Monday, January 26, 2015

A little preserve with a lot going for it!

By Beth Sullivan
Avalonia Land Conservancy strives to preserve land that contains special habitats, natural features, or wildlife that may need protecting. In many cases, these same lands are steeped in history as well. Here in Southeast CT, we find examples of our past almost everywhere we turn.
Yannatos Preserve on Clark's Falls Road

Yannatos Preserve in North Stonington

One small preserve in North Stonington contains more than the average amount of natural features and history. The Yannatos Preserve in the Clark’s Falls part of town is both beautiful and significant. The sign near the entrance has a narrative and photos to document the history of the Clark’s Falls mill settlement there. Records go back to 1670, including an original land grant to Jeremiah Burch. His grandson, Joshua Burch, is thought to have built the first dam to power a mill on the site. The area became known as Clark’s Falls when Thomas Clark purchased the land and mill sites in 1796. Over the following centuries, more dams were added along the streams that converge here, powering mills and factories until 1895. In the 1950s most of the buildings were dismantled leaving foundations and artifacts on this property and the land across the road. That land is also under consideration for preservation.
Take time to read the historical account of the area

A walk onto the Yannatos Preserve will immediately reveal old granite slabs and iron works, gears, and shafts. Take some time to read the history on the sign there as well as to inspect the artifacts.
Granite and iron works remain to speak of the site's history

To get to the trail you must cross the stream on solid granite foundation stones placed by volunteers to access the rest of the preserve. Once across, the trail follows the edge of the clear running Green Falls River-shallow with a tumbled stone bottom. The trail turns west and widens into an old cart path that then leads to the base of a scenic steep rocky ridge. Covered with moss and topped by Hemlocks, that north east side of the ridge is a micro habitat of a much more northern woodland. You can follow the north spur to the property line, which is well marked by a private owner, but you can see the remains of another rocky dam and spillway.
Granite slabs provide the brook crossing

The rocky, moss covered ridge rises on the west

The understory is Mountain Laurel and, in other areas, large patches of Princess Pine, both lending evergreen color to the otherwise brown winter landscape. Red Maples dominate a wetter area in the center of the loop. Skeletons of large, long dead cedar trees tell of when this was more open land and fields.
Old cedars attest to the time when the area was open and sunny

Scenic view at Clark's Falls Pond

The trail begins to circle back by the overlook to the Clark’s Falls Pond, which is a favored fishing spot, and the dam that is still intact there as water spills into Wyassup Brook.
The dam on the east end of Clark's Falls Pond is still impressive

The trail is not blazed, but it is a simple loop and easy to follow. It is not a large area or a long walk but well worth the time to check on the history and lovely landscape preserved there.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Engaging the next generation: a legacy

by Beth Sullivan

Next to actually watching wildlife and getting out on the preserves to observe, my favorite thing to do is get kids engaged.   It  has been a joy over the last decades to introduce classes of children, now adults themselves, to the wonders of the natural world.  Starting with my own children, and soon grandchildren, making sure the younger ones understand the importance of conservation has been my goal.  But I have learned that it is not usually about classes.  Often, the best lessons learned come when there is no plan, no goal for instruction, just curiosity and a sense of adventure.  With that comes a greater sense of wanting to learn and understand.  That is followed by a desire to seek “ownership” and responsibility for those things a child or youngster has come to know and love. That is how naturalists and conservationists are created.
Letting kids loose in nature, with an enthusiastic adult to field questions and guide explorations, is a great way to develop a love for being on a special piece of land.

Families forge bonds by working together

Over the last several years with Avalonia, I have had the pleasure of working with a few families with younger children.  I have watched how the parents engage those kids outdoors, encouraging involvement and learning, and joining them in family activities that create not only memories but a sense of bonding over what is important.  
Making Wood Duck boxes for the Anguilla Brook Preserve was a family effort.

