Monday, November 30, 2015

Don't get too fussy with Fall cleaning

By Beth Sullivan
As we wind up our fall cleaning, we often make piles of leaves that will compost, but sometimes we are left with fallen branches and limbs that are too big to compost easily, and we just don’t want to haul to the landfill. In my own garden I can make nice piles of sticks and branches and always notice that those piles are the first places that Sparrows and Wrens seem to choose when the day ends and the weather gets cold.
A Song Sparrow perches on top of a brush pile but later will find refuge inside it.

We are doing fall clean up on the preserves as well, but we do not try and get rid of all our woody rough debris. Deep in the woodlands, these branches, some still with leaves, would be left to decay naturally. Those closest to the ground will be affected by ground moisture and start to rot first. A log on the ground provides shelter for numerous life forms, from worms and slugs, insects, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, and on up to salamanders, small mammals like mice and shrews and voles, and even snakes. The tangle of branches that remain suspended above the ground will decay more slowly. They provide shelter and cover for some of the same creatures, but also larger mammals, including rabbits and squirrels and birds, will inhabit the top levels. Think of a small mammal or bird being pursued by a hawk. The tangle of branches protects the smaller creatures while thwarting the predator.
During the winter, the snow cover helps insulate the pile. 

Brush piles feed the soil

Over time, the leaves, small branches, and pieces of wood continue to decay. Beetles move in, and termites and ants take up residence in the rotting wood. Worms do their part in composting and recycling. Nutrients return to the forest floor and nourish remaining plants.
In Summer, vines and plants grow in the brush pile.

Where tree limbs come down on the trails on Avalonia Preserves, it can be a big effort to remove them and open the trails and make them safe. In many cases we are able to make well -constructed brush piles. Instead of loosely arrayed branches just left on the side of the trail, a beneficial brush pile is denser, more solidly piled. Heavier pieces are left closer to the ground to provide support and structure as well as good sized gaps close to the ground. Mid -sized branches are criss -crossed on top next, and the whole pile is covered with smaller pieces, especially evergreen boughs, to fill in the gaps. Think of the pile covered deep in snow in the dead of winter. The smaller spaces within are protected from biting winds and even retain some warmth from the ground in the face of sub-freezing temperatures. Small mammals can stash food-nuts, seeds, grasses-eliminating the need to venture out. Birds also will find protection within. Sparrows and wrens in particular make use of man-made piles.
While clearing invasive species, the debris is left to cover the ground in many places.
To make a good brush pile, put bigger pieces on the bottom, making nice holes.

Then pile on brush for shelter. 

Look for brush piles as you walk

As you walk on one of our Preserves, look for man-made brush piles. Paffard Woods has several and Perry Natural area as well. There are piles from Red Oaks and some from White Pine that were toppled by Storm Sandy in 2012 and are still present and providing shelter. The Knox Preserve has been cleaned up and the bigger piles removed to get out of the way of our mowing efforts. You will notice piles along the trails that look messy and off the top of the knoll there is a dense pile of cut limbs. This is quite deliberate. We have cut invasive vines and treated the stumps to prevent regrowth, but the branches were left in place to provide the cover that the birds enjoy. Observe from a distance to see what activity occurs at the piles. Later in the winter, when snow covers the ground, look for tracks and trails leading to and from the piles. Nature does a good job of protecting small creatures, but Volunteers can enhance the effort with great success.
Woodchucks will make their entry holes at the base of a brush pile for greater protection.

I suggest making a small pile in your yard and garden where you can watch from indoors and enjoy the activity.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan. 
Don't forget to support Avalonia Land Conservancy through the Amazon Smile program. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Time to Reflect

By Beth Sullivan
Things tend to slow a bit at this time of year, at least in the natural world where we, as stewards, spend our time. We take stock in projects completed, those still in progress, and begin to think about those next in line. It always amazes me how much effort and energy it takes to maintain and manage even just one town’s properties. And then I sit back and am so grateful for all of those who have helped achieve our goals.
Angles fly over and give us a unique view of the work at Dodge Paddock.
Photo by Roger Wolfe, DEEP. 

