Monday, January 29, 2018


By Beth Sullivan
Over the past week, many of us have watched watching the developing drama of the ice dams on two major Connecticut rivers. This is a natural occurrence that doesn’t occur very often. It is heartening that people have been paying attention to Mother Nature and respecting her power.
Anyone who hikes in our area is also witnessing the powerful effects of our Mother, whether they recognize it or not. As the glaciers made their way over our landscape, tens of thousands of years ago, those huge masses of ice scoured the land. As they moved south, they gouged out the valleys and moved around unmovable large areas of granite bedrock to create the ridges we are so familiar with. Everywhere we walk, we are confronted with exposed bedrock and interesting outcrops and rock ridges. Some are certainly more impressive than others.
As those same glaciers moved through the landscape they picked up boulders, some as big as houses, as well as tons of smaller ones, all sizes, and moved them along. When the ice began melting and the glaciers retreated, the rocks then dropped out of the ice masses and remain dotting the landscape, in often precarious positions. Many of Avalonia’s preserves give testament to the process, and our trails offer close looks at glacially carved landscapes, solid ridges, sandy streambeds in low valleys between the ridges, kettle holes, erratics, and jumbled moraines.
Glaciers dropped erratic boulders across the landscape in Knox Family Farm.

Glacial moraine showing rocks strewn throughout the Pine Swamp Preserve.

Massive granite ridges couldn't be moved in Tefftweald Preserve.

Examine ice

But take some time to investigate the gentler side of ice, the beauty of its varied shapes and configurations. Hike along a woodland stream at this time of year and you may see ice coated rocks and nearly frozen waters falls spilling over them, some seemingly stopped in time.
Shallow, frozen wetlands often become the springtime’s vernal pools. They are not deep, with leaves lining the bottom, and a myriad of life forms hibernating or inactive in the mud and organic debris. When the ice is clear, notice bubbles and swirls created by the freezing water and air trapped within. It is easy to be mesmerized by the designs in ice: some sharp and jagged, some soft and rounded. I have had the amazing luck to once see an Eastern red-spotted newt swimming just under the clear ice of a frozen vernal pool. Life goes on. Pretty amazing.
In the rocky woodland it is also beautiful to see the icicles form where water runs off the rock ridges and when hanging over the evergreen woodland ferns on the rock face, they seem to create a mismatched piece of winter art.
A drive along our coastal preserves allows you to stop and overlook frozen marsh land as well as the frozen coves. Because these waters are tidal, the ice rises and falls with the water, often creating some interesting and explosive looking eruptions around the partly submerged rocks.
Ice had the power to shape the land, and the results influence our lives every day. Yet the seasonal ice, which seems gentler, can still cause ice jams and floods. The most fleeting ice is beautiful . It has its purpose in natural cycles, yet beyond the purpose, it offers us another reason to get out and enjoy the seasons in nature. Pure beauty.
A stream and waterfall frozen in time at Tefftweald Preserve.

Look for the beauty in the ice.

Tidal water rise and fall creates eruptions of ice at Cottrell Marsh.

Under the clear ice a vernal pool waits for the spring thaw.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Happy Anniversary Dear Avalonia

By Beth Sullivan
Exactly fifty years ago , on Feb 21, a group of like-minded people formally established the Mashantucket Land Trust. The name Mashantucket is roughly translated to mean “well wooded land”, which perfectly describes a large portion of our area. Of course it didn’t happen overnight. The whole environmental movement was in its infancy as well. People were finally paying attention to the natural world around them and recognizing its fragility and impermanence. The momentum was building, and there was a recognized need for a local organization to protect and defend natural habitats and open space in southeastern Connecticut . The first property protected by the fledgling land trust was Ram Point in Stonington, off Masons Island.
As they say “the rest is history”. But I am not a historian, and I was not living in the area until the early 1980s, so I cannot relate the real personality of the organization back then. As one of the goals for the upcoming celebration year, we will be working toward connecting with those who were a part of the organization from the start and can help us with details and anecdotes. Sadly, many of our founders are already lost to us. We need to make a compilation of those memories soon. If you have photos or memories of Mashantucket/Avalonia from the early days, please share them with us.
In 1993, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe rose to prominence in the area and a decision was made to rename the organization for distinction, and Avalonia Land Conservancy was chosen as the new name. The term Avalonia represents a geological designation for the land mass in this portion of Connecticut.

The land protected by Avalonia Land Conservancy is spread over southeastern Connecticut

The Ram Point donation started us off in 1968.

There are still a few old Mashantucket Land Trust signs hiding deep in the woods.