One family worked to create birdhouses for the Knox preserve. From building to installing them, the kids were involved.  This past fall, the family worked together to help me, by cleaning them out for the fall.  What an interesting adventure, to be able to peek inside, examine the contents, determine which species of bird made the nest, look for unhatched eggs, and decide if leaving the contents  for a resident mouse might indeed be a kind thing to do.    In a recent blog I talked about different ways to help feed the birds in the winter.  Another youngster in the family took the information to heart, and with their family, pulled out bird books and planting guides and made time this winter to study together. That is a legacy!
Dad and daughter mowed one of the Knox fields for us.
Siblings made birdhouses with their home school class and joined us in the field to put them up.

The special stewards of Knox Family Farm Preserve 

Another wonderful family abuts our Knox Family Farm Preserve.  I first met the family after Hurricane Sandy dropped huge amounts of debris on the trails there. We all worked together to cut trees,  move limbs, and clear the paths. In the following years, these young fellows have adopted that preserve as their personal challenge.   When we  thought of an entry via Kayak along the cove,  they first created a hitching post for those who want to pull up to shore and secure their boats.  Over Thanksgiving they installed cedar steps up the bank; these will aid the ascent up a steep slope but also protect it from erosion.   Over Christmas they completed a new loop trail, which will be blazed white, that has added  a nice length of trail in the north part of the property.   This family has worked together on projects that not only help Avalonia, but also enhance the property and make it better for all who hike there: They have also forged a bond with that land.
Brothers helped us clear fallen debris after Sandy.

Thanks to young stewards there is now a rail to tie up our boats and steps up the bank from  Quanaduck Cove.

If I could use my crystal ball to see decades into the future, my guess is that this family will be among our next generation of  conservationists, having learned to love and protect the land through valuable first hand lessons.  I thank them all for their efforts and salute the parents who join their children on the trails and give them the opportunity to learn this way.
Avalonia strives to protect these lands, not just for the wildlife and habitats, but as places to grow future stewards and protectors of our lands in perpetuity!
Younger knees and backs can help with lots of tasks!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Worried about the birds?

By Beth Sullivan
As the new year gets off to a really cold start, I have already backed away from my resolution and done no big trail walks. I am mostly observing out my window right now.
When we got out to do the AudubonChristmas Bird Count, it got me thinking, again, about birds in the cold. They amazed me as I trundled, bundled in layers, complaining about the cold, and these little mighty ones flitted and hopped as I tried to identify and count them. I realized their entire mission, on a cold day, was to find food.
Bluebirds will flock to suet.

Brown Creepers head up the tree.

A lot has been written recently about the pros and cons of feeding birds: who does it benefit really? Do we artificially create a dependency that could be detrimental to the birds over all?

Winter feeding improves survival

While there are a few, small studies that suggest feeding the birds can cause some problems, overall, all studies seem to agree that in this severe weather, the birds have a far greater chance of survival if we supplement their diet and make it easier for them to find food.
One of the complaints about artificial feeding is that the diets we offer are not varied enough. I think if we take time to observe the birds in the wild, we may be better able to offer the variety they need, in our own yards where we can observe them and help them at the same time.
Cedar trees offer food and evergreen shelter to several species.

Cedar Waxwings will come to the Cedar fruits.

Out in the wooded preserves, several species of woodpeckers, Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches seem to travel together and work the trees looking for hidden insects, larvae, or eggs. A Downy circles around and under and cruises all over the tree. The Nuthatches always seem to face down and head down and around. Brown Creepers, a more uncommon tree trunk gleaner, always head up and around. Chickadees and Titmice act like clowns and hang upside down, going out to ends of branches to cover all angles- all this activity to search for food. I have taken my suet blocks- plus extra peanut butter mixed with other seeds and grains-and smeared it on the trunks and branches of trees in my view. The birds will find it, each in their own manner, and get a variety.
The Bluebirds we have been watching out at Knox Preserve have been landing on the Staghorn Sumac seed heads. We watched them pick and choose their seeds until a flock of Starlings came in and chased them away.
Chickadees hang onto branches and poke under bark.