It takes a village

It is often quoted: “It takes a Village.” I find this is true especially in relation to our land conservancy efforts. There are so many aspects to our mission to preserve, conserve and protect land, and to educate and inspire others to join us. It takes a village of varied talents, and skills to make it work.
As Avalonia Land Conservancy moves toward the goal of Land Trust Alliance accreditation, we have to thank those who seem to be adept at reading rules, creating policies, establishing procedures, dotting the “I”s and crossing the “T”s. There are those who understand Governance and Finance-not something I do-so I am truly grateful someone else is willing! We thank those who know how to create websites, spreadsheets and keep the rest of us updated about the bigger world of conservation.
Building a bridge made the trail easier and safer to travel.

It is the stewardship and management part that I always need help with, and I am grateful for everyone who has stepped up to help get the requirements done. Every year, every property has to have its boundary walked and that means off the trails and into briers and swamps, to check for misuse or encroachment. We have to make sure our signs are present and visible. Some properties have miles of boundaries! Each preserve has unique management needs: Invasive control, trail maintenance, safety checks, mowing roadsides, wall clearing, and litter pick up, even communication with neighbors. So much to do. This year we are making sure every property has a comprehensive management plan, another stewardship chore.
Having the right equipment and helping hands makes all the difference.

Guardian Angles wanted

In some cases a preserve has a special Guardian Angel, or team of them. There are volunteer stewards who take it upon themselves to adopt a preserve and do what is needed. It may be as simple as walking the trails regularly to make sure they are unobstructed. It might be managing invasives or doing roadside cleanup. It may be that they have the equipment to help with mowing and brush control. The Knox Preserve is a much loved piece of land and in the last year has received a great deal of attention, study and even dedicated donations to help with restoration there. Thank you to all who love Knox.
Sometimes looking for drill holes in stone walls is like looking for a needle in a hay stack.

Some of our assistance has been professional. The efforts at Dodge Paddock/Beal Preserve have been ongoing since Superstorm Sandy. The CT DEEP has been instrumental and generous in removing invasive species, managing mosquitoes, securing funds, and materials, and providing labor to get the drainage issue finally, under control. With the efforts of the Aquarium staff overseeing the major LISFF Grant, restoration is really happening. Then there are the personal angels, those who have offered advice and funds to help us with plants and those neighbors who have turned on their hoses so we can work more efficiently when we plant them. We are grateful for all the local support.
The tree is thankful for being released from these vines.

We are thankful for everyone who has offered to help in any way. We are thankful for our members who recognize that their donations are essential to our work and success as an organization.
We appreciate all the research efforts that reveal data about our preserves.

I am grateful for those I have met when I am out on the preserves working, and who tell me THEY are thankful for what WE are doing.
We would be grateful if folks picked up after themselves, so our volunteers don't have to.

Remember: do NOT go shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Support those stores that are closed for the day and get out on a trail!!!
Happy Thanksgiving. Beth

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Preservation, greenways and wild animals among us

By Beth Sullivan
By now we have all read about the beautiful Coyote or hybrid Coyote/Wolf/Dog that wandered through Mystic and Stonington within the last week. The number of articles, posts, photos and exclamations about this sighting is an example of how interested and concerned we are with the wildlife that we may encounter. It also underscores the need to help these creatures find a balance was we have moved into their space.
Raccoons are quite comfortable in edge habitats. 

Night visitors

This animal was healthy in appearance, calm in its demeanor, and not obviously diseased. Yet it was not where it belonged. More and more wild animals that have been pushed out of their area by our encroachment and development are becoming adapted to living on “the edge”. The edge where the woods meet the field, where the field meets a yard or a street, where the yard meets a neighborhood and that neighborhood turns into a town. The species that are most successful are those that have learned how to adapt. Think of our night-visiting Raccoons and Opossums. Think of wild Turkeys and Crows. Think of White-tailed Deer. They have become part of our suburban existence, not just rural residents. Now think of the others that seem to threaten us or our pets more: Fishers, Bobcats, Coyotes and Bears. They are also learning how to adapt, to survive, but it is also threatening their very own existence that they are becoming too adapted, too comfortable in close proximity to our homes and roadways.
Bobcats are secretive but sightings are becoming more common. Photo by Rick Newton.

