Monday, September 26, 2016

Some New Energy-Summer Hiking Series

By Beth Sullivan
While I am personally so indebted and amazed at all the work our volunteer stewards get done, it is a fact that we are all getting just a tad older. We are, however, the ones with more time in general, have fewer home obligations like small children, and have chosen our paths in terms of where and how we want to spend our time and efforts.
But every once in a while I get wishing I was younger, had a bit more energy and had more limber joints. For years I was a champion frog and snake catcher for school kids on field trips; now it takes me a little while to think of how ( or if ) I am going to quickly drop down to capture something far faster than I am.
A look at a flock of turkeys was one highlight at Preston Preserve.

Enter the next generation. This summer we were so lucky to have two enthusiastic and energetic college students come to us and ask how they could help. Avoiding temptation to all pile onto them and overwhelm them with our gratitude and ideas, it was quickly evident that having them lead hikes and field trips through the summer would be an excellent use of their knowledge, time and energy, and be a great way to reach out to our members and possibly recruit new ones.
Amanda Dostie

Amanda Dostie is currently completing her final semester at UConn Avery Point, for a BS degree in Marine Sciences. She is also currently working as a research tech and outdoor educator for New England Science and Sailing in Stonington Borough. With her goal of creating a niche for herself in the environmental field, having her as a field guide this summer was a perfect fit.
Amanda caught a toad. What a great way to learn.

She enlisted Joe Warren who is a second year Masters Student in Marine Chemistry at Avery Point. His undergrad degree was in Environmental Chemistry. He is also a lover of nature and has led other outdoor explorer series in the area. A self -proclaimed lab-rat, he did a great job in the field.
Joe Warren

Together the two of them led a series of hikes through this summer on five different Avalonia Preserves. They contacted local Avalonia stewards and naturalists to get some ideas of the lay of the land and any special features to be explained and shared.
Hikes are always a surprise. They can be paced depending on the age, skill and interest level of the participants. Some like fast paced exercise hikes, but as it happily evolved, these hikes became opportunities for some close encounters with nature and chances to learn a bit more up close and personal.
They started with a small group at the Hoffman Preserve in early July, and while they covered a fair amount of territory they were able to stop and explore in depth with the added expertise of naturalist Bruce Fellman who joined each hike in the series.
Knox Preserve allowed glimpses of water.

The Hoffman and Avery Preserves are mature forest areas in contrast with Henne Preserve which is highlighted by a beautiful wetland swamp complex with very different wildlife. The Preston Nature Preserve and Knox Preserve are examples of open meadows and shrub lands. Over the course of the summer, the hiking fans grew in number and had a great opportunity to experience a wide variety of habitats on Avalonia Trails.
At Hoffman Preserve, the group looked at a big burl growth on the base of a tree.

Amanda and Joe got high praise for their leadership. Everyone is grateful for their time and energy and enthusiasm. They are planning a fall series of hikes and hopefully even a guided kayak paddle; so keep an eye on our Avalonia website and Facebook for a schedule.
As you can see from the photos, a good time was had by all, young and young at heart.
Thank you Amanda and Joe, and welcome to Avalonia.

Photographs by Bruce Fellman and Rick Newton.

Sail away with Avalonia Land Conservancy  

This is the third year we've held this popular sail aboard the Argia.  Come join us.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Getting Real with Hike and Seek!

By Beth Sullivan
As part of Avalonia’s Mission Statement, we strive to foster appreciation for our wonderful natural resources though education in various ways. Because we are an all-volunteer organization, whose members have busy active lives, we cannot always be where we want to be-to lead hikes, present programs, or offer classes the way other organizations can do so well with their dedicated staff.

So, we brainstormed. We are beginning to employ educational signage on some of our preserves in addition to the historical signs that have been on several properties for years. This allows visitors a chance to get a better understanding of the area they are exploring. We have also expanded our website to include so much more information about the preserves, such as photos, maps, and descriptions. However, we wanted to give people a reason to explore, a motive or goal to really look at things as they hike.
A big hole in a tree can have many uses. This one is at Simmons Preserve.

