Monday, November 27, 2017

Dealing with Windfalls

By Beth Sullivan
Happily ( hopefully ), we still have some lovely days ahead of us to be out in the yard and woods. This year we seem to have an abundance of debris left on the ground by the wind storms of this past month. As stewards we can’t possibly take all the limbs and branches to the land fill. We know there are many good uses for what Mother Nature has left behind from her annual tree shake-out.
A Song Sparrow perches on top of a brush pile but later will find refuge inside.
A great deal of what has come down will stay on the ground, settling closer and closer to the earth and, gradually becoming composted, will re-nourish the soil. Bigger pieces take longer, but before they settle and rot they are of great use to wildlife. The bark and wood remain accessible, and are even more tempting to beetles, bugs and all sorts of creatures, which in turn attract woodpeckers and other birds to probe and poke. Under the wooden debris the earth often remains somewhat warmer and soft, longer into the cold season, making great places to shelter many kinds of invertebrates, salamanders, snakes, and other cold blooded creatures that will ultimately retreat deeper into the ground.
During winter the snow cover helps insulate the pile.

Help Mother Nature

We can assist the efforts by creating brush piles in areas where the autumn abundance has left us plenty of material. Believe it or not there is an art to making a good and longer-lasting brush pile that will welcome and shelter all manner of wildlife through the winter. The CT DEEP has a webpage dedicated to this. Their big projects often require BIG brush piles, but it doesn’t take heavy machinery to make a great protective place for wildlife. In my own woods I know the piles I make are not perfect, but they are always the places the sparrows and wrens seem to find first when the temperature drops.
Instead of loosely piled branches just left on the side of the trail, a beneficial brush pile is more solidly structured for durability. Heavier pieces are placed lowest down to provide support and structure as well as good sized gaps close to the ground. Mid-sized branches are criss–crossed in several layers on top next, and the whole pile is covered with smaller pieces, especially evergreen boughs, to add that final layer of insulation and protection. 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, and grasses eliminating the need to venture out. Birds also will find protection within. Larger predators cannot squeeze into the small spaces of sanctuary in the pile.
When you get out for a hike over these next months of cold, notice places where stewards have left piles along the trails. Some are simply piles which work fine for shelter, but some are more purposefully constructed to give our wildlife an extra hand.
Brush does not need to go to a landfill, but consolidated into useful piles.

To make a good brush pile, put bigger pieces on the bottom, making nice holes.
Then pile on brush for shelter

Watch that pile

If you still have the time and energy to do a bit more yard work, and you are lucky enough to have access to some woody debris left over from November storms, try out a deliberately created brush pile. If you can make it in in a place where you can observe it from a window, you will be rewarded with a new form of winter wildlife watching. Keep your eyes out for birds and check for mammal tracks. One friend had a young opossum find safety in her brush pile for the length of a long cold winter. I like to scatter bird seed, dried fruits and crumbled suet in and around my brush pile. It becomes a glorified bird feeder. Your can report your observations to Project Feeder Watch here. I often get a few unique birds at my brush pile feeder.
You don't need big equipment to make a brush pile but it helps.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Giving and Thanks 2017

By Beth Sullivan

Avalonia conserves land so future generations can experience it
We work to preserve the view and access to nature.

We provide a place for quiet contemplation.
We live in a time and place that gives us many reasons to be thankful. As an Avalonia Land Conservancy life member, advocate and steward, I have had a first-hand opportunity to be part of what the Land Conservancy has created and protected over the years.
We live in a beautiful part of the country. The variety and diversity of habitats and wildlife is amazing. Think of what you see every day as you go about your daily business. Think of the view to the water, a hillside in autumn, a woodland trail or a clean, clear stream. And think about what the alternatives could be: pavement and development, pollution or even lack of access.
We are thankful that Avalonia exists to protect and conserve these elements of our daily life that we may take them for granted. We are thankful that these areas will remain for the next generations to enjoy and appreciate.

You are part of the solution

In order to protect them we need your help. We are grateful to all the connections we have made in the last years. Collaborations have helped us purchase land, and also to maintain and manage it. We could not have accomplished as much as we have this past year without the help of CT DEEP, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, CT Sea Grant, and Mystic Aquarium, to name just a few. We have received funding from numerous sources that has allowed us to do bigger projects for greater good. We collaborate with educational institutions, too numerous to mention, that preform research which then supplies us with the information that helps us determine the best way to manage our lands. Proper management benefits the wildlife including such divers creates as New England Cottontails, Horseshoe Crabs, obscure beetles, Piping Plovers, and Box Turtles.