Foxes prefer shrubby fields and hedgerows. Sometimes they will den near human dwellings. Photo by Rick Newton.

This underscores the increasing need to preserve land-land to be homes, habitats and safe zones for these species. If you look at an aerial map of the area covered by Avalonia Land Conservancy’s preservation efforts, you are at first struck by the general forested nature of where we live. But zoom in closer and it is obvious that all the new developments, homes, roads, business centers, are encroaching and breaking up the forest, creating more edges.
Larger areas of deep woodlands and varied habitats give animals room to travel safely.

Creating greenways for habitat

One of our main conservation strategies is to create greenways. Link parcels of land together to form corridors that wild life can travel more safely. Sometimes a greenway will follow a watercourse, a wetland corridor that protects a watershed as well as providing safe haven for wildlife. If you look at that map in a bit more detail, you will see that Avalonia has played a part in preserving lands and creating a number of greenways. In Groton, The Moore Woodlands and Town’s End connect with other protected lands to form a large cross town trail system that is accessible to people and wildlife as well. In Mystic/Stonington a large block of Aquarion Water Company land, Denison Society land, which is for now, open space, connects to Nature Center land, and several adjoining Avalonia Properties : Mistuxet Hill, Pequotsepos Brook Preserve, Perkins Wildlife Corridor, White Cedar Swamp and Deans Mill Preserve. This greenway protects our watersheds, brook sources which flow to Long Island Sound, and provides homes and habitats for numerous species of wildlife.
In Groton several organizations have partnered to create a long greenway of trails and open space.

In Stonington, a large amount of Avalonia protected open space protects the Stony Brook watershed, from our Stony Brook Preserve, through Fennerswood, to Paffard Woods and then to the Admiral Fife Naval recreation Area .
Avalonia has connected several parcels in North Stonington to provide a large corridor of diverse habitat.

In North Stonington a lovely large complex is comprised of Erisman Woodlands, Babcock Ridge and the Henne Preserve .
Each of these connected parcels took a great deal of effort to put together. The beneficiaries, of course, are all of us and future generations who will enjoy the vast open spaces. But the greatest beneficiaries will be the species of wildlife that would really prefer their large block of woodlands and wetlands, to the concrete world of down town Mystic.
See and read about the Coyote sighting in the Stonington-Mystic Patch.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Art of Conservation: Second annual event

By Beth Sullivan
On Saturday Oct 24, a lucky group of people were treated to a lovely evening of fun with friends, good food, and soothing music in a beautiful venue surrounded by some really amazing artwork and even more amazing opportunities to purchase it at a bargain! To top it all off…they were doing a great thing by supporting the mission of Avalonia Land Conservancy. How could you go wrong?
A panoramic photo of Sandy Point by John Papp caused a bidding war.

This was the second year of the Art of Conservation event. Last year was hard work, but we had good reviews, opportunities to improve and learn and grow. It led to an even better event this year. Word spread and what was most special was that local artists were even more generous than last year! The selection of donated art ranged from fine art and photography, to three-dimensional art of sculpture, jewelry, fiber art, and prints and cards, and nature books that were stunningly illustrated.
Bidding was lively and good natured, 

Good art, good food, and good drink

The attendees were treated to beverages and delicious finger food as they browsed the main gallery to view items for the live auction. At the same time, the silent auction ran in the lower gallery where it seemed everyone gathered for the longest time, hoping to get their own bids on the last line, before last call at the end of the evening.
A lovely spread was offered throughout the evening.

This year we had a much larger selection of art to offer and as a result, bidders had less competition for each piece. While there were several lively bidding wars for certain special items, many were able to be purchased well below their value. Folks went home with their Christmas shopping well underway!
President Michele Fitzpatrick welcomed guests and thanked everyone for their support.

This event is gathering steam and has returned a modest profit to support Avalonia’s local efforts. We are already beginning to think of ways to change and improve and make it a bigger event. We are looking for committee members who are willing to brainstorm and help plan for next year.

