Monday, April 25, 2016

Busy Bees of the GNCE Continue their Work with Avalonia

By Jessica Sullivan

Sophomore GNCE Work Day

The sophomore members of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment have not only been hard at work with their individual projects for Avalonia, but we also completed a group work day for Avalonia on Saturday, April 16th. The group of us went to the Perry Natural Area in Stonington. Our goal was to clear around and expose a historic stone foundation. We took the branches and other brush and made it into a brush pile off of the path which animals could use then as sheltering habitat. Next, we worked on clearing out the interior of the foundation of the house and made it so that it could be visible. We brushed off the stonework and put some fallen stones back into place. While we were doing this, we found many small shards of pottery from what we think might be the original house. We also found a button that may or may not have the same origin. A mystery.
The work day on April 16th was a huge success and the GNCE sophomores enjoyed helping out.

Goodwin-Niering Associate Director Jen Pagach posed for this picture as she carried a large branch to the brush pile.

After we finished our work for the day, Beth Sullivan took us on a walk through the trails in Perry Natural Area and explained the history of the area as we went. There is a very interesting cemetery just off of the trails that holds the graves of Prentice and Lucy Brown, very likely the couple who lived in the house and farmed the area and created many of the walls. Additionally we saw rock walls and enclosures built throughout the land that looked like they formed a fenced-in area that might have held animals. We also noted an interesting rock pile that had an unknown purpose but was definitely human-made with some intent.
The GNCE sophomores paid their respects at the graves of Prentice and Lucy Brown, settlers on this land.

GNCE sophomores, Associate Director Jen Pagach and Professor Derek Turner teamed up to clean up this old house foundation. 

Amateur archaeologists Clare Loughlin and Jen Pagach uncover some old pottery shards in the foundation.

Project Spotlight: Lauren and Saskia

Lauren Baretta and Saskia Stark-Ewing are working on a stewardship project for Avalonia that is rooted in the promotion of Avalonia at the Stonington Farmer’s Market. They went to their first farmer’s market on April 9th and plan another visit as well. Lauren explained their project, stating:

“On the 30th of April we are celebrating Arbor Day (April 29th) by handing out white pine seedlings from the table we have set up. We’ve been giving out information on trails, locations, and volunteer opportunities. We have talked to about ten to fifteen people spreading the word about Avalonia, and we have persuaded a handful of people to sign up for Avalonia’s newsletter. We raised a small amount of donations, but our main focus is really just spreading the word. A man gave us an organic tomato because he loved what we were doing so much. We also enjoyed a sweet grandmother who explained Avalonia to her young grandson, in front of us, trying to teach him about environmental stewardship. We think our next event will be even better now that we know how to set up our table and now that we've made an in-person connection with the man in charge of the market. Overall, I think we have made a real positive impact on Avalonia’s public relations, a farmer’s market being the perfect place to talk to people concerned about environmental protection.”

Lauren and Saskia interacted with community members interested in learning about Avalonia.

The following passage is taken from the weekly newsletter for the Stonington Farmer’s Market, highlighting Saskia and Lauren’s project. “On April 10th, 1872 one million trees were planted in celebration of the first Arbor Day. 144 years later Avalonia, a land trust organization based in Mystic that deeply cares about conservation and the creation of strong environmental communities, continues the tradition. Connecticut College Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment students, Saskia and Lauren, will be representing Avalonia on Saturday, April 30th in honor of Arbor Day.”
Saskia and Lauren tested their Farmer's Market program April 9th.
We encourage everyone to stop by our table to learn more about Avalonia’s trails, values and projects. We will have information about volunteering as well as white pines for all to bring home. Take a tree; plant a tree! To contact Avalonia feel free to email:, call 860-884-3500, or visit our website”

We are very excited to see the success of the Farmer’s Market Program increase the next time they do it because it is so important to make sure that the community knows about Avalonia and all the great work it is doing for land conservation.

Photographs by Jessica Sullivan.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Some Musings on a Very Erratic Spring

By Beth Sullivan
In February and March we could revel in the spring feel, even though it confused the plants and some creatures. Then in mid-April we were once again thrown a stretch of out-of-sync weather that was an unkind throwback to winter. It is hard enough being human and adjusting to the wild swings, at least this human would prefer a bit more consistency! But it can be life threatening for some wildlife.

