Monday, July 27, 2015

A special celebration at Knox Preserve

By Beth Sullivan
Over the last several years, the Knox Preserve, on Wilcox Rd in Stonington, has figured importantly in these blog pages. Several reasons: It is a very unique and special property; there has been a lot of attention paid to the habitats there; it has taken up a huge amount of stewardship time and effort, and it just happens to be a favorite of mine.
The fields continue to evolve providing habitat for pollinators and birds.

It is easy to work in such a beautiful place, where the results of our efforts are visible in the beautiful, cleared stone walls, the flowering fields, open trails and the abundance of birds, especially the Purple Martins. We have also shared the space with numerous academic and scientific groups interested in studying various aspects of the property and its management.

Academic research at Knox Preserve

This is the third year that researchers from Trinity College, led by Cameron Douglass PhD., have been on the site to study the bird and plant life, particularly in relation to the over growth of invasives and our attempts to eradicate, or at least control them and restore more native habitat. Last year he and his team concentrated on species connected directly with specific habitats at Knox.
The grand unveiling.

There is the small brackish marsh area that was dominated by Phragmites but is now returning to a healthier mix of native grasses and shrubs. As such, it is far more attractive to nesting and migrating birds.
There are the two fields, approximately 10 acres, that were cultivated with corn until 2010. Once that practice ceased we were faced with choices as to how to manage the area. The decision to let it evolve, slowly, on its own was the easiest route to take! The area is too small for the endangered grassland birds to nest in, so we are encouraging a wide variety of plants and flowers for insects as pollinators and as habitat for small mammals, and other birds that rely on seeds and insects. We have been very successful in hosting Purple Martins and Tree Swallows, both aerial insectivores which, as species, are on the decline.
The first sign illustrates the marshland habitat.

The shrubland is about 7 acres of woody bushes, vines, small trees and perfect hiding places for those creatures that need dense thicket habitat.
All of these areas were increasingly impacted by invasive plants and we continue our effort to manage them as best we can.

Informational signs describe the Knox habitats

Part of the Trinity study is to study these management techniques, record results, and look to the species that make use of them. To this end, last year Douglass and his team created informational signs to describe the habitats and the concept of active management. One of his students, Eunice Kim, did gorgeous graphics to accompany the educational text.
Cameron explained the site markers and how the area is being managed.

Last Saturday we installed and unveiled the beautiful signs. We had 30 people attend the event. While everyone enjoyed pastries and coffee, Cameron and I gave an introduction to the property and the project. Due thanks were given to the many people and organizations that helped us get to this point.
The DEEP has provided us with a management plan of action and many, man -hours and materials to help us combat the invasives. Our wildlife habitat manager from DEEP, Jack Berlanda, was present on Saturday.
The group walked to each sign to understand how the habitats differ.

The Stonington Rotary awarded us grant money to pay for the actual printing of the signs and materials for mounting. Billie Ward from the Rotary was also present. It was her first visit to Knox preserve and she commented on the easy walking trails.
We had officials from Trinity College as well as the study team.
We gave an introduction to the Knox Preserve's history, usage and problems.

We gave thanks to all the many Avalonia volunteers who have worked so hard the last several years, cutting, digging, planting, pulling, mowing, raking and hauling debris, rebuilding walls, and mounting the signs-all to get us to a point where we could be proud to show off the Preserve on Saturday.
Please visit, take an easy stroll and take some time to enjoy the beautiful new signs.

Photographs by Christoph Geiss and Rick Newton.

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