Monday, May 30, 2016

Executive Director Heather Milardo Interview

Executive Director Heather Milardo was interviewed recently by the Gracelyn Presents program.
You can watch the program by following this Youtube link:

Summer planning for Sandy Point

By Beth Sullivan
Summer is just around the corner. For many, Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of the season, and the weather has finally seemed to settle into a more summer-like mode as well.
Happy Memorial Day, It time to remember we need to share Sandy Point with many species.

A Sandy Point Summer

It only seems right to think about Sandy Point at this time, though the birds and Horseshoe Crabs and USFWS have been thinking about it for quite a while! More than a month ago the shorebirds arrived, and already the American Oystercatchers have established nests. Piping Plovers have also arrived, and we are waiting to get reports of numbers this year.
Oystercatchers have already nested successfully this season. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The Full moon in May also signals the real beginning of the Horseshoe Crab migration to the island for nesting-a trek that has gone on for thousands if not millions of years. Avalonia Stewards are gearing up to do our kayak excursions out to the island to count and tag the returning crabs. Later we will paddle out to look for the nests and hatching young and juvenile crabs that take refuge in the calm waters on the north side of the island.
The Horseshoe crabs have returned to nest.

As we have reported over the last year, Avalonia Land Conservancy has entered into a very supportive relationship with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to manage the island. It had become impossible to juggle the needs of the wildlife for the special habitat to survive, and the wishes of the island-loving public that has enjoyed the island’s sandy shores and inviting waters for generations.
Dogs are not allowed on the island at all. Please leave them home.

The Service will provide wildlife biologists as experienced stewards who will study the protected species, will note where they nest, and provide protection for them. They will also be available to educate the public, answer questions and explain the rules. An informed visitor is far more likely to be compliant and actually help with the effort to preserve and protect the place we all love. They will also have the ability to see that the rules are followed.
US Fish and Wildlife Service will educate the public and protect the wildlife.

Passes are still needed to visit

All of this effort comes at a cost and, as in the past, there will be a fee for usage of Sandy Point, which will help offset this expense. The USFWS has developed a fee scale that is very fair and is actually less expensive than in past years. Also, they have decided to continue the relationship with the Stonington COMO to assist with the management of the process and procedures to obtain passes and their distribution. You can go directly to the COMO if you choose, or very easily go to the COMO website and link to Summer Beach Passes. The direct link to purchase a Sandy Point Pass is below:
It will be important to keep the pass with you and a personal ID while visiting the island, as stewards will check for them. They will be required from Memorial Day and through Labor Day.
It truly is a small price to pay to be able to enjoy the beautiful island beaches and waters, but also know that your purchase actually goes to support the stewardship of the island to protect and preserve it for all who visit or call it home.
When done for the day, pick up your litter. It can be deadly for birds and other wildlife.

We will keep you posted on the seasonal changes out there. In the meantime, get your passes and enjoy the early summer pleasures of Avalonia’s gem- Sandy Point Island.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Annual General Meeting, May 27, 2016

You're Invited!
What? Annual General Meeting
When?  Friday, May 27, 6-9pm
Details:  We will review our year's activities and achievements, and members will elect the Board of Directors for fiscal year 2016-2017.
This will be followed by a presentation by filmmaker Ayla Fox:
"Engaging the heart to move the mind; why nature needs a narrative."
Light refreshments will be served.  Bring a friend!

Spring marches along

By Beth Sullivan
While the Connecticut College projects took over the blog this spring, the season bumped along, and not very smoothly. Anybody who is a “phenologist”( one who watches the chronology of seasonal occurrences) has surely been keeping tabs on things this very irregular spring. Warmer winter, short hard cold spell, intense warm up, then cold again…it wreaked havoc on flower buds, insects and ultimately bird survival. In the short term insectivores have been terribly stressed. In the long term, another year of lost fruit and berries due to spring blossom freeze will extend the stress well into the fall.
At Continental Marsh, the Ospreys have adopted the new platform 

Some interesting observations over the last erratic weeks:

Hummingbirds: The Ruby –throated hummingbirds arrived right on time, even a hair early this year. I had been concerned that the flowers had begun to blossom too soon with that early warm spell, but when these fellows arrived, the Quince was just beginning to open. However the feeders we put out seemed very welcome, especially in the cold chill that followed. It takes a lot of nectar or sugar water to keep those little fires stoked. Remember to plant red flowers and get out those annuals to give them a boost in the coming weeks.
Quince is a favored flower of Hummingbirds, but annual hanging baskets of red flowers will happily be accepted.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds appreciate nectar offerings when blossoms are spars.

