Monday, August 31, 2015

By Beth Sullivan

We are coming into a beautiful time of year-I guess every time has a special beauty, but the changing colors of late summer into early fall are inspiring. Meadows are showing golds and pinks of the taller meadow flowers; grasses wave. The woodlands are beginning to show different hues of green, more varied, deeper.
Expanses of salt marsh are absolutely the most beautiful as the salt marsh grasses settle into swirls and swaths of colors as seeds form. Soon the edges, the coastal woodlands, will begin to show the first colors in the Black Gum trees whose leaves go red early in the season.
Detail in leaves and tendrils need close inspection.

An artist’s eye does not always go just to the large view of the landscape. It is also a time to look closely. Insects are phenomenal at this time of year. They may not sit still for portraits, but a camera can catch them in an instant!
There is great beauty in the detail of an insects's body.

Birds have fledged, many are gathering, preparing for the changing season. Many young are still learning the ropes from parents, and the osprey are still returning to nest sites. Soon they will leave.
A path in the grass can illustrate perspective. 

So now, while the light is clear and crisp, the colors are brightest in the angles of the sun, get outdoors. Take your camera, a sketch book, a paint box and an easel. Get close or take the distant view. Pay attention to what you see. Get into the story of the scene before you whether it is a far horizon, a single standing tree, or the center of a flower.

AND…when you have something…share it!
A lone sentinel tree is a focal point.

Avalonia is hosting its second annual Art of Conservation event on October 24. We are looking for art donations for both the Silent and Live Auctions. Contributing artists will get a ticket to the event at the Mystic Art Association, which was truly a lovely affair last year.
We are welcoming a broader range of art this year, to include sculpture, quality nature crafts, fabric art, jewelry as well as photography, prints and cards, and of course, original paintings. If you happen to have a lovely piece of nature themed art, not of your own creation, but want to donate for the event, we welcome that as well.
Seed pods and grasses are a study in  texture.

Applications on the Avalonia website

You can go to the website to download an application or contact the Avalonia office by phone or email for more information.
Sunsets at this time of year ware waiting to be painted.

It is beautiful out there….now head out, enjoy and create and then share with us! Your donation will help Avalonia in its mission to acquire and preserve land in Southeastern CT-places we share with you!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Season of Changes on Sandy Point

By Beth Sullivan
It seems like summer just began. We were just waiting for the Plovers and Horseshoe crabs to arrive on Sandy Point. And now they are ready to leave!
It was an interesting season on Sandy Point. It was the first summer that the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) was formally able to become the keepers of the lovely Island. As a transition year the COMO continued to issue permits but no longer supplied stewards to collect daily fees and do periodic patrols. Instead, this year we had dedicated, environmentally educated, interns and stewards out on the island as time and funding allowed. Instead of merely collecting fees, they informed people about their purpose and presence.
USFWS has erected informational kiosks for to explain our goals for conservation.

Education is often the very best way to get cooperation. When they encountered a violation, a dog on the shore for example, these stewards were able to give a real reason WHY a dog is such danger to the nesting birds (real or perceived predator). They spent many hours early in the season putting up roping to delineate where the nesting birds had set up housekeeping. But the stewards, this year, could also explain WHY the protected area needed to go all the way down to the water. (Young birds need access to water’s edge for feeding before they can fly). Visitors who understand this may be more willing to set their umbrellas and blankets away from these areas.
We can all learn to share the island with the species that need our protection.

The pebbles, shells, and sand are all the birds need to build their nests.

Kiosks explain the rules

The USFWS also erected two informational kiosks with photos and graphics to illustrate our combined efforts for conservation on the island. Now if only everyone would read them. On several occasions we were out monitoring, only to find people set up with campfires and their dogs, right under the signs!
According to Ryan Kleinert, the USFWS Biologist leading the team out there, the State-listed American Oystercatchers did very well. We had 8 pairs arrive early, get down to business and fledged 13 chicks. The Piping Plovers had a harder time. Ten pairs arrived on the island, but their efforts were greatly impacted by Gulls that chose to move into their nesting areas and aggressively take over, and crows that were predators on eggs and young. Those 10 pairs attempted 14 nests, and only 1 Piping Plover chick survived to fledge. Next year the stewards will try a new tactic to protect nests and deter the predators.
American Oystercatchers forage along the beach. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The Piping Plovers were challenged this year by Gulls and Crows. Photograph by Victoria Limi, Plover Intern 2013 USFWS.

Horseshoe crabs tagged again

We tagged Horseshoe crabs again this year. The Project Limulus Study group had fewer tags to hand out; we only had 200 to use. We did tag that number, and we could have done more, but there were nowhere near as many Horseshoe crabs out there as in earlier years -another change. We did count recaptures, those that had tags on them from previous efforts. One female crab we encountered nesting was originally tagged in 2009! Reporting those tag numbers is still important data for collection.
The tagged Horseshoe crabs provide important data on the range and travels of the species. Photograph by Rick Newton.