A thank you to our sponsors

We are thankful for our sponsors: Chelsea Groton Bank, The Company of Craftsmen, Dime Bank, Mattern and Stefon Land Surveyors LLC, New England Science and Sailing Foundation, and Shaffer’s Marina.
Music was provided by Maryann Koch and Bill Johnson III.

A full list of donors and those who provided services will be found on our website. Please support them as they have supported us.
Volunteers planned the event, set up, provided flowers and were the heart of the show.

We are truly grateful for the generosity of our local artists who continue to support a vision that we ourselves are committed to. By lending their names and talents to our cause, they help spread the word of our mission to acquire, protect and steward the special green spaces and habitats that make our corner of CT so very special.
There was plenty of time to review and bid on silent auction offerings.

The nature here nurtures our souls and inspires art. What a wonderful way to connect the two.

Photographs by Bruce Fellman.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A bird in the hand is great, but keep an eye on the bushes

By Beth Sullivan
This is an active time of year for watching birds. Many of our summer residents have left the area, long gone to warmer climates, that are more supportive of the insects and fruits or nectars they require. The Hummingbirds, Orioles, Tanagers, and Flycatchers have been gone a while. The aerial insectivores, the Swallows, and our Purple Martins hauled out beginning in August and though September. Before they left they provided many of us with spectacular displays of roosting behaviors.
We are still seeing many migrants though: Birds from farther north, still on their way south, but using the coastal route, they stopover along our shoreline shrub-lands, forests and fields.
Holding a Cardinal can be a challenge and a hazard

This is the time we set up for our fall banding operations at Knox preserve.
This year we have had other studies of the birds ongoing there since the spring. The Trinity College team that has been studying at Knox has expanded their efforts to include birds. For several years now they have been studying our efforts to eradicate non-native invasive plants and restore native grasses and shrubs where we can. They also decided to collect data about the effect the efforts may have on bird life as well.
It's nearly impossible to spot birds in the tangle of protective vines

Knox bird survey

If you have walked Knox, you will have noticed wooden stakes with pink flags and metal tags, these are the 22 bird survey sites. Through the summer a team of students arrived at daybreak to do a very precisely laid out investigation of the species that use each site. The survey has continued through the fall now, with others of us gathering gather data on the birds that now use the site as a migratory stop over or as wintering grounds. The observations include vocalizations, songs and chip notes, as well as sightings of the birds at each area. This can be pretty difficult as Sparrows, in particular, tend to pop up, then immediately fly down into the tall grasses, making counting and identification really difficult. The dense thicket areas, the main attraction there, provide great hiding and protection, and also make spotting the flighty creatures difficult. To make it harder still, the birds just don’t sing in the fall like they do in the spring, so the survey has been a challenge.
Each circle represents a bird survey station

Long history of banding

The other technique to sort out the birds in an area is to catch them! We have been banding at Knox for nearly 30 years, so there is a large body of data available. Read about a previous banding here. This year we had hoped to have our special Avalonia day of banding on October 25, but the weather did not cooperate. We cannot do it even in the lightest rain as it is really dangerous for the birds to get wet to the skin; feathers clump, nets sag, and no one is happy!
A Yellow-Rumped Warbler caught in a mist net.

We did, however, set up the nets this week, as we wanted to get some consistent data for this period. On Monday Oct 26, it was clear and cold and sunny. The birds were active and in less than 3 hours we had captured and banded about 30 Yellow -Rumped Warblers, the most abundant fall migrant through this preserve. We also caught 3 Cardinals, a Song Sparrow and 2 Black Capped Chickadees. The surprise of the morning was that one of the Chickadees had a band already! By checking our back data entries, we discovered that the Chickadee we caught that day had been caught at Knox preserve last year on October 19th.
Song Sparrows are masters of hiding in grasses.

So that was a great day! The very next day we set up again, nearly the same conditions, and not one single bird was captured!!! Go figure. Maybe it was that hawk we watched …watching the nets!! Enough to spoil any little bird’s day!
White Throated Sparrows are here for the winter.

Photographs by Al Bach, Rick Newton and Beth Sullivan.