Purple Martins: They are back at the Knox preserve. At least five adult males, all glossy violet, had been staking out their favored gourds and awaiting the arrival of the females. Then we had the week of terrible cold and rain. Seed eating birds can survive a spell like that, but the aerial insectivores, those who catch and eat insects on the wing like our Martins and Tree Swallows, had a terrible time. All across CT there were reports coming in from Martin caretakers finding dead and dying Martins in their colonies. It is very difficult to feed these birds. Believe it or not, some people resort to tossing mealworms into the air, to get the birds to fly down to catch them. I checked our colony when the cold spell was over and was thrilled to find no fatalities. It was apparent that the birds had huddled in the gourds for warmth. The day we were there, we saw five adult males and one female flying and perching on their homes. We will be watching and hoping later migrant arrivals will settle in.
We set up the housing, birds returned but were severely stressed by bad weather.

Crows: There are two nests within my view. I watch their nest building, and squabbling, and antics. I watch them strut like pompous old men across my lawn looking for edibles. And YES, they do like Cheetos as a recent Audubon article suggested. They also have a strange practice with earthworms. As they walk and look and maybe listen for worms near the surface, you can just see their concentration. I watched as a crow pulled a very long worm out of the ground, but instead of gobbling it down Robin style, it stepped on it, and pulled off the head ( of course I am guessing which end). It then ate that part and left the remainder behind. This happened a great number of times during those last rainy days. On more than one occasion, I observed a Robin follow up and apparently grab the remainders and seem grateful for the easy find.
Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit crows are interesting.

A great time of year, no matter what the weather, as the march through spring continues and offers us so much to enjoy.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Thank you to Connecticut College and Remembering Whit Davis

By Beth Sullivan
I hope you have enjoyed getting insights into the work done by the Connecticut College students. This is our fourth year together, and each year we learn more. We learn what works and what doesn’t, what projects are helpful, and which are most meaningful to the students as well as to Avalonia
I have been amazed at the enthusiasm of these students, and this year has been no exception. We have attacked invasives, and shrubs and stumps and poison ivy. In some cases the poison ivy attacked back. We have uncovered and studied history, which is really exciting. They even raised some funds for Avalonia while spreading the word about our work.

High school to college to Avalonia

We also made some great connections and some of these will continue long after this year’s students have graduated. What wonderful representatives these students were at the Farmer’s Market for us. They made friends and recruited members. We now have a connection with High School Students in Stonington. What better way to reach out and connect with HS students than with College students. Hopefully we may have a younger, stronger pool of enthusiastic stewards to call on, and they will find a meaningful connection to a land trust organization. And as for me, I enjoyed having someone write this blog for several weeks as I sat back and enjoyed the things that this spring had to offer.
Class of 2018

I want to pay tribute to a special man from Stonington-Whit Davis, who passed away this week. He was a local legend, and I am sad to say, this is possibly the end of an era of those wonderful Stonington farmers who loved their land so dearly; it was their life. Whit made sure his lands would be protected and the history they hold, be honored. Avalonia was the recipient of nine acres of very special salt marsh property we call the Continental Marsh. I wrote about it not long ago, but please take time to read again and think about it from the perspective of history and the man whose family cherished that land since Stonington was founded. Maybe take time to honor those memories by taking a walk out onto Barn Island as spring advances over the salt marshes.
Here are some old articles about Whit Davis and his gift to the town, and to Avalonia. A special man.

