Monday, February 27, 2017

Congratulations! Avalonia achieves National Land Trust accreditation

By Beth Sullivan
By now I hope you have heard the news, read the press releases, or have noted the fireworks. Achieving national accreditation is a huge milestone.
Being able to display that logo on our website reflects so much effort and commitment by a dedicated group of volunteers who sacrificed the better part of the last couple of years reaching for this. And the actual planning and preparation began in 2005, if not earlier.

A look in the mirror to start

First was the assessment of the organization, a self -assessment, like looking into all the corners, stripping off the dust covers and really taking a close look at where we stood when held up to the Land Trust Alliance’s (LTA) Standards and Practices. Yikes, it’s worse than getting into a bathing suit in February.
Avalonia protects varied habitats from shore to inland forest and all in between. 

Take a look at the LTA website and try to read the Standards and Practices. Chapter by chapter, bullet point by bullet point, it lays out the standards of excellence that are expected in all areas of a land conservation organization. There is so much more to the formalities of governance than one tree hugger could imagine. There are polices, practices, and charters for each standing committee: Governance, Finance, Personnel, Development, Acquisition, and Stewardship. Each Town committee has a charter to follow with goals, objectives and deliverables.
Education about our irreplaceable resources is part of our mission. 

Over the next period the organization took each point and answered the questions about how well it measured up to expectations. In very many ways we were doing great. As is the case with just about anything though, documentation is the crux of the whole thing…if it isn’t documented, you can’t prove it is done. So the next years followed in making sure all our processes and procedures, things we have been doing right, were properly documented for the long term. It is quite an eye opening experience to put all the great work that has happened in nearly a half century, into organized files, digitized, prioritized and able to be looked at and approved. Some folks were great at the finances part. Others understood the organizational guidelines. Others of us worked to make sure all our property documentation was in order and all knew, in no uncertain terms, our responsibilities as stewards of the land.
Fleeting beauty should be accessible to all. Photograph by Rick Newton.

A regional land trust

Also remember that Avalonia is a regional Land Trust, not just dealing with one town with a few properties, but properties in eight southeastern CT towns and over 3500 acres. And it has been in existence for almost 50 years. The times have changed; the standards and practices of working with land and donors has changed. Laws have changed. Everything was reviewed for the future.
Our properties protect cultural aspects of human history on the land.

We all sure learned a lot. For the last two years, a dedicated core of people, spear headed by a few who deserve halos, shed blood, sweat, and tears to make sure every one of those bullet points was answered. And if there were any omissions or deficiencies, plans were made and policies enacted to make sure, going forward, that we would be compliant every step of the way.
Preserve space for future generations to enjoy and learn from.

Again a comparison: it was like taking a well-loved but somewhat over grown and over stuffed house, tossing everything on the floor and bit by bit examining, sorting, and reorganizing within a new and efficient structure that will help us forward. By last fall, the giant binder with all the organizational proof and plans was turned over to the LTA judges. They poured over it, bit by bit, called with questions, clarified and verified.
The reward was ever so sweet: By mid-February the verdict was in; the call came to our BOD first and announced to all on Feb 22. Avalonia Land Conservancy had achieved Accreditation by the very strict standards of the Land Trust Alliance.
Stewardship is at the heart of our mission. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Our members, donors, and supporters will know that we are on a solid footing, and in a very good place, as we plan for our next 50 years and beyond.
Thank you to the leaders and every individual who helped get us to this point. It takes a village to protect our precious land.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Avalonia Land Conservancy, Inc. earns national recognition