While this was a year to educate, we can expect that there will be more enforcement of the rules next year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone who enjoys the island, was willing to take a bit more responsibility to obey the rules, think about the species that depend on this place for their survival and act as stewards as well?
There's no better place to be at sunset.

Even those Horseshoe crabs recognize Sandy Point as special place, to call home and are now further protected by new stewards from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Let’s hope all the rest of the visitors to our Island can offer the same protections to all the species that call it home.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A special way to protect beloved land

By Beth Sullivan
This past week, several of us had the opportunity to meet with the owner of a special property, just over the North Stonington line into Griswold. Quincy Robe and his wife have long owned many beautiful acres here. These acres were once part of a much larger area that has been partly divided and developed but also preserved. Years ago, Avalonia was able to protect the Burleson Woodland and Billings Brook Preserves north of their property. Pachaug Forest abuts their land to the east. The Robes knew the value of large, unbroken swaths of undisturbed land. They also have loved and cherished their land for decades and wanted it to remain undisturbed. They wanted to be able to still have use of their land for camping and hiking, but living out of state, they are not here often enough to oversee it.

Cardinal Flowers grow along the Brook.

Avaloina volunteers joined Quincy and his brother Nathan on a hike to review the easement boundaries. Photograph by Joellen Anderson. 

Beautiful acres

We walked the beautiful acres, 47 of them, with Quincy and his brother Nathan, another steward of the land. There were high rocky ridges, low swales with brooks and seeps, rocky bald openings, fern glens, and gravel kettle-holes, each area providing a unique habitat. Quincy knew every twist and turn; he knew where the old historic pentways were, how the stone walls intersect, and how the brooks flow. He personally planted hundreds of native white pines which are now becoming large enough to create groves of evergreen habitat.
Quincy knows where all the walls intersect along the old pentways.

As a land conservancy, Avalonia holds about 3,500 acres, and almost all of it is “fee owned,” meaning the trust owns it outright. Land can come to us in several ways, such as through a generous donation, often a family wanting to preserve a homestead, woodlot, or farm in perpetuity. At times acres are set aside by developers who must leave a portion of their project to be open space. Some of these parcels can be truly lovely, others not quite so nice. Then there are the purchases. Those pieces of land that have something special, just begging to be preserved, and the land trust will undertake a fundraising effort to be able to buy the land. Babcock Ridge and Paffard Woods were two more recent purchases.
The big hollow in this tree could host a good-sized Raccoon and family.

Conservation Easement, another way to conserve land

Another way to ensure that a piece of special land is protected forever, is through a Conservation Easement. To create a Conservation Easement, the owner adds a legal clause in the deed that ensures that the land will never be developed or subdivided. A land trust, such as Avalonia, will hold that easement and be responsible for oversight of the land to make sure the conditions are met. The land can be sold, but all future owners must adhere to the conditions in the easement. There may still be farming, camping, even forestry practices in the future, as dictated in the easement language, but the land will remain forever protected.
Pachaug State Forest is the neighboring land to the east.

The easement adjoins Avalonia's Burleson Woodlands.

In 2012, the Robes established a Conservation Easement for their land, held by Avalonia Land Conservancy . The Robes maintain use of their land, and see a tax benefit knowing that it will never be assessed as house lots, yet the value is truly, greatly increased because it remains part of a much larger block of protected forest and watershed lands.
This man knows and loves his land.

The land remains in their family to use as long as they choose. As such, it is not open to the public. We know we will go back at least once a year to review the easement. There are more corners to inspect, swampy areas to walk into, but it is well worth the effort knowing this piece of well-loved land is protected forever by those who have cherished it.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Transitions at mid summer

By Beth Sullivan
When the calendar page flips from July to August, it is met with a wide variety of reactions. A child will think they have the WHOLE other half of the summer ahead. An older student might realize the summer is more than half gone, and there is much still to do. We all seem to know that August flies fast!
Gardeners try to deal with the heat and the dry conditions. The planting rush is over, weeds are being combatted, we have experienced the rewards of a few harvests, and we await the bigger bounty of the next weeks. Earlier in the summer, it was impossible to keep up with vines and greenery threatening to overtake all trails. The crazy flush of growth has slowed. Plants are putting more energy into the flowering and seed development necessary at this point in the season.
Many grasses have ripening seeds that will be a major food source for birds and mamals

The August meadow has Milkweed but not a lot of color yet

In the woodlands, the shaded forest floor is no longer a place for flowering. The spring wildflowers have set seeds, and foliage has in many cases, disappeared until next year. Now it is time to look for the non-flowering plants; the ferns and mosses with spore cases, the fungi and the mushrooms with their colorful fruiting bodies. They thrive in the dense shade of a midsummer forest.
Mushrooms and ferns thrive in the shady, humid understory

