Monday, July 30, 2018

Night noises

By Beth Sullivan
After an unbearably long period of heat and humidity, it has been wonderful to finally shut off the AC and open the windows at night. What a change from just a week or so ago. What a racket!
The volume of sound, the chorus, is a bit like stepping into the middle of a swamp of Spring Peepers. But the Peepers have long ago quieted and left the breeding ponds. The Bullfrog may bellow in the swamp, and Gray Tree frogs will sing before a rain. Occasionally the light and temperature in September will confuse a Peeper into singing a bit, but the chorus is gone.
Spring Peepers have ceased their chorus.

Bull Frogs bellow out in the swamps throughout a hot summer night. Photograph by Al Bach.

Noisy insects

Now is the season of insects. Through the summer the insect population has swelled. They have eaten and grown and multiplied. The majority of the millions of species of insects on Earth are silent. But for those that are not, this is their time, and they are a making a loud noise in the summer night. Like birds, it is mostly the males that do the calling; they do so to declare territory and to find mates. But unlike birds, their song is not created vocally but with other body parts.
You may hear a Dragonfly whir by but they make no real noise.

Almost all the noise we hear from insects at this time of the season, is made by those of the genus Orthoptera-the Ortho meaning legs-and are familiarly known as Crickets and Grasshoppers, with impressive back legs. As adults now, these insects have developed wings. Not all are good fliers, but they make great music. By vibrating and rubbing ridged segments of their wings against one another, they create a variety of high pitched sounds. They hear one another by means of “ear drums” on their front legs. Unless you have had one of these insects stuck in the house, it is hard to single out one song. It is the combined efforts of millions of these insects that makes the ringing tones we hear now.
The easiest song to identify is made by the Katydid, which is actually a long horned grasshopper. The good sized insect has a flattened body of bright green, making it appear like a leaf on edge. Long hind legs allow it to leap, and they do fly when in danger. But they are nearly impossible to see, as their camouflage is perfect. Their song is the distinctive, low toned “Katy-did” “Katy did-n’t”. Repeated over and over.
When on a leaf, the Katydid is impossible to see. Photograph by Bruce Fellman

We all know of the common Field Cricket, black with brown wings folded over its back. They are the easiest to find in woods and gardens and paths in fields. Kids love to find and contain the black field crickets, but let one loose in a house, and you will become familiar with the song very quickly.
Field Crickets are found in woods and fields.  Photograph by Al Bach.

Small, delicate, and very loud

The ones that seem to make the highest, most consistent buzzing/ringing sound on summer nights are the Tree Crickets. These are small and delicate. With lacey wings, they are high in trees, up in bushes and in grasses. Their fast-paced and high pitched chirping is created by wing-on-wing motions. These create chirping noises that actually increase in frequency the higher the temperature. Some people believe you can actually deduce the actual temperature by counting the cricket chirps and applying a mathematical formula. If you can possibly count the chirps.
A Tree Cricket is small, rarely seen, and most frequently the noisiest. 

Of course with the windows open, we are also treated to the hooting of owls, yip and howl of coyotes, the occasional Gray Tree Frog and once in a while, the scream of a Fisher. That’s enough to break the peaceful hypnosis that comes when listening to the chorus of night insects.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

This posting originally appeared August 22, 2016.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Woodland musings: If a tree falls?

By Beth Sullivan
Each night I try to get out for a short walk in the woods. The Woodlot Sanctuary is almost in my backyard, so it is becoming home turf and I am enjoying the feeling of getting to know it. While it is a bit too dense ( and hot and buggy) to go too far off trail and into the wetter areas now, the trail loops offer something new to see each time I walk.
On this recent evening I was startled to see an obstruction on the trail where there had not been one the evening before. I was so sad to see that my favorite huge, old snag of a tree had fallen. This tree had been dead for a long time: its crown snapped off in one of the hurricanes in the 1980’s (Gloria or Bob). Over the years I have seen numerous woodpeckers working the tree, and recently, Pileated. Owls had nested in the broken top. Squirrels and raccoons made use of the hollow trunk. But what took it down, finally, was carpenter ants. These are the big, robust, black ants we dread to see in our homes and woodwork.
A surprise to see the old tree down on teh trail.

Bark beetles leave their trails on the old smooth wood.

Ant social structure

These colonial insects will inhabit a tree for decades, usually starting in live ones. Burrowing, tunneling, chewing safely deep inside the tree. Protected from weather extremes, they really don’t need to hibernate but may choose to retreat lower into the trunk or roots. In most colonies, the division of labor has created a system that assures there has been plenty of food stored within the many chambers. Other chambers are holding the queen and her eggs; others are nursery chambers where workers rear the young. It is an amazingly intricate and effective social system. However, ultimately, their own work is their undoing, and the tree falls. It has been discovered that carpenter ant colonies prefer their homes to be vertical. Once the tree is horizontal, they will abandon it and move elsewhere. On this evening, I examined the base and the trunk, and there wasn’t an ant to be seen.
This big old tree is not done with its usefulness yet. Mushrooms and other fungi will continue the decomposition process. Other insects and invertebrates will move in to further utilize the wood and the chambers. These will attract other woodpeckers which do not care if the tree is horizontal. Under the moist rotten wood, salamanders and worms will find homes. If the log could be lifted in a few seasons, there will surely be tunnels made by small mammals.
Indian Pipes rely on decayed, organic material, and have already begun to sprout in the rotten wood.