Protecting habitat protects wildlife.
But very importantly, we must thank those who work behind the scenes, not in the field but in the offices, trying to figure out finances, budgets, strategic plans, and accreditation standards. They are mostly all volunteers dedicated to helping the organization grow and function smoothly. While we depend on our volunteers, we also need help keeping the lights on. We are of a size that requires professional oversight in order to manage the acres and acquisitions that the stewards care for on the ground. We have ongoing expenses that help us raise the money we need to do the daily work of being a successful non-profit regional land trust. A well-known conservation development writer has addressed this several times, and to paraphrase:
It takes money to make money. You can always say with a clear conscience that every donated dollar goes toward the conservation of land. It just gets invested and directed in different ways to the same end.
I get that now.

Year End Appeal

At this time of giving and thanks, we are grateful for all our members and donors who continue to support our mission and our efforts. Our Year End Appeal will begin soon. The goal is to support all the work that goes on behind the scenes, to strengthen the organization and keep the lights on so we can see our way to preserving more wonderful spaces to share with you and future generations.
Thanks to all. Beth
Photographs by Beth Sullivan

Collaborations and connections help us succeed.

Behind the scenes there are many other people working to ensure the organization runs smoothly so the rest of us can work in the field.

Shop Amazon Smile

Did you know that all your Amazon purchases can benefit Avalonia? Use the Amazon Smile portal to designate Avalonia and a portion of your purchase price will be donated to Avalonia Land Conservancy.  

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thanks to our woodland Stewards

By Beth Sullivan
We were lulled into a false sense of comfort during the warmer days of early November. But with the recent big wind and rain storm and then the arctic cold front dropping like a ton of ice-cubes, we now can acknowledge it is truly November.
Thank an Avalonia steward for a cleared and safe trail.

If you are an observer of the woodlands, you know that even without a true hard freeze, the leaves began to turn in October, and within a few weeks the density of green was diminished. One thing that is apparent though is the difference in how the different species of trees respond at this time of year. The Red Swamp Maples in the wet woods are the first to turn their lovely reds and are the first to lose their leaves. It is really obvious in some places now, where the wetlands are, by the appearance of stark gray trunks and branches.
Up a little higher in elevation are the Beeches. In the drier woods their overall appearance can be quite different. Beech trees have southern genetics. They tend to hold their leaves longer than most of our other native trees. On a recent walk in the Woodlot Sanctuary, portions of the trails felt like early summer with spring-green leaves on both sides of the trail-all young Beech trees. Others are beginning to turn yellow which precedes their coppery color. A walk through the beech woods can be quite bright and cheery at this time of year, and later, when all other leaves have fallen, those papery copper leaves remain and rustle even when snow is on the ground.
The trees that have had the most trouble during these November storms are the Oaks. They also hold their leaves a long time, sometimes well into spring when the new budding leaves push off the old brown ones. As they grow in a woodland setting, their trunks rise straight and tall. When they reach the height of their neighbors, they push up a bit farther and spread out their crown. And that crown is loaded heavily with leaves. When the storms last weekend hit, those exposed crowns got caught in the wind. They twisted and bent. The abuse they took was frightening to watch. Most were resilient but, sadly, a great number of them succumbed. Many just twisted and cracked high up the trunk. We think of Oaks as so solid and strong, but they were no match for this wind. There were some that uprooted. The wind in their crowns tugged and pushed. These trees are surprisingly shallow rooted, and if the core wood didn’t give and break, they gave up at the roots.
The Beech in the front remain green, while the Red Maple wetland behind is leafless. 

The tallest Oaks have shallow roots.

This ancient Oak at Paffard Woods has lost its final battle.

Here’s the plug for all our stewards

When the winds finally ceased, we all crawled out of our powerless homes and began to assess the damage. First to our own homes and yards and woodlots. But a large number of us have responsibilities to our preserve visitors: we had to make sure the trails were safe, first and foremost. And then we needed to clear them.
As one steward put it: “There can’t be anything left loose up there. Everything was shaken out and dropped”. The woods and trails were littered with wooden debris, small sticks, medium sticks, branches of all sizes and big main hunks of trees. Even entire trees from crown to root. As we walked through the woods, it was pretty amazing to see sticks impaled into the ground several inches deep. That takes a lot of force.
Over the next week individuals and teams spread out and kept in touch with me; reporting who went where, who saw what, and who was able to accomplish some clearing.
My heartfelt thanks to those who spent time struggling with hang ups, blockages, stuck chains and temperamental chain saws!
Thanks to Jim S, Jim F, Mark H, John C, Fred E. and Tote S and his sons and students, who fought with the big obstructions to open the trails. Thanks to all the many walkers who kicked aside debris, picked up limbs and helped clear the smaller stuff.
It is the spirit of volunteering that runs stewardship, and stewardship manages the land so all can enjoy. And that is what runs Avalonia and our wonderful 3500 (and growing) acres.