The Continental Marsh Preserve

Those of us who live in Southeast Connecticut are very lucky to have one of the largest coastal preserves in the state. Barn Island Wildlife Management Area is more than 1000 acres of saltmarsh and coastal forest, owned and managed by the State and the DEEP. There is a little slice of this heaven that is owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy with a special history and is a gem in its own right. This is the Continental Marsh Preserve.
During the American Revolutionary War, the Davis Farm , which is located east of Barn Island WMA, provided the Continental armies with hay harvested from the salt marsh and thus gave the piece its name. Salt hay was valuable for grazing cattle and sheep. The marsh provided income as the hay was also sold for livestock bedding and food. That particular grass is Spartina patens and is a fine sturdy grass that grows on a higher drier part of the marsh. Over the decades, due to many causes such as changes in tides, sea level rise and even peat compression due to more frequent flooding, the marsh has changed. It's become more compacted, lower and wetter, and the high marsh grass retreated to be replaced by Spartina alterniflora and other grasses that tolerate the wetter conditions. This new grass was not nearly as desirable for salt hay.
Cedar posts, stone walls, and swirls of saltmeadow hay remain on the Continental Marsh.

The area is secluded, almost like a “valley” of marsh, between the slightly higher coastal forests with a creek of tidal flow flushing it daily and bringing life deep into the marsh. It is this area that was donated to Avalonia land Conservancy in 1978 . Reading the deed to this property is like beginning a historical mystery using shifting shorelines, tidal creeks and ancient stone bridges as marker points to describe the boundary.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Wrapping Up the Semester and Our Work with Avalonia; Until Next Year

by Jessica Sullivan
Since we have all experienced a gloomy week, we decided to share some lovely spring wildflowers to enjoy while you read Jessica’s wrap up.

A visit to Stonington High School

As the semester comes to a close, the sophomores of Goodwin-Niering are finishing up our work with Avalonia. One project that is still in the works is that of Josh Lee and Phoebe Masterson-Eckart. Phoebe and Josh are doing a very exciting project that involves reaching out to local youths to get them interested in Avalonia and invested in land conservation. The curriculum that they will be presenting to the students of Stonington High School on May 11th focuses on invasive species: why they are bad for the environment that they are invading, and how Avalonia is trying to get rid of these nasty invasives in order to further preserve the natural land. Josh and Phoebe explained their project, stating: “Last week we got to know the students of the Stonington High School Environmental Studies course, and we helped them plant vegetables, flowers, and herbs that they had been starting in the greenhouse at the HS. It provided us with the chance to get a feel for what they already know and what they find interesting in the field. Hopefully this kind of thing will be a part of a continued partnership beyond annual workshops, but extend into field trips or work days, and build a stronger group of young environmentalists.” It is so important that today’s youth become involved with land conservation because they are the people who are going to be taking care of things in the future, so it is great to see these young minds getting involved early.
Canada Mayflower.
Red Trillium

Another cool project is Maya Sutton-Smith’s; She is investigating the history of the Perry Natural Area. Over the course of the semester, she has learned a lot about the history of the land and the people who once lived there and the remnants of which we can still see today. After our work day at the Perry Natural Area, it was clear that the area has a rich history based on the presence of old wells, a cemetery, stone cairns, and even house foundations. Through research and interviews, Maya has been able to explore this amazing history that is now being preserved in the land. Her final project will be linked to the Perry natural Area preserve page on the Avalonia Website.
Trout Lily

Senior Integrative Projects

On a slightly different note, I would like to give a shout-out to the seniors of Goodwin-Niering who presented their Senior Integrative Projects to their friends, parents, and colleagues on Thursday, May 5th. A lot of their projects were closely tied with land conservation and had an overall connection to the land. A few people who I want to highlight are Olivia Rabbitt, Matt Luciani, and Aly Cheney. Olivia’s project focused on permaculture as she had experienced during her time in Hawaii. She explained how one of the intentions of permaculture was the “intended goal of healing the earth” which I think ties nicely in with the work that Avalonia is doing. Matt looked at the wilderness in how it relates to narratives regarding Native Americans which shows that it is important not to forget the history of the land that we live on, something that I am sure Maya would agree with. Lastly, Aly’s project focused on the issues of preservation versus conservation as it relates to land use and recreational activities in Colorado and the importance of “treating the land in a way that is good for it and good for us.” This coordinates with Avalonia’s mission to share their trails in order to communicate the value of these wonderful resources and encourage the conservation ethic.
Not so lovely Poison Ivy. Steer clear of it.
Woodland Azalea 