Mystic, CT (February 22, 2017) – At a time of political change, one thing is clear and consistent: Americans strongly support saving the open spaces they love. Since 1968, Avalonia Land Conservancy, Inc., has been doing just that for the people of southeastern Connecticut and beyond. Now Avalonia announces it has achieved national recognition – joining a network of only 372 accredited land trusts across the nation that have demonstrated their commitment to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in their work. Avalonia’s Executive Director, Heather Milardo, said “It is an honor to receive accreditation from such an esteemed organization like the Land Trust Alliance. We are incredibly proud of how far we have come and are looking forward to the future of, not only our land trust, but of the communities in which we serve. As we look toward our 50th anniversary next year, it feels good to know that we are going into the next 50 years as a nationally recognized organization with a clearer vision and a stronger foundation.”
“Accreditation demonstrates Avalonia’s commitment to the best practices and standards of land conservation in perpetuity throughout its mission area of southeastern CT,” said Dennis S. Main, President. “This significantly raises the bar of our level of performance as we prepare to embark on significant new acquisition and fundraising activities.” Acquisitions Chair and Vice President, Sue Sutherland, said “The amazing effort required to complete the LTA application for a complex regional land trust like Avalonia truly transformed the organization.”
Avalonia had to provide extensive documentation and undergo a comprehensive review as part of its accreditation application. The Land Trust Accreditation Commission awarded accreditation, signifying its confidence that Avalonia’s lands will be protected forever. Almost 20 million acres of farms, forests and natural areas vital to healthy communities are now permanently conserved by an accredited land trust.

 “It is exciting to recognize Avalonia with this distinction,” said Tammara Van Ryn, Executive Director of the Commission. “Accredited land trusts are united behind strong ethical standards ensuring the places people love will be conserved forever.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Warm up with friends

By Beth Sullivan
We have come to about the half-way point in winter. The days are actually getting longer which is so very encouraging. I like to find a spot out of the wind and in a bright corner to enjoy the increased warmth from the returning and strengthening sun.
However, we cannot let our guard down; we have weeks of winter to go and late winter storms and hard freezes are not unheard of. Despite a later start to winter, we have to remember back to the last years when the cold hung on longer and later than in the past. It often leads us to our own form of extended hibernation.
A hometown pot luck spread cannot be beat.

All of this leads me to our need to find warmth and companionship in other ways as we head down the home stretch. And right in time, Avalonia is hosting its all-time members’ favorite: Winter Gathering. Formerly known as the Winter Pot Luck, for years it brought members and friends from all the corners of Avalonia territory together to socialize and enjoy good food.

Avalonia Land Conservancy is almost 50 years old and this winter tradition is one of the longest held. While attendance has waxed and waned over the years, sites have changed and programs have evolved, the central idea is always the same. Now our need to join forces and voices to help protect our special places, is greater than ever. No matter what your politics, all members of Avalonia have the same concern for protecting our landscape, our natural resources and the wildlife that relies on them. Coming together in friendship is a way to join our common concerns and have fun doing it.
Some of the kitchen crew that did a superb job last year.

March 10 Winter Pot Luck

This year, our event will be held on March 10th, a little before the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring. We will meet at the Mystic Congregational Church ( see poster for details) and for a few hours we’ll share fellowship, good food, and some fun. While the Pot Luck is the centerpiece, this year we will host a speaker: Russ Cohen, forager and author to discuss “Wild Plants I have known and Eaten”. ( Just in time for spring greens.)
Fiddleheads are sure to be a part of the foraging discussion.

There will be some informational displays about projects including a peek at Discover Avalonia’s Hike and Seek program to get kids and adults out and learning on our trails.

We will have a raffle of fun things donators can live without, and supporters cannot live without, and take chances on them. We will also have a silent auction of artistic and creative items generously donated by local artists, potters and authors to help raise funds for Avalonia.
Look for art and craft items to be the highlights of the silent auction. 

Please come out of the winter chill and enjoy the warmth of fellowship. Friends are welcome, and the price of admission is your pot luck item. Hope to see you there.

Photographs by Bruce Fellman and Beth Sullivan.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Great Backyard Bird Count

By Beth Sullivan
We have been thinking a lot about winter survival for wildlife, particularly the birds. Hopefully you have looked at your yard to see where you have created places for cover and protection, noted natural food sources, and established some feeding stations offering a good variety of sustenance. Maybe you have been able to identify your common species and could note any uncommon ones if they arrive in your yard.
Carolina Wrens are one of the many species you might see this winter.

Maybe you have your binoculars close at hand, by the living room door or the kitchen window-wherever your feeders are located. And of course you have your field guides handy. Peterson, Sibley, Audubon and maybe even an app on your phone. And how about a piece of paper to record your sightings?

