Monday, September 28, 2015

Natives, Aliens and Invaders of all kinds

By Beth Sullivan
The actual growing season is coming to an end. Plants are beginning to store their reserves for next year, and use their last bits of energy for seed production, ensuring a future generation.
We have different stewardship chores at this time of year, different management strategies to maintain the preserves as ideal (or close to it) habitats for native wildlife. As we think of our fall work, we are assessing the problems of non-natives and invasives-planning the best way to eradicate or keep them in control, and do so in a way that is safe, but also efficient.
Hard to resist the beauty of the beast- Porcelainberry
With invasives gone, beautiful wildflowers can re-establish

Non-native is not always invasive

Non-native, in itself, is fine. Aren't most of us more or less non-native? Many of our decorative shrubs and flowers and fruits and vegetables are not native to our area, but we welcome them into our gardens and they have the courtesy to stay in check. Elsewhere, however, some non -natives have chosen to go crazy and become invasive to the point of overwhelming our native flora and degrading habitat. It leaves us with some hard management questions. When we manage a preserve for ideal habitat and promotion of native species, both plant and animal, we need to decide how much invasion to tolerate, what the effect is on the habitat, and how to deal with it. The use of herbicides continues to be a sticky issue. I don’t think there is any one of us who enjoys using chemicals of any kind, but when faced with the daunting prospect of tons of bio-mass needing to be removed or controlled, sometimes it becomes necessary. When we have had to resort to the use of a chemical treatment, we do so using the best professional guidance. The right treatment for the right plant in the right area. We consult with DEEP and USFWS among others. Professionals are studying the effect of certain treatments on regrowth, seed banks, root regeneration, and species diversity and also investigating how long a chemical remains active in the soil.
At Dodge Paddock it was absolutely necessary to eradicate the Phragmites. After two years we have a handle on the management, yet they persist, and we will as well. In the meantime restoration has begun. If native plants can be encouraged to recolonize, they may be able to fend off invaders.
Phragmites choked the wetland in 2012.
In 2015 the area is regrowing with native plants and invites more wildlife. Photo by Jeff Callahan.

At Knox Preserve we have spent hundreds of hours clearing walls and removing aggressively invasive vines and shrubs. The habitat had been badly degraded. At this time of year, as plants start sending their sap back to the roots, it is the best time to use a targeted spray on the leaves of invasives . It will be transported directly to the roots, kill the plant, and the chemical itself will degrade , usually well before the next growing season. Again, not an easy decision. But one that needs to be made. Each season we see great improvement. But we cannot let our guard down.
Invasive Porcelainberry took over walls and shrubs.
We reclaimed the walls and natives offer natural beauty.

Start the battle at home

When we garden in our home plots it is always easier to pull a weed, keeping an invasion in check before it becomes overwhelming. It pays to know your plants, know the invasives and understand the best way to control them. Think before you purchase certain plants that may be beautiful but invasive and still on the market: Purple Loosestrife, “Burning Bush” Winged Euonymous, Barberry, Porcelain-berry. Autumn Olive, Multiflora Rose and Oriental Bittersweet were once favored ornamentals that we now fight. If you have these plants in your yard, if you cannot eradicate them, think about pulling off seeds and pods to prevent their spread by birds and wind.
If you find Swallowwort, remove the pods.
An area of Swallowwart properly treated.

We are in the season for Fall planting; choose wisely, think native.
You can learn more about invasive plants at the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Why NOT making the “E list” is a good thing

By Beth Sullivan
Since 2013 I have been writing about our New England Cottontail project on Avalonia’s Peck and Callahan preserves in Stonington. Not accessible to the public, people have had to rely on written reports and photos to follow the progress.
We have laid out the welcome mat. Now we wait.  Photo from USFWS.

New England Cotton Tail returns

The New England Cottontail was determined to be in danger of needing Federal protection due to plummeting populations. They are out-competed by the non-native Eastern Cottontail that is highly adaptable to living near people and our homes and gardens. The New England Cottontail (NEC) needs shrubby, overgrown thickets of dense brush, of the kind found decades ago when farm fields were abandoned and were overgrown. Once the fields progressed into forests which are now abundant in our state, the NEC had less desirable places to live, they didn’t breed successfully (like rabbits are supposed to do) and thus the population dropped.
Studying the problem, the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined it would be far better to try and stabilize the population, create habitat, rather than allow it to further decline and need federally mandated protection. Since 2012, we worked with USFWS, CT DEEP and the Wildlife Management Institute to help create a big block of habitat up in the woods between Pequot trail and Route 184.
Last year this area was low and sparse. Now perfect habitat. 