Mission to preserve natural habitats

Over the years, the mission has always remained the same: to preserve natural habitats in southeastern Connecticut by acquiring and protecting lands and by communicating the value of these irreplaceable resources. Little by little, acre by acre, the land conservancy has grown. Donors came forward wanting their family lands preserved in perpetuity. Gradually the organization moved beyond Stonington and North Stonington where many of its founders were residents, and land was acquired in Preston, Ledyard, and Groton. In more recent decades, a need was recognized for conservation efforts that reached farther and deeper into New London county. Avalonia filled those needs and continues to do so today. There are still generous land donors out among us, but more recently the need has been to purchase land to protect it, so fundraising and collaboration with local, state, and even federal agencies has had to play a central role. Our most recent acquisitions have been as a result of such collaborations ( Click here to learn more) and the amazing generosity of so many donors who believe in our mission. Always we keep in our sights, the importance of protecting land, water, and wildlife by our acquisitions and stewardship, for present and future generations.
As the mission has remained steady, and our reach has expanded, the vision has grown as well. Conservation can be very complicated; there are legal aspects and, of course, financial needs to manage and protect our expanded holdings. Running the organization has been purely a voluntary effort, a labor of love for nearly all of the past 50 years. And all through those years, the governance and leadership of Avalonia has continued forward holding the course.
Last year, Avalonia Land Conservancy reached a huge milestone and became accredited by the Land Trust Alliance. What a great way to kick off our 50th year celebration!
On February 21, Avalonia will host an Anniversary Party for itself, but really it is to celebrate all of those who have helped get us to this place, to those who are holding the course now, and to encourage and invite the next generation to step up and plan for the next fifty years.
Please join us at the Mystic Aquarium for an evening celebration of our 50th Anniversary.

Paffard Woods was one of the first properties purchased with private donations and State open space funding.

We preserve history as well as protecting land and wildlife.

Sandy Point is one of two islands in Long Island Sound protected by Avalonia.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

50th Anniversary Celebration

Avalonia Land Conservancy requests the pleasure of your company at a

50th Anniversary Celebration! 

Wednesday,  February 21, 5:30-7:30 PM
(Snow date, Wednesday, February 28)

Keynote speaker: Robert Klee
Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection

Mystic Aquarium Grand Hall
55 Coogan Blvd, Mystic, CT

$60 per person, including wine and hors d'oeuvers

Monday, January 15, 2018

Being a Part of Something Bigger

By Beth Sullivan
Last year, 2017, was a huge year for Avalonia Land Conservancy. The organization achieved Land Trust Alliance accreditation, becoming one of an elite group of land trusts deemed worthy of such a designation by adhering to and upholding a rigorous set of standards and practices. It was a huge amount of work to get to that place, and the challenge continues on a ramped up level for the organization to prove that it can maintain this status in 2018 and beyond.
With the Alliance Standards and Practices as our Bible to follow, we must also make some changes in how we do business. Our Board of Directors (BOD) has been enlarged with some great new depth and talent, creating newer committee designations and formal charters. Learn more about the BOD here. We have changed our fiscal year to correspond to the calendar year which makes a huge amount of sense, and we are updating and revamping our data bases and membership lists.
Your membership goes toward helping us support land and wildlife. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Teamwork pulled us through to accreditation. 

Common mission

Does all this sound boring to a nature lover? It is not what I enjoy thinking about. But what I am getting at is that while those administrators, committee chairs, and BOD members are busy tending to details, they are creating a path for an organization that can better carry out its mission-one that we all believe in.
Underlying everything we do, though, are our members. You are the heart and soul of the organization as well as the backbone. It is our members who give the organization its strength. What good is structure without people willing to fill in the empty places? We rely on members to be our volunteers in so many areas. But not everyone can take the time to give hours and energy. This is where membership demonstrates its strength in numbers.
By being a member, you become part of something bigger. Numbers prove support, numbers attract others, numbers are noticed. When we apply for grant funding for acquisitions, we can cite our strong, supportive membership base. It matters. When donors of land are looking for a recipient organization, they look to see the strength of its resources and membership base that they know will keep the organization alive in perpetuity. When foundations and corporate donors are looking for solid investments, they look for member support.
This kind of support allows us to acquire, protect and steward the land that so many of us have come to love. When we protect the land, we protect habitats, wildlife and groundwater. We create greenways and blueways. We protect the land for our children, grandchildren and generations far in the future.
There are many ways you, as an individual, can help support Avalonia, but the easiest way is with your membership. We do not get any public funding for operating expenses. With a bare bones operating budget, we need our members to help keep us running.
Already the next generation is learning the significance of open space on Fennerswood Preserve.