Please volunteer

Please let us know if you can help with stewardship efforts. With Mother Nature being cranky lately, we will need a lot of assistance!
A broken snag will create a place for wildlife.

Dealing with the tangle of tree tops is a challenge. 

Debris along the trailside is now a protective brush pile.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Bird banding 2017

A note from the publisher:  Last Sunday night I was editing and formatting Beth's words and Rick's pictures into our weekly blog post for Monday morning. Outside the wind was howling and rain was falling; inside, the lights starting flickering and then failed completely.  No power; no post. We didn't get power back until Thursday evening.  So here is that post, a little late, because like it or not, technology needs power.

By Beth Sullivan
The nets were raised just after dawn. They were heavy with dew and needed to stretch and dry. It was really quiet. The birds were totally silent in the fields and thickets last Sunday when a small group of us gathered for an annual ritual-Bird Banding at Avalonia’s Knox Preserve.
As the sky brightened, we could sense a stirring. Some fluttering in the bushes, the chip notes of Sparrows in the grasses , different chips from Warblers , single notes from some, double notes from Chickadees.
We have been doing this for almost 30 years but the anticipation never changes; we are always excited to think of what may be in store for us on this first day of banding.

Morning catch

The nets are set up along the trails of the preserve. The perfect site is one with thicket rising on both sides of the trail. The dense vegetation is where the birds hide, and rest and feed. The nets are dark filament, and so fine, that they become almost invisible when one stares through them into the bushes on the other side. That’s what happens to the birds. They decide to fly from one side to the other, do not see the net, and get lightly caught in the mesh. Each bird species seems to react to this differently. The little Yellow Rumped Warblers, which are the most abundant birds at this time of the year, seem to just lay quietly; they don’t struggle and rarely get terribly tangled. Chickadees, on the other hand, are little dynamos. They fuss and fidget and grab the net with their feet. When we start to remove them, they peck mercilessly on our fingers.
Our first trip around the circuit always seems to produce the most birds. They are intent on finding food in the morning after a long cool night. A flock of about a dozen Yellow Rumped Warblers, flying generally together, all landed in the first set of nets. It was a promising start. There were several Chickadees requiring patience and gentle fingers, a Song Sparrow and, the big catch - a Blue Jay. When these big fellows hit the net, they often bounce right out. You have to get to it quickly and prevent escape if you want it on your list for the day.
Each bird is placed in a cotton bag or in compartment in a special box for transport back to our station set up with supplies.
Birds are trapped by fine mist nets.

Chickadees stay busy pecking through the whole process.

Removal from the net requires very patient fingers.

The actual process of banding itself is simple - the placement of an aluminum band on the bird’s leg, that will remain with it for life. It does not hurt; it will not impede, and it is like having a social security number on a bracelet. The bird is identified for life with a unique series of numbers. If it is caught again, or found dead, that number can be traced to the very place and date when it was first banded.
While we have the bird in our hands though, there is so much else to learn. We can determine a lot by looking at the plumage. Some young birds have different markings or coloration than older, adult birds. On the warblers, we look at the brightness of yellow patches and intensity of the markings. We also count the spots on the tail feathers.
Sometimes eye color is important. An adult Downy Woodpecker will have red eyes. We also measure wing length as it can sometimes tell us gender, but not always. To determine age, a small drop of plain water is used to spread the feathers on the bird's head to determine the amount of solid bone present. Like a newborn human, the young birds have a soft spot, a place where the bone in the skull is not closed yet, and it shows as a pink patch of skin, not white bone. We also weigh the birds. The weight is quite variable depending on recent food intake, or recent excretion. But it is all important data. It is a lot to keep in one’s head, but we have books with charts and guidance, and lots of practice.

Tally for the day

At the end of the day we had caught and banded 13 Yellow Rumped Warblers, 7 Chickadees, 2 Blue Jays, 1 Song Sparrow and a Downy Woodpecker. We did have a few escapees.
We also caught a Chickadee that already had a band on it. By looking back into the record book, we found that we banded that little bird on Oct 22, 2014. It was also caught again on November 4, 2015. To be recaptured on Sunday Oct. 22 2017 was quite a record!
For me, sharing the wonder of birds with others, especially children, is as much fun as handling the birds myself. To let a child hold a bird for the first time, to feel its light warmth and energy, to look in its eyes and make contact. It is something that child will hold onto forever.
The Blue Jay is the catch of the day.

This young male Downy Woodpecker shows off his colors.

To be able to hold a small wild birds is something she will likely remember for a long time.

Photographs by Rick Newton.