Spring Timing

Some things happen in synchrony with the length of days, the hours of daylight inspire some birds to migrate and flowers to bloom. The Phoebes and Tree Swallows arrived on time in the last week of March. They immediately were hit by the cold stretch in early April and being insect eaters, were severely challenged. They eat flying insects, and in that snow and rain, there were none. Some birds can adapt to other food sources, but it’s not so easy for these two species. It is hard to really know how these birds fared and if there was mortality, but now that the temperature has climbed, and the insects have re-emerged, the Phoebe is singing from his favorite nest site at the barn next door, and the Tree Swallows are back to their business of arguing about the best real estate at Knox preserve.
The Tree Swallows are back looking for the best nest site. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The Osprey come back pretty regularly each year, influenced a bit by which way the wind is blowing as they make their way north. In general, they are not too affected by colder weather. Though the water did not freeze, colder air at the surface will drive fish deeper in the water, making them harder to catch.
The Osprey are investigating our newest platforms in several preserves. Photograph by Rick Newton.

We noticed that several established nests were removed from utility poles along the Rail Road tracks before the birds returned this year. Now we are watching them take up residence on some of the new platforms we put up for them. We have had a report that our recently erected platform on Continental marsh has seen some activity, but that the Osprey have chosen to return to their nest in the trees.
This Bullfrog emerged from hibernation to find some interlopers at the edge of the pond.

Temperature matters

Some things happen in response to temperature: blossoming of certain plants when the temps warm up. My Quince bush began to blossom but then dropped all the partly opened blooms in the cold snap. I know there have been no Hummingbirds in the area that rely on the nectar, and now I wonder if there will be enough for them when they come back at the end of the month. Other fruit-bearing trees and shrubs may have been impacted adversely if their buds froze, or if pollination didn’t occur during the cold period. We may not know the impact of that until later in the season when we, and the birds, are looking for fruits and berries.
Quince bloomed very early with the warmth, then dropped the blossoms.

Woodland wildflowers like this Bloodroot are blooming.

And then some things just keep on marching along: the invasive plants green up earliest, the ticks are out and we are beginning our spring stewardship efforts again.
But the beautiful greens are showing, woodland wildflowers are budding, the great Blue Herons have returned to their nests at Henne, Robins are pulling worms out of the softened ground, and it makes everything seem all right.
Herons have returned to Henne Preserve. 

Toads trill in vernal pools. Photograph by Bruce Fellman.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Eager Beavers of Connecticut College’s Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment

This week's post is written by Jessica Sullivan, a student at Connecticut College. Beth Sullivan (no relation) returns next week.

By Jessica Sullivan
As a sophomore at Connecticut College and one of the newest members of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment (GNCE), I am incredibly excited about the opportunity I have to become more educated about and more involved with Avalonia Land Conservancy. This will be the fourth year that Goodwin-Niering students will be involved with Avalonia, and that is so great because our connection with the organization promotes the core value of Goodwin-Niering that is environmental stewardship. At the beginning of this spring semester, the sophomores of the Center had the opportunity to meet with some of the lovely ladies who help make Avalonia so great. It was inspirational to hear how much good can be done by volunteers who are motivated not by money, but by their passion for the environment and the preservation of nature that makes our world so beautiful. It is amazing how much they do with Avalonia, and hearing about the history of Avalonia gives me hope for the future of land conservation.
A room full of eager environmentally-minded GNCE scholars discuss important issues.

Avalonia preserves habitats for wildlife and also for aesthetics. 

Open House

Having just had the Goodwin-Niering Spring Open House, it was very exciting to hear about the environmentally focused projects that our seniors have completed or are completing this semester, ranging in topic from vegetarianism to the sustainability of the automobile industry and everything in between. It was also great to see the first year students already so invested in environmental preservation. However, as a sophomore, I still have two years until I will complete my own Senior Integrative Project. Still, that does not mean that I will not be involved with varying projects focused around the GNCE. Over the course of the next two months, the sophomore members of Goodwin-Niering will complete service projects for Avalonia. We are all very excited to be able to work with such a great organization. Personally, my project revolves around Avalonia’s blog and their social media accounts. In an age where the use of technology is so prevalent, I think that it is crucial that Avalonia keeps up with their social media presence, including Facebook, Instagram, and, of course, this blog: AvaloniaETrails. For the next month or so, I will be writing blog posts that cover the projects that the sophomores of Goodwin-Niering are working very hard to complete. These projects range from site work days on Avalonia preserves to educational school programs. Each sophomore is so excited to help Avalonia in some special way, because we are all so very much invested in environmental protection.
Senior GNCE scholars discuss the environmentally-focused projects they have completed.