When we asked the State DEEP for help, they knew we have a strong membership that backs us up.

Members, old and new, mingle and share Avalonia spirit. 

Membership Drive

We will be embarking on our annual membership drive this month.
If you are an active member, we THANK YOU! Please make sure we have all your current information, including email address when you get your renewal request.
In the future, all memberships will be renewable in January, not May as in the past. If your membership is due to be renewed after May, you will get an extension until Jan of 2018. If your membership has lapsed, you may get a request to join us again.
We have a lot to celebrate as an organization: the Accreditation and our 50th Anniversary Celebration next month. Please join us as members in being part of something bigger. Come celebrate with us.
Making scarce resources available to those who may have limited access is an important part of educating our youngest members. 

We all know that many hands make work lighter; there is strength in numbers when it comes to membership also.

Photographs by Avalonia Land Conservancy members.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Winter Bird Watching from Inside Out

By Beth Sullivan
The transition from 2017 to 2018 hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Being hit by the flu really set me back on any resolutions to get out and hike, not to mention the bitter cold and a blizzard to boot.
However, I have really been able to enjoy some great winter bird watching right from my windows and have had the opportunity to contribute to Citizen Science as well. The local Audubon Christmas Bird Count has ended, and while I haven’t seen specific results, a glance at the eBird website is a great way to check up on highlights and rarities. Sitting stuck indoors, it is hard to get excited over a rare goose that has strayed from Greenland that I can’t get to. But I can be excited about the flashes of color outside my window and centered around my feeders. The miracle of these littlest of birds who are constant and reliable, no matter what the weather, is what I have concentrated on this last week or two, and to make it count, I report to Project Feederwatch. You can find out more about Project Feederwatch here.
For now I am concentrating on observing how these sweet fragile creatures withstand the weather that has had us all complaining. There are two main groups of birds to watch now: those that are migrants, that come here for their “southern getaway”, and those that have been here all along, our residents.
The most common migrants are the white-throated sparrows and the dark-eyed juncos. They most often arrive in flocks of varying sizes, and once they have established their winter home territory, they don’t move very far.
The White Throated Sparrows arrive in September and leave in May, not seeming to mind the snow.

A resident, the Titmouse will puff up and cover its feet in the cold.

Many locals to see

The locals are those that probably nested within “an acre” or so of your house. The cardinals, house finches, Carolina wrens and even blue-jays may have nested within eyesight of your house. Each of those species had a nest I could watch this summer. It’s fun to guess which of the birds I am hosting now may have been raised under my watchful eyes. As cavity nesters, the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches probably nested more into the wooded areas but are easily drawn out into our yards and to our feeders. Banding studies have shown that family groups of these species will stick together, sometimes in mixed-species flocks, and loosely roam, but not very far if they have a food source during the winter.
During cold, a bird has one mission: to stay alive. To do that it must eat. A lot. A bird’s metabolism is normally very high, and in order to keep up that rate, to keep warm and maintain vital functions, a bird will spend almost all its daylight hours searching for and consuming food. Our local winter birds have a couple of choices. Most rely on seeds of some kind. Volumes have been written about seed choices and feeder styles, but generally speaking, offering a variety will attract a variety. Nuts and seeds provide fats and proteins essential for winter survival. Suet is even more concentrated energy and is very attractive to the woodpeckers in our area. Woodpeckers have the added ability of digging deep into rotting wood to uncover grubs and insects that may be hiding deep under bark. More protein.
Along the woodland edges I often watch birds foraging in the vines and shrubs. Many plants have not yet been stripped of their fruits. Vines of Virginia creeper, fox grape and even poison ivy provide seeds that persist. Juniper and red cedar fruits are waxy coated, and the seeds within are ripening now. The same is true of many of the hollies and viburnum species. If you gardened with native plants, you have offered seeds and fruits that will remain as ‘feeding stations’ well into the winter.
Bluebirds prefer berries, but in the winter, suet is welcome.

Providing a variety of feeding stations will attract a variety of birds as they express their feeding preferences.

Goldfinches are residents but they will form flocks and roam the area during the winter.

Check all the views

As I move from window to window, I can enjoy all of my birds. I can watch as they choose their favorite manner of eating. I can enjoy the relationships: tolerance or intolerance among species as they take places on the feeders. I watch them hop and scrape to find the snow-covered seeds on the ground or enjoy the antics of birds that are not used to clinging, attempt to balance on suet like a woodpecker. They will puff up their feathers, seek a sunny lee side of a tree trunk, and never really complain about how cold it is.
Grab your binoculars, a note pad, and a warm cup of tea and enjoy watching the littlest of the hardy winter creatures. Then when it warms up…..wander farther afield. The birds will await you there as well.
This Red-bellied Woodpecker will work the trees for food, but also will visit the suet feeder.