In conclusion, I have had such a good experience working with Avalonia, and specifically Beth, this semester. It has been a lot of fun. I hope that in the future I will be able to work again with the Land Trust. I am sure that next year a new batch of GNCE sophomores will take up the task of doing work with Avalonia, and hopefully someone will work on the blog too. Just because the semester has come to a close, that doesn’t mean that our work with Avalonia has ended. On the contrary, we hope to work with Avalonia for years to come.
NOTE FROM BETH: Thank you to Jessica for all your writing. And thank you to all of these wonderful students. Each year I get bonded to them for a short time. I have really enjoyed the experience and effort. It has been truly rewarding to see some of the upperclassmen mentor the sophomores, to make an effort to stay involved with Avalonia, and keep what they learned close at heart as they move out into their next phase of life and learning. Congratulations and best wishes to all the students of GNCE, especially the graduates.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hyde Pond Restoration, May 7, 2016

Combating invasive species and celebrating with mocktails: The Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment saga continues

By Jessica Sullivan

Katherine and Clare’s Work Day

On Saturday, April 23rd, GNCE’s Katherine Carey and Clare Loughlin hosted a work day for Avalonia at the Pequotsepos Brook Preserve. The event was open to anyone who wanted to be involved, and they advertised for it through various methods, on and off campus, including advertisements at farmer’s markets, on Connecticut College’s weekly news posters On the Can, and via word of mouth to friends and student organizations. 
The lane into the preserve is now wide and inviting.

On the day of the event, a dozen or so dedicated volunteers went out to the Pequotsepos Center Road entrance to the preserve for a day of brush-clearing and other work. The area has some interesting history with several very old foundations hidden beneath the vines and plant debris over decades.

The group got a lot of work done in several hours of hard work. One thing they did was attempt to clear out some of the invasive species in the area including Japanese Knotweed which is prevalent in this area. They dug out the roots of the Knotweed and hauled a lot of it away. A fun fact about this not-so-fun invasive is that parts of it are edible early in the spring. One of the volunteers took it home to try for cooking. They also cleared out a lot of brush around a stone wall and a foundation of an old house and made a brush pile out of that which animals could use as habitat.

An enthusiastic crew attacked invasive vines, cleared walls and dug out massive roots.

Overall the work day turned out great and a lot of work got done. Katherine spoke about the success of the event, stating "The work day went really well! We were pleased to get so many eager volunteers who were able to uncover a part of the foundation that was previously completely covered by vines and shrubbery." It is always great to see students getting involved and helping out at Avalonia sites because that really gets them invested in the land.

A note from Beth Sullivan: These foundations date back to early settlements in the Mystic area. Now they are uncovered, a local historian will visit and be better able to explore the site. There are huge foundation stones and evidence of the historic road way that connected this area over toward the river.

Maddy and Juliette’s Avalonia Mocktail Mixer

In a somewhat atypical and incredibly fun way, GNCE’s Maddy Fenderson and Juliette Lee raised awareness about Avalonia by hosting the Avalonia Mocktail Mixer on Tuesday, April 26th. This fun event took place at Connecticut College and was hosted by Maddy and Juliette, but was also sponsored by the Conn College Student Activities Council, or as we call it: SAC. Decked out in “business casual” attire, the students of Conn and some of the lovely ladies from Avalonia, including Beth , Binti, and Heather, enjoyed an evening of alcohol-free versions of their favorite cocktails, great music, and mingling. Also, the night culminated with a raffle with a lot of great stuff in a very chic basket filled with things like books, food, art cards, and 2 Avalonia T-shits and a complimentary Avalonia membership. The money raised from the raffle went directly to Avalonia. 
Thank you to the hosts of the mocktail mixer, Juliette and Maddy, for hosting such a great event.

The mocktails were Virgin Margaritas, Moscow Mules, and Martinellis.

In addition to the drinks and fun conversation, Beth and Heather both gave short speeches about the work that they do with Avalonia. An important part of what they both said revolved around the appreciation that Avalonia has for its volunteers. It was great to see so many students show up to this event because they came out of it knowing a little more about the organization and what it stands for. Now there are more people who know about Avalonia who will hopefully now go out and use the trails and see the beautiful Avalonia preserves. Gaining newfound knowledge in that fun atmosphere made for a great opportunity to get more of the younger generation interested in Avalonia and land trust goals and efforts. I know that I had a great time.
The raffle prize included this green basket and a ton of great goodies inside.

The turnout at this social event was great.  Everyone had fun learning about Avalonia.

Photographs by Jessica Sullivan.