and preserve the island, and we, Avalonia stewards will await the spring activity before we head out again.
Newly filled areas are being visited by opportunistic gulls; before long it will be Piping Plovers visiting.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan. Maps from USFWS.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Art, Science and The Unfeathered Bird

Next Tuesday evening, artist and naturalist, Katrina van Grouw will be speaking at the Wheeler Library in North Stonington about her recent book, The Unfeathered Bird.  Details for the free presentation are given below.  Don't miss this opportunity to see and hear Katrina van Grouw.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Planning for the Future : Connecticut’s Wildlife Action Plan

By Beth Sullivan
On November 8 several of us from Avalonia attended a meeting, with Ct DEEP biologists, to discuss issues confronting the wildlife here in CT: specifically Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN), habitats that are imperiled along with their flora and fauna, identifying threats, both specific and broad to our wildlife and the beginnings of action plans that can be initiated to prevent further declines.
Free flowing streams are imperiled in CT.

The CT DEEP website

There is a wealth of information on the CT DEEP website. Personally, I love seeing that some of my tax dollars are going to issues I feel strongly about: conservation of land and wildlife. On the website, it is easy to get lost in all the varied areas of interest. The information about the discussion today can be found here. These dedicated wildlife biologists are working to identify species, abundance, threats, needs, and are asking for the public’s help to give them ideas of what we perceive are the greatest needs.
A salt marsh along the Stonington shore.

As a non-profit, all volunteer land trust, for us it was pretty easy to generalize: FUNDS! Funds for research, funds for staff, funds for stewardship, funds for acquisition. Without funding, so much is at stake. We cannot begin to protect the least or greatest of these species without the funds to do so.

Building public awareness

The next biggest need identified was public awareness. We all expressed great concern and frustration that not enough people seem to care. Or at least they don’t show up and demonstrate that they care. There was seating today for more than 30 people. There were really only 5 attendees if we don’t count the involved but captive staff of the Stonington Free Library! How do we get people concerned, interested, and involved? Good PR helps, and education would be fantastic. But even those things take money and time-and more people to do those things.
Avalonia is trying to do everything on a shoestring, with a small dedicated core of volunteers who act as executives, decision makers, PR staff, educators, wildlife watchers, stewards and laborers, and writers of plans and grants.
The good news is that even on that shoestring, Avalonia has succeeded in preserving over 3200 acres, most of those include the very habitats that the DEEP was talking about today.
We have many forested preserves that include wetlands, bogs, seeps, and vernal pools. Take a peek at Paffard Woods for forests with vernal wetlands and flowing streams. In the future there may be an effort to remove a downstream dam or create a fish ladder to improve the health of the Stony Brook that runs along its western edge all the way up to Fennerswoods and beyond. Free running streams are one of the habitats of concern.
Vernal pools are a very unique habitat.

Go to any of our coastal properties, from Stonington to Groton and even up to Ledyard along the Thames River to discover tidal wetlands, salt and brackish marshes and intertidal beaches, flats and shores. Avalonia holds offshore Islands: Sandy Point and South Dumpling that are of special concern for nesting shore birds.
The fragile habitat at Sandy Point needs protection.

Knox Preserve is unique as a Maritime Shrubland, and it also boasts coastal sandy habitats as well as mixed warm and cool season grasslands.
An example of coastal shrublands at Knox Preserve.
The Henne Preserve is a most wonderful example of a freshwater inland swamp, some of which is forested with Red Maple, some is shrub swamp, and some freshwater meadow and marsh.
Hoffman Preserve boasts mixed hardwoods and coniferous groves.
Dense evergreen groves can be found at Hoffman Preserve.
The Peck Callahan Properties are now prime to become early successional shrub to young forest land that will be habitat not just for the New England Cottontail but all the other species that depend on that special and quickly disappearing habitat.

Everyone can help

To start your own action plan, support Avalonia if you are in our area, or support your local land trust if you are not. Get involved. Make a statement; make a commitment. Look at the DEEP website and see what you can identify with and then go out onto a preserve and see what you think. See what strikes a chord and think how you can invest in your future by supporting land conservation in whatever way you can.
It is a good investment.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Art of Conservation Event: Generosity at its finest

By Beth Sullivan

Planning a fund raiser

On October 18th Avalonia launched a first ever art event as a fundraising effort to support the Conservancy’s Bedrock Fund. As with any first ever event, the effort-learning, organizing, changing and rearranging that goes into pulling it off-can be daunting, but this event came together in a wonderful way due to patience, stamina, volunteerism and generosity.
As many might remember, it was planned as a contest, a great idea to get people out onto the preserves, to paint, draw and photograph the beauty they found. These works were expected to be entered into a popular contest with prizes for numerous categories. It was an odd twist to realize people really didn’t seem inspired by competition. What was most wonderful was that artists in all media chose instead, to simply donate their work to support the cause! The event morphed from a contest to a well-stocked auction and sale event instead, and everyone agreed it was ever so much better!
Art, from photographs to prints and quilts could be found in the silent auction.

Teams of volunteers arrived at the Mystic Arts Center at 3 in the afternoon to set up tables and linens, sort out items for each event and plan for the caterers and the bar. There were lovely arrangements of grasses and flowers donated by our greenthumb members.
At the ticket table, volunteers welcomed guests.

A selection of art, prints, photos, some small original works, cards and even jewelry were set up in the lower gallery to be part of the silent auction. In the main gallery larger pieces of original art and lovely photographs were arranged on easels throughout the space. Honestly, the donated art easily rivaled the art on the walls!!
Photograph of the Osprey nest on Paffard Marsh was a popular item.

Volunteers made it happen

Volunteers in teams met guests at the door, gave them programs and explained the plans. Guests had plenty of time to peruse the art in both galleries and enjoy a musical duo and plenty of appetizers. The food was fantastic. Wine, much of which was donated, served to lighten the mood and get folks ready to bid.

Lively auction

The bidding went quite well in the silent auction gallery with several spirited competitions. When the bidding closed there were many happy and satisfied owners of fine art! The live Auction followed and that was fun. Jeff Millen from Ocean Auction House was the auctioneer with assistance from Steve and Maureen. Again, sizes and prices ranged all across the board. Bidding was pretty competitive for several pieces, and prices rose, as they should-all for a great cause. There were two special items, not actually art, but services of professional photographers and naturalists offering guided tours and lessons on Avalonia Preserves, for the purpose of photographing them. Hopefully the lucky bidders on those items will return next year with more of their photographic art to share.
Professional auctioneers made it fun!
The bidding was spirited. 

For a first time event, with truly dedicated and knowledgeable planners and volunteers, it was a success. We have a great deal to be thankful for-our event sponsors, especially Russ Burgess from Charles Schwab who was the gallery sponsor. We had donations of food and wine, music and services. Most importantly we need to thank all the many artists who donated their work to support a cause they believe in.
Before the mad dash, the check team checks their paperwork.

We are already brainstorming to discuss plans for next year’s event. So, it is never too early to start to remind everyone to get outdoors and find your subject. The preserves have great color now and winter can provide opportunities for great images as well. You have a whole year. Look ahead to next fall, think of your art and for sure, plan on attending the event. A good time WAS had by all!
A good time was had by all!

Photographs by Bruce Fellman.