Like many birds, this Nuthatch seeks out the sheltered side of a trunk.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, Same Resolutions

By Beth Sullivan
How many of us make more or less the same resolutions every year? I do. Though the path to success (or failure) may be different every year.
Each year, I vow to try and live a healthier life. To be active, eat right, and stick with some kind of exercise effort, preferably outside. I also hope to do good, be kind, and make a difference in some aspect of the bigger life than just my own. These are pretty generic resolutions, and probably a very similar to what most people will try and achieve in the next year.
But I have a little secret weapon that has given me the opportunity to meet these goals. I am a volunteer and most of my efforts are stewardship and outreach for Avalonia.
Same trail, different seasons-

-different ways to enjoy.

Nature's benefits

Being outside contributes so much to the quality of our lives. Just in the last month I have been reading and jotting down notes about the benefits of Nature in as big a dose as you can get.
First of all there is LIGHT. Even on a dark gray day at the Winter Solstice, there is more healthy light outside than there is reflecting from a computer screen. Light is essential for my mental health. A few hours, or even minutes, in the sun can raise my mood. Listening and looking at everything around me just adds to the positive effect. Who can deny that a small brown song sparrow throwing its head back in song can brighten the mood of even the most somber day.
Then there is OXYGEN. Sitting indoors, with the windows closed against the cold, the house or office sealed tight, creates a high Carbon-dioxide atmosphere. Recent studies have determined that high levels of CO2 can dull the brain. Children in most modern classrooms are not only sedentary, but mentally slowed by the atmosphere within them. Open a window, get them out for recess, and move them around in some fresh air for a while. It stimulates their metabolisms, brains, and thought processes. Think about that small office or car with the windows tight, and how often you have the urge to just fall asleep. But open that window or get out for a walk, and it changes the energy. It charges up the brain. Get smart, get outside. You can read more here.
Then there is DIRT. It is also a proven fact that children are healthier if they have been raised exposed to a variety of normal bacteria found in soil of fields, forests, and farms. Gradual exposure to normal organisms will build a stronger immune system and possibly help develop resistance to more harmful germs when encountered. Letting a child play in the dirt, do some gardening (which also teaches kids about good food), climb on rocks, walk in brooks, and dip into ponds goes a long way to both build character and give the child a healthy start. I believe the same is true for adults. You are never too old to play in the dirt, wade in a brook, or try and climb a tree, though it gets a bit harder over the years. Be healthy. All that activity builds muscle and improves your cardio functions.
A change in light can be amazing and inspiring. 

A simple Song Sparrow can brighten a gray day.

Get dirty, muddy even, for your health.

Benefits you provide

But then there is the other resolution: doing good, having a sense of purpose, and changing the world for the better, even if it is only a little bit at a time. That’s where volunteering and stewardship come in.
As a volunteer, you can mostly choose what amount of time you want to give and when you want to give it. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but sometimes you get hooked.
For me, doing stewardship work on Avalonia Preserves has helped me keep most of my New Year’s resolutions for the last several years. Hiking on or off the trails, clearing brush, clearing stone walls, and hacking at invasives are all great exercise. Hacking can be very therapeutic too. Then there is the fun of trying to get over and under obstacles and even climbing an occasional tree that keeps me nimble (or makes me ache).
Light can be really amazing, when you stop to pay attention to it. Every day, every hour the changing light can make the same place look different. It is food for the soul.
Take a deep breath, and over time you can begin to notice the subtle differences in the smell and even quality of the air in different places: ocean side, marsh, forest, or wetlands. All that oxygen makes me feel pretty good too. Of course, I am sure I have ingested more than my fair share of dirt, too. Forest dirt is different than barnyard dirt or marsh mud. Believe me-I am pretty healthy.
At the end of a day, or year, I can feel that I have made a difference, though. it might be small or subtle. I often feel frustrated by the overwhelming issues that confront our Earth, and that little things don’t count, they do.
So my suggestion for a New Year’s resolution is to cover many bases at once by going hiking and getting close to Nature to improve yourself and find ways to make a little difference in the grander plan.
Happy 2018!
Hacking can be very therapeutic and it makes a difference. Photo by Binti Ackley.

Hiking offers many benefits both physical and mental.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.