You can read about the progress and process here, here, and here.
Last week representatives from several federal agencies and teams from New England States met in New Hampshire to celebrate a success story. Because of all the efforts to study and restore habitat in focus areas throughout New England, it was determined that the NEC did not need to be placed on the Endangered Species List.
Plentiful berries of several species provide food.

The next question seems to be: Why is that a good thing: don’t they still need protection?
The NEC will continue to need protection and monitored to make sure all the work done to create habitat is successful in having the rabbits move in and thrive. Studies will continue over the next years as the project areas regrow into the young forest habitat they need. Teams will go out in the winter when the ground is covered to collect rabbit pellets to check for DNA confirmation of NEC presence. THAT will be success! Then plans can be made to continue to work with this habitat management system, keeping it in rotation of optimal size and level of growth, and work with other land owners to provide more of the same.
Under the powerlines, the habitat is dense and thick.

If the New England Cottontail had been placed on the Endangered Species list, there would have been a huge, bureaucratic need to install protections on large territories where the rabbits “might” be located and restrictions placed on areas where they are found. Private landowners could lose the choice of being able to create habitat or not, to develop their land, or not. The expense to list and then protect a species far outweighs the money spent to provide what it needs to keep it off the list.
A large Black Rat Snake probably finds many small mammals to eat.

The added benefit of the work, is that there are a number of other species, about 50 in CT alone that benefit from the newly created habitat. Some of them were heading toward that “E List” themselves.
Since our project was completed in August of 2013, we have visited a number of times. The area is almost impossible to walk through: Excellent for rabbits! Berry bushes cover the ground providing fruit for all manner of animals. It is teeming with more wildlife than ever before. We have counted new birds, noted many new insects in great numbers, and reptiles and amphibians as well.
Walking through the preserve in no longer easy.

On behalf of a special bunny, we are all grateful for funding by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Long Island Sound Futures fund ( LISFF), the efforts of the USFWS, CT DEEP and those supporters who had the vision to proceed with the project.
We will keep you posted.
Link to The Day article on the NEC is here.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Rainy day musing on good dirt and mud...

By Beth Sullivan
While we watched the skies open on Thursday, you could almost hear the trees and shrubs sighing with relief. The heat and drought has taken a toll on many of the hardiest plants while outright killing more tender vegetation. Even deep-rooted trees have been showing signs of stress as their leaves have browned. It might be a premature fall. Mostly I have bid my gardens an early goodbye.
Offering free, improved immunity.

But in order to make the best of a rainy day, I worked on catch up, paperwork and reading. One article caught my eye (mostly it was the photo), and I felt the need to share the message.
Over the last couple of years, I am sure readers have picked up on not only my passion for being out-doors, but also my dedication to the idea that children are healthier in every way for their time spent outside in nature. Even from the earliest months, babies can be entranced by colors and textures, they feel the wind, they can hear the sounds. They can catch your enthusiasm. Early introduction to so much sensory input is stimulating, helps create new and wonderful pathways in the brain, all that serious science stuff. But mostly it lays the foundation for the Sense of Wonder as described by Rachel Carson. Wonder that cannot be concretely measured but we all know is there; we have felt it ourselves if we were so lucky to have parents that let us out and encouraged us to stay out. We have passed it to our children, and if we are blessed with grandchildren, we are now eager to share that wonderment.
Group explorations make the best memories.

No princes to be had, but it doesn't hurt to try.

The article I read today, in the Washington Post, was titled:
More evidence that the key to allergy-free kids is giving them plenty of dirt - and cows”. article here
It seems like we are constantly hearing of the difficulty of raising children today with so many allergens lurking to sicken them.
Rocks are free, can be sorted, rolled, stacked, lined up and put into pockets.

But Cows? … who knew ? But I bet my parents and grandparents had an idea. We had unlimited freedom on the farms, access to dogs and cats, brooks and ponds, mud, and barns full of hay and cows! We ran through fields, and I am sure we brought in our share of manure, on bare feet even. The same wonderful stuff I still try and find, naturally, for my gardens. I do not have bad allergies!
A quiet stream invites bare feet.