Downy Woodpeckers can hang upside down to look for food.

The same day we watched Cedar Waxwings land in the evergreen grove and consume the blue colored fruits of the Red Cedar/Juniper trees and then move to the Bayberry bushes nearby. It is the female trees that bear the fruit, so if you want to provide food and shelter in your yard in a more natural way, plant the females of the Cedars and Bayberries. Robins are attracted to the same foods, as well as crab apples and Viburnums.

Native plantings - nature's supermarket

As we think ahead to spring, we can plan some native plantings that will give the birds the varied diet they will appreciate, that mimics what we find out on the preserves as we explore. If you have already planted native shrubs and they have retained berries, you will already be enjoying a greater variety of winter birds than seed alone will attract. I am sure they will not complain about sunflower seeds and suet during these really cold days, and you may get rewarded by some beautiful Blue on a bitter winter day.

You can help, too

The Audubon Society sponsors  this February's Great Backyard Bird Count. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology sponsors the winter long,  Feeder Watch program.  These are great ways for citizen scientists to increase our understanding of the birds nearest to us.
Robins will look for berries when worms are not available.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year on Avalonia Trails

By Beth Sullivan
By the time you are reading this, some of us will already have broken our resolutions: to always eat heathy, exercise every day, lose weight… know. But I will share one of my resolutions: to walk all of Avalonia’s trailed properties over the next year so that I can be familiar with them, observe wildlife and plant life, take photographs, and do blog entries to share.
Identify an evergreen plant.

Really my goal is more for others than for myself. I am truly dedicated to getting people, especially kids, outside!

Walk, Photograph, Question

As we in Avalonia are stretching to find new ways to educate people, nourish the next generation of conservationists, and train those who will come after us, we have to get those young people out there on the trails, getting curious, observing, and interacting with nature. Most people do not need real formal lessons, some would like some hand holding the first time they roll a log or follow a trail. But really what you need is a sense of adventure and curiosity. That is what got me hooked. I want to know what is beyond the next hill, up that tree, in the brook, under the log and in the rocky cave. I want to know what bird I have spotted or what a particular plant is. Sometimes I wish for a pack animal to haul my books, cameras, binoculars, hand lenses,…
A Woodpecker's hole.

Explore a small stream.

But here’s my secret and one that I challenge you to try: Get those cell phone and smart phone cameras and put them to use! No texting or emailing or facebooking and tweeting while on a trail. Take pictures of what you, or your kids, spot. It could be a really cool glacial rock formation, a funny looking plant, a hole in a tree, the husk of a nut found where a squirrel has left it, or a cave in the rocks. These are all things that can be observed now, during winter. Look for footprints in the snow and ice patterns on the water. Make a photo journal, make digital files of the preserves and places you visit. Come spring you can get kids to document the new beginnings, plants, first flowers, birds’ nests, fast running streams. While you can get them excited to use technology outside, you can get those photos home and look up what you don’t know: what kind of salamander was that? What was that pretty flower? Look on a GIS map and locate the preserve you were on.
Look at patterns in the ice.

What might live in this little cave?

Visit our web site

As our website is getting updated, we have added a property list you can download. It has GPS co-ordinates for locations, links to trail maps are on the preserves page, more are coming. In the up coming months, I am hoping to work on a scavenger hunt theme for our preserves, that will do just what I described: get kids out, families together, getting them to look closely and observe and document. Right now the concept is only in my head. I will need help to formulate it and adapt it to an internet/web based activity. But in the meantime, I need to get out and do my own scavenger hunt. I will keep you all posted with my observations and hope that you will join me in a resolution to get out and get curious! Avalonia trails have a lot of treasures yet to be found. Happy New Year.
Who left shells at the base of this tree?

Who made this track?

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.