Colorful season

In the fields, the colorful phase is just beginning now. As the season peaks, the flowers are most abundant, and the timing could not be better, as the insects are rapidly increasing their populations. Many are the plant eaters and the pollinators. In hives and nests, the insect population has exploded over the last month, and they are not done yet. The fields are busy-caterpillars, bugs, crickets, and grasshoppers are consuming huge amounts of foliage. Bees, flies, and butterflies are consuming nectar and transferring pollen from plant to plant. As they go about their business, they are also on the food chain where other creatures are waiting for them. The dragonflies soar over the field catching insects, and spiders either lie in wait to grab their food or spin elaborate webs to ensnare it. A walk in the field at this time is a lesson in camouflage, mimicry, and life and death!
A well hidden spider lies in wait

Most of our native birds have completed their nesting. Their broods are out and being instructed on the finer points of feeding themselves. The Swallows and Purple Martins gather on trees and utility lines, the young waiting for a parent to bring a mouthful. Frequently the huge Darner Dragonflies are the favorite target of the aerial insect catching birds, and their wings, as well as those of butterflies, often litter the ground beneath a favorite feeding spot.
Barn Swallows are not quite ready to take care of themselves

The Martins still come to roost at Knox Preserve but nesting is done.

Late nesters need seeds

The Cedar Waxwings and Goldfinches are our last birds to nest, and only now are incubating eggs. They rely more heavily on seeds which will become more abundant later this month.
Goldfinches are late to nest and rely most heavily on seeds

Out on Sandy Point, shorebirds that have completed raising their young gather to fuel up for the long southward migration.
Shorebirds are already gathering on Sandy Point before migration.

It is a time of subtle transition, one of many as we work our way through summer. Enjoy what each transition brings.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Avery Preserve, Ledyard

By Beth Sullivan
Part of my goal for this year was to visit all the trailed preserves that Avalonia owns, to know them and to try and better describe them. By necessity it meant branching out into towns other than my home town of Stonington and enlisting those who may know the secrets each preserve may hold.
The east track offers off-street parking and a Rhododendron grove

This past week I had the pleasure of walking the Avery Preserve with Karen Askins, the new Chairperson for the Ledyard town committee of Avalonia. As a Ledyard resident she has walked the trails often and could offer insight as well as direction to our walk.
An Ebony Jewelwing found along a stream.

This preserve is actually two tracts. On the East side is a wetter, less familiar parcel that is home to a gorgeous and somewhat rare population of Native Rhododendrons. Blooming in July, later than our cultivated showy ones, they can be overlooked because walking in swamps during the hot, humid, and buggy July weather can be a deterrent. Honestly it is worth the trip. As evergreens they form a dense jungle of dark foliage, but their white blossoms in clusters often tinged with pink make a lovely show.
The white blossoms of our native Rhododendron are late bloomers.

Sheep wash 

The west side is very different, mostly upland woods but containing some stream crossings and vernal pools. Probably the most intriguing aspect of this preserve is located immediately off a side trail near the entrance-the sheep wash. This is a rock walled impoundment beside the brook, where the sheep were corralled and controlled and led through the water to be washed, most likely prior to shearing. I do not know the exact process, so if anyone reading this has an explanation, please send it to Avalonia so we may include it in the history!
The Sheep wash- bit of history still standing.

The rest of the property contains numerous stone walls and some old “nooner trees”. These are trees deliberately left along walls and in corners as a place for farmers or shepherds in the former fields to find respite from the noon day sun.
There are also stands of beautiful Beech trees, many large and stately with smooth gray bark, even those bearing bits of history with names and initials carved into the bark long ago.
The old Beech trees carry a bit of history too.

The day we walked was shortly after a rain, the woodland floor was dotted with numerous colorful an diverse mushrooms. The stream was quite low, and vernal pools were nearly dry, but we encountered newly emerged wood frogs that spent the spring in the pools and are now roaming the moist woods searching for insects.
Mushrooms were abundant on a recent humid day.

Eagle Scout project keeps feet dry

We also crossed the rocky stream bed on one of the two beautiful new bridges created by a local Eagle Scout, Travis Joyce, and sponsored by local businesses including Christo’s Pizza, Lenihan Lumber, Brandon Graber, and Millstone. The names etched are into the wood.
One of two new bridges making wet crossings much easier.

Below is a note from Karen:
Avery Preserve in Ledyard now has two new bridges thanks to the work of Travis Joyce, who carried out the project as a requirement for achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. The bridges span two small streams previously crossed by stepping stones but impassable during very wet periods without getting wet. The bridges mean that at all times of the year now the Orange Trail forms a complete loop. Speaking as someone who has, on occasion, had to find some creative ways of crossing or being faced with retracing my steps, this is a huge improvement. Thank you Travis!
Take some time to visit the preserves, they are well mapped and a pleasure to travel.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.