Last year my goal was to walk all the trailed properties Avalonia has to offer. I hiked, photographed and enjoyed all the unique details of each preserve. Then it was a natural progression to see how we could encourage others to do the same. With major technical IT help ( thank you Kent), an area where I am sorely lacking, we developed an idea to point out real elements in nature.
So, as part of our Discover Avalonia initiative: Get ready to Hike and Seek!
Let us guide you in a unique way, on journeys of your own choosing.
At Fennerswoods, a tree seedling took root in a crack in a rock and grew

Showcasing 24 preserves in 5 towns and with the website to guide you, we challenge one and all to explore with the goal of learning a bit more, thinking deeper, pondering and perusing, and then, documenting your found clues with photos and your smart phone.
Ideally created for those who have social media and technology at their fingertips, it is also great for families. Parents can help children explore the photo clues then encourage them to find the targets along the trail. Sharing can be done by using the #avaloniahikeandseek hashtag for Instagram and Facebook, or by posting your photos in the photo album for each preserve on Avalonia’s Facebook page. Instructions and clues are all in one place on the Hike and Seek web page, here. More information and maps are readily available through links to the main Avalonia website. All are mobile friendly. The program is free to all, and registration is optional but will allow us to contact parents or leaders with updates and notify participants of occasional seasonal celebrations for all Seekers.
At Knox Preserve, new signs help teach and inspire.

There is no real beginning, no end, no competition, and no stress.
If you are tired of watching people, young and old, walk around glued to their phones, looking for imaginary creatures and totally ignoring their natural surroundings, this is for you.
Looking for real things in nature is ever so much better than looking for virtual creatures. Photograph by Heather Milardo.

Beautiful hiking weather is finally here. There are targets to be found now. Over time we will add more goals that may be seasonally dependent to keep every trip interesting and new.
We look forward to seeing your submissions and hearing your comments.
Avalonia has worked hard to acquire and protect so much beautiful land here in SE CT. Our mission is to help you learn about it and appreciate it so that you and your families will help us carry the effort forward into the next generations.
Have fun.
There are many different wetlands on Pine Swamp Preserve. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Our Vision

As we begin a new season, and get down to business after summer, Avalonia Land Conservancy is also embarking on its next season. After the initial work of collecting, organizing, and submitting accreditation material to the Land Trust Alliance, the next phase is to respond to their suggestions to complete the process. One suggestion was to create a vision statement of where we see ourselves in the future. Our vision statement was created this past summer, and who better to explain it to the membership than the President.
The greatest vision-future generations

 Dennis Main wants to bring his messages to the membership. In the future they may be sent directly to the membership via an email “blast” and his updates will be available on our Avalonia website. But this week I ask you to think of the Vision Statement in relation to all the wonderful lands we protect, cherish and share with our members and friends.   Beth

Our Vision

Update from the President
Dennis S. Main
I am honored to serve as Avalonia’s ninth President, following a rich tradition of leaders dedicated to conservation of habitats in Southeastern CT. There has always been an underlying vision for preservation that has remained the basis of Avalonia's work dating dating back to February 21, 1968, when Lois S. Tefft, Hugo J. Wilms, John H. Hubbard, and Hugh L. M. Cole first incorporated Avalonia as the then-named Mashantucket Land Trust, Inc.
As part of the Avalonia Accreditation process currently underway, the Board of Directors has formalized a Vision Statement for our organization, and it was adopted at the June BOD meeting. It is posted to our website and shared with you here:

Avalonia Vision Statement

(adopted by BOD, June 22, 2016)
  • To be the primary regional and leading best-practice land trust in Southeastern CT, protecting and conserving natural resources including threatened and declining habitats;
  • Work collaboratively with other land trusts, preservation groups, political entities, not-for-profits, etc. in the southeastern Connecticut area to conserve key habitats;
  • Create a Strategic Conservation Plan with fully integrated mapping to allow proactive identification of priority acquisition parcels and partnering opportunities;
  • Grow our Town and Standing Committees to become more robust, fully staffed, and functioning Committees to meet stewardship, acquisition, and other organizational requirements;
  • Complete and maintain Accreditation with a Board of Directors and Executive Director fully versed in Land Trust Alliance Practices and Standards;
  • Steward fee properties in accordance with individual management plans and develop public recreational and educational opportunities where appropriate including compliant ADA trails where feasible;
  • Monitor all Conservation Easement properties as required by law and best practices;
  • Maintain and/or return arable lands to productive farming where appropriate through innovative partnering;
  • Strengthen financial support of conserved lands while controlling costs and maintaining transparency.
As a President dedicated to communication, I plan to offer regular updates on our work toward that Vision as we complete our Accreditation work (an additional information response is due back from the BOD to the Accreditation Commission October 14, 2016.) We will also be planning for our 50th anniversary celebration events. We continue to partner with fellow Land Trusts, and to collaborate with other environmental organizations to further our mission for conservation. We are fleshing out details of a Capital Plan to support preservation and acquisition opportunities in our mission area. We will also strive to continually enhance our communication, education, and outreach to our members and the greater community we serve.
I look forward to working with the Avalonia community and welcome all to help me work toward this vision.

I can be reached at:

Avalonia's first acquisition was Ram Point in Stonington.
A parcel in the Great Cedar Swamp in Ledard is the most recent acquisition.
Working with partners to preserve farmlands will be part of our vision.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan and Rick Newton.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Summer is not over yet!

By Beth Sullivan
Many people mark Labor Day weekend as the end of summer, kids and parents certainly do. But officially we still have a month to go, and Mother Nature usually makes use of every last bit of it.
The marshes are still green, but have subtly begun preparing for fall.

It has been a hard summer. Just looking at the woodlands on the Avalonia Preserves, and elsewhere locally, it is easy to see how stressed the trees have become. A spring of defoliation followed by drought has made it difficult for the trees to re-leaf. And those that did have had their tender foliage burned by the intense sun and heat of this past month. Judging from the number of Gypsy Moth Egg cases on tree trunks in the woods, we are in for another bad year next year. Many trees may not survive.
After several hard years, this tree will not likely survive another.

Our meadows are beautiful and full of flowering perennials of the season: Joe-Pye weed, Iron Weed and Goldenrods. They seem to thrive in the heat and sun. Insect populations are thriving as well, and even Monarchs seem to be present in greater numbers than last year. But the grasses have browned up earlier than usual. Berries and fruits seem to have ripened faster and earlier and I wonder if it will make a difference to those birds that are dependent on them later in fall season.
Mature fields are most attractive to pollinators.

The salt marshes are at their peak now with shades of green, swirls and spikes. The grasses are lush and full sized. The Spartina alterniflora has flower spikes now, and that adds a lightness to the color palate of the marsh. Along the upland edges of the marsh you can begin to detect the changes as the foliage of bordering trees, especially the Tupelo, are beginning to change their colors.
Textures of the salt marsh are most beautiful now.

Sandy Point - still busy

One place where, visually, there does not seem to be much change, is on Sandy Point. The Island has had a good summer. With oversight by USFWS stewards, there was greater protection for our special nesting birds. The Oystercatchers were very successful as they got their young up and out and through the crowds of people. And the visitors to the island responded and respected the roping and appreciated the increased education. Sadly, no amount of education and roping could protect the Piping Plovers from the marauding Gulls and Crows. A few young survived to fledge, but several nests failed. We can only keep trying. We all appreciated the diligence by the USFWS stewards who patrolled the island and kept people informed of efforts to preserve and protect. There are always those who continue to believe the Island is a personal playground for humans and their dogs, while in reality it is a privately owned preserve, dedicated to wildlife primarily, and we are all very lucky to be able to share it.
With the crowds gone, Sandy Point is peaceful.

Beach combing brings rewards.

As the calendar page flips to September, the stewardship will diminish. Roping will be removed, nesting is done. It is still important to remember that the birds, in particular, are heavily dependent on the refuge as a stop over place during their long migration south. The adult shorebirds left their northern nesting areas back in July, leaving their young to follow, by instinct, later in August and through September. We are often pleasantly surprised by some special visitors, somewhat rare shorebirds among the large flocks.

Migrating shorebirds rest and feed on Sandy Point.
There is nothing more lovely than a clear blue September day to paddle around the island, and having a good pair of binoculars is helpful. The water is warm for wading and the crowds have departed. This part of summer is my favorite.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.