Citizen Scientists needed

Then you are absolutely ready to participate in this year’s Citizen Science events.
Since the beginning of winter, the Feeder Watch program has been in process. Even though it started back in December, there is still time to enroll and add your data. By enrolling now, you can finish out this year, and get free automatic enrollment in next year’s Feeder Watch. There will be no excuse for starting late next year.
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming Friday,February 17 through Monday, February 20. It is a similar endeavor, but more intense because your record birding observations in your own back yard ( or anywhere else you choose).
White Throated Sparrow can be bright or dull in color but it is not a gender trait.

Both activities have dedicated websites and excellent instructions for how to do the count and document your sightings. The GBBC will send you a packet of information that serves both efforts.
By enrolling in that program you also get free access to a very helpful online education program. This would be a great opportunity for families to sit together to learn about birds, their biology, and beginning bird watching techniques. There are tally sheets and instructions to download.

Interesting counting rules

And there are some interesting thoughts about how to count your birds. For instance, if you see three sparrows on the ground, you count three. Later you see two, and later you see four. You do not tally the total of all your sightings because there is no way to know if you are double counting a particular bird, so you only use the number 4 because it is the highest number seen at one time.
Count as many birds as you see in one place at one time.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some bird species are male and female identical-Chickadees for example. Others are easy to tell apart like Cardinals. But in this case, to level the playing field, if you see one Cardinal, a male, and later see one Cardinal, and it is a female, you still only count 1 as it was only one bird at a time. Doesn’t sound right to those of us who know the difference, but there would be no way to equalize for all the other species. However, if at one point you see both Cardinals together on the ground, you can then count two!
Chickadees are all identical.

We can tell the gender, but it still counts as one bird.

So check out the websites. There is still time to enroll and to read instructions and prepare for the Great Backyard Bird Count. On these snowy cold days, the birds tend to congregate in larger numbers, and we humans tend to huddle closer, inside looking out. Grab your kids, a field guide, or an app…and start counting!
You may not be the only one watching the feeder.  Hawks count too.

Learn more about the feeder watch project here.

Learn more about the great backyard bird count here.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Artistry in nature

By Beth Sullivan

Nature has always inspired me, and in many different ways. For centuries artists have been inspired by great vistas: far horizons, mountains, oceans, sky-scapes and sweeping prairies. We still are.

Seeing the visual beauty, artistry in nature up close, takes a little more effort - stopping, bending, stooping, kneeling - but brings great rewards. The area we live in is blessed with beautiful scenery, just begging to be photographed and painted. Sometimes though, this tends to make us see the forest, and not the trees, or the bark and the buds on the trees. The very closeness of nature is often astounding in in its beauty, texture, patterns. You just HAVE to look close.
Even in the winter woods, this evergreen Rattlesnake Orchid displays its beautifully patterned leaves.
Carpenter Ants leave a honeycomb of beautifully made chambers.

So this week I challenge you to look closer than the forest, look closer than the tree. The winter is actually a good time to look beyond the distraction of beautiful flowers that come later. Now is the time to see some of the “bones” of the landscape: trees, rocks, ice and snow. There are also hardy green mosses, lichens, and evergreens to find if you are not happy with gray tones. As you walk along a trail or even in your own yard, look for those inspiring things that you might otherwise miss if you always look to the farther horizon. If you are so inclined, try to capture the close-up with a camera, or make a sketch. You need to really look close, dissect the elements, understand how your subject is created, if you plan to sketch or paint. Once you do, you will never forget it.

Spend some time to go slowly and look very close. It may truly influence how you take your walks forever. Have fun.

The heart of a cedar tree. Every center is unique.

Ice that forms on shallow water along brooks and puddles often makes very special designs. 

Look at this in multi-levels - the color of the stones, the transparency of the water, and the patterns the water makes. A challenge to paint.

Looking to Spring, we wait for the Fiddleheads to unfurl their beautiful spirals. 

Sometimes a pattern reveals a secret- that the rows of holes were made by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
Photographs by Beth Sullivan.