So, while Avalonia Land Conservancy cannot actually offer preserves full of cows, might I suggest some good dirt? After Thursday’s rains, little streams will be begging for bare feet. It is still warm enough to wade in. A flowing trickle is best when there are little dams to be placed, leaves to be sailed. Mud and sticks and rocks are the best outside toys. We can offer plenty of little twigs on the ground and bits of moss to make fairy houses, small forts, bug enclosures. No Legos needed. There are many logs to be turned over, salamanders to find, worms and slugs to be experienced. Slime never hurt anyone.
Children who are outside earlier,  are healthier , get  that Sense of Wonder and offer creative thanks.  A gift from Flanders Elementary School First Graders, 2014

Don’t be too quick to pull out the hand sanitizer. Think of all the nice microbes and healthy bacteria giving your child a Sense of Wonder along with a free, natural dose of an improved immunity!
Such joy can be had outside so easily. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Coming Soon 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Avalonia by kayak

For the holiday, we are posting a previously published post.  Have an enjoyable and safe holiday and look for a new post next week.

By Beth Sullivan
Many of Avalonia’s preserves include a water feature. There are ponds, marshes, streams, even rivers. You can walk along or around or even through many of these, but along the shoreline there is a better way to enjoy the view: by kayak. With the end of summer very near, crowds are diminishing, colors are intensifying, migrating birds move along the shore on their way south, and some butterflies and dragonflies stage migrations over water along the coast.
Monarch Butterflies will find Seaside Goldenrod, then migrate over open water.

Many of our coastal preserves are marsh lands, and it is difficult and unwise to walk on the fragile salt marsh. Usually the closest you can get is a glimpse from the road. You can peek at lovely Cottrell Marsh from Latimer Point Road. Woolworth Porter Preserve has a small path through the woods, in from Wamphaussuc Road to view the marsh. But to really appreciate the expanse of grasses, the wildlife along the inlets and over the land, it is ever so much better to view from the water.
A quiet overlook of Woolworth Porter Preserve. 

Sandy Point

Sandy Point is an island, so of course you need a boat. Put in from Barn Island boat launch and paddle across little Narragansett Bay, and you can pull up close to shore and either paddle or wade, towing your boat along the North Shore. Now you can observe the staging of migrating shore birds, sandpipers, plovers and terns. Some of them are protected species, so avoid undue disturbance. Also from the Barn Island boat launch you can head far east to find the Continental Marsh Preserve, or go west and up the cove to see the Wequetequock Cove Preserve and meadows.
Sandpipers flock on Sandy Point.

The grassy fields of Wequetequock Cove Preserve.

Wilcox Road

Another launch spot is a small access area on the side of Wilcox Road, off Rt 1 in Stonington. From there you have some choices. Paddle under Rt 1, up the Quiambaug cove, and on the east shore look for Avalonia Land Conservancy signs. The Knox Family Farm runs along the cove for quite a ways and includes a small inlet area. We hope to make an official landing spot there so visitors can get out and walk the trails as they wish.
You might encounter a Snowy Egret along the Quiambaug Cove.

Back at the launch, nearly the entire west shore, except the Cemetery edge, is the Knox Preserve: a totally different vantage point. The rocky shores are so different than the mowed trails. When the tide is low you can get onto a small beach that is hard to reach from the trail, due to massive poison ivy patches.
The rocky shoreline of Knox Preserve.

Paddle under the Rail Road Bridge and head east, around Lord’s Point, and the next big marshland area is the Woolworth-Porter Preserve. From this angle you can see the beautiful greens of the marsh grasses and can head up a little inlet or creek and wind deeper into the preserve which actually extends quite a ways north, to the rail Road Tracks, but the water way doesn't extend very far.
The channels can be navigable when the tide is high

For a longer trip, from the same launch site you can head west along the shore and out and around Latimer’s point, remembering that the Knox preserve is just on the other side of the tracks. Look for the osprey nest high on a pole. West around Latimer Point, you will come to another large marshland area. This is a big expanse of Cottrell Marsh which extends all the way over to Mason’s Island Road. This area has some interesting high islands with trees and shrubs where Herons and Egrets love to roost at this time of year.
Off shore from Knox Preserve you can see Osprey nests and other waterfowl.

Fall colors are outstanding along the Cottrell Marsh.

Simmons Preserve 

Go through the gate at the Simmons Preserve, on North Main Street in Stonington, to a little access area onto Quanaduck Cove. You can paddle under Rt 1 and find yourself at the marshy southern tip of Paffard Woods.
Through the gate at Simmons Preserve is access to the Quanaduck cove.

Getting out on any of the marsh areas is really not encouraged. The ground can be quite unstable and habitat fragile, and there are several species of birds that are in need of protection during nesting season.
Take note of what a wonderful buffer the marshlands are, protecting the upland from storm surges and tides and providing a sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife. Avalonia is dedicated to protecting and preserving the marshlands along the coast line. Enjoy the view from the water.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.