These GNCE sophomores will be completing Avalonia service projects this semester.

Scholars Meeting

Every Thursday night, all the Goodwin-Niering scholars meet for a seminar where we discuss important environmental issues. The theme of this semester’s seminar is Environmental Aesthetics. I think that this theme coordinates very well with our work with Avalonia because although I have not been to an Avalonia site (yet!!) I have seen pictures that highlight the incredible beauty of nature. However, it is wonderful that Avalonia conserves land for not only aesthetic purposes, but also because they quite simply see an inherent value in nature. This is a subject that has come up a lot in our seminar which goes to show that there is a multitude of reasons that we should protect the environment. However, no matter what reason we choose to believe is the most important reason to promote environmental conservation, whether aesthetic or not, the point stands that nature must be protected.
A recent Thursday night seminar focused on the connection between nature and aesthetics.

Participating in work parties on Avalonia preserves provides energy and hands-on experience. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Jessica Sullivan.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Connections and Hope for the Future

By Beth Sullivan
One of the most rewarding aspects of working with Avalonia as a town chair and steward, is the opportunities that arise to connect with other organizations and share strategies, ideas and energy.
Invasive plants were no match for this crew at Pequotsepos Brook Preserve.

Working with Trinity College

Over the last three years I worked with a professor and his ever-changing teams of students at Knox preserve as they studied the effect of invasive species on the ecosystem, and followed up as we eradicated and managed for restoration of a more native flora. Working with this team, and getting my brain turned on a bit to academics and science, was not only interesting but inspiring. The lead professor, Dr. Cameron Douglass is moving on to a new and permanent position in Washington DC with the EPA. His study on Knox is done. When his papers are completed and published, I will read them and file them, and hopefully future stewards will learn from them as well. We benefited from their presence; we have worked hard on restoring native species, have a greater understanding of the soils and conditions we are working with, and it was his team that designed and created the beautiful signs we now have on the preserve. Thank you to Trinity College. Maybe his replacement will come explore our area.
Our collaboration with Trinity College will be wrapping up.

Moving piles of invasives is a great way to burn off energy.

Working with Connecticut College

Now, in the spring semester, I am working with the Connecticut College Goodwin Neiring Center for the Environment and their class of very special students; another group of smart and enthusiastic young people wo are willing to share their ideas and energy with us for a few months. Sometimes their efforts have really long and far reaching results. In the past students tried stewardship projects, habitat work in the field, and plantings. But in the past two years we have been thwarted by snow and poor conditions in March and April for actual on-site projects. This year the students are working on outreach projects in several areas for Avalonia. We discussed that one of our organizational goals is to become more a part of the public awareness. People see our signs, but are not sure “what” we are or that we are an organization based on memberships. The students are reaching out in a number of ways. They will have a presence at local Farmers’ Markets with a setup promoting Avalonia and even focusing on Arbor Day, a good thing for a land trust. Another group will work with a local High School teacher in Stonington and her students in Ecology/Environmental Science classes, to explore how we can get younger students engaged in helping us. Many of us are getting a little older now! Other groups will focus on managing some social media outreach and doing a fund raising “Meet Avalonia” event. There may even be some guest writers of this blog, giving readers a different view, and me a break.
One team from Connecticut College is exploring the history of the Perry Natural Area.

When we work together, great things happen, like clearing this wall of invasive species.

We have already done walks to explore historic properties. More on that at a later time. And several work parties where the energy of the students truly matched, and over whelmed, the persistence of invasives on several sites
Watching the students study and work in the field, watching them think and be engaged, gives me such hope for the future, that these young people are going out into the world with an education and opportunity that was not available, for me, almost 40 years ago. With these young people, we will be in good hands.
Youth and energy from Marine Science Magnet School worked wonders at Dodge Paddock.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Marina Stuart.