Small mammals will tunnel under and into the trunk to find protection and storage for their stash of food. Photograph by Rick Newton.

Silent encounter

As I walked around the log, paying attention to the ground, I stopped quickly and came face to face, literally, with a lovely Barred Owl. I am sure this bird had been watching me already for several minutes as I circled the log and took photos. It was no more than ten feet from me and about 6 feet off the ground. We really looked at each other for what seemed to be a minute, but was less I am sure. As I tried to get my camera up slowly, it turned away, not alarmed, gave a look over its shoulder and silently flew off, not far and still in sight.
What a special encounter. I wondered if this big old tree had played a part in its life.
This log and its remains will be present in this spot for many more years, and I will keep checking it. We won’t move it off the trail. It is easy enough to walk around. And it will provide a spot to sit, and wonder: “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around, does it make any sound? “
The tree was hollowed by carpenter ants.
The honeycombed chambers the ants created are really quite pretty.

A moments glimps and blurred photo but a great memory of a curious Barred Owl.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Small steps in a hot summer

by Beth Sullivan
As the summer season ramps up, some things slow down.
It’s getting too hot to have pre-planned big work parties on the preserves, yet it is a time when maintenance is needed. We are truly grateful for our volunteers with bigger equipment that can get some of the bigger trails mowed and maintained. But smaller efforts really add up too.
Clip and snip as you walk and it will be easier for the person who follows.

Evening walk with a purpose

It is a great time of year for morning or evening walks. The air is fresher, still cool enough to get some exercise, and the lighting is beautiful. A quiet walk can also be productive if you slip a pair of clippers into your pocket or don a pair of light gloves.
Invasive plants and vines are growing rapidly right now. Seemingly before our eyes, they reach out to obstruct the trails or grab at you with thorns. A quick, well aimed snip as you walk by can make all the difference for the person who comes after you.
Certain troublesome weeds like Garlic Mustard and Wild Radish are beginning their flowering and seed setting, and they have spread widely during the last months. The good thing is that these plants pull up easily. When I find either of these, or others I know, growing in invasive clusters, I love yanking them out and tossing them aside before they have a chance to set seed for next year. Every little bit helps.
As pretty as it looks, the little yellow flowers of Wild Radish will create abundant seeds and spread. It's okay to pull them up.

These invasive weeds are helped out by the defoliation occurring in our woodlands. While the large Oaks and other forest trees are suffering from leaf loss due to caterpillar infestations, there is more sunlight reaching the forest floor. Invasives are often the first and quickest to take advantage of the new sunny conditions and burst into flower and seed production. If we lose trees due to another year of stress, the openings in the forest will be taken over by these invasive plants whose seedlings got a quick start. Pull them now while you can.
Defoliation allows sunlight to reach the understory. 
That sunlight allows invasive weed seeds to grow in masses. Pull them up.

Another way you can help in the woods is to note when vines are beginning to overtake a tree. I recently witnessed a huge crash as the trunk of a tall straight old oak was snapped and crown dragged to the ground by the weight of vines. Invasives like Bittersweet will overtop a tree and the sheer volume of foliage adds a huge burden. This episode happened after a rain and the added water weight was too much to bear. As you walk in your own woods, or along a trail and you see Bittersweet making its ascent, pull out those handy clippers and a simple snip of the leading vine will kill off the remaining plant and possibly save the tree it has overtaken.
Many types of vines will over-top and eventually overwhelm trees. Snip them early.
The huge weight of invasive bittersweet took down a mighty old tree.

Gypsy Moths on the wing

I have also been appalled to see large dark clusters of the Gypsy Moth cocoons on tree trunks and undersides of branches throughout the woodlands. Many Gypsy moth caterpillars died before pupating and that was encouraging, but the overwhelming numbers of the ones that survived does not bode well for next year. I have taken my garden hose with a hard stream and aimed at washing off the cocoon masses I cannot reach with a stick. A power washer can reach even farther. With care, you can dislodge and destroy a large number of these cocoon masses, but you have to do it soon. The moths we have been seeing fluttering around at all hours of the day are the rust colored male Gypsy moths, already emerging first. The heavier white females will come out later and stay close to their cocoon masses on the tree trunks and lay their eggs. Be watchful and take action. Get rid of cocoons you may find on houses, sheds, woodpiles and trees where you can reach them. Be ready to sweep at and kill the female moths that cannot fly before they lay eggs. And keep a watchful eye out, and a stick in hand, to scrape away egg masses when you see them.
Look for dark masses of cocoons and remove them.

Stewardship can be simple small steps on an easy walk, on a pretty trail. But every little bit can help. And it feels good too.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

This posting originally appeared on July 11, 2016.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Celebrating Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

By Beth Sullivan
As we have just celebrated 242nd anniversary of the Independence of our Country, we need to acknowledge America the Beautiful.
We must think of the work that land conservation organizations accomplish, to protect and preserve our natural resources for all the future generations.
Whether it is great and wild as the Nature Conservancy lands, more suburban and urban space protected by Trust for Public Land, or habitats in our own back yard as protected by Avalonia Land Conservancy, the lands protected now are forever. Green space land is being lost and developed at a tremendous pace; there will be no more when it is gone.
It is inherent in our history that we may forever enjoy the rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Where better to enjoy life, be free to wander and pursue happiness, than in natural open space.

Appreciate Life,

Enjoy Liberty,

 And the pursuit of Happiness. Photograph by H. Milardo.

We can do our part to recognize America the beautiful in our corner of Connecticut by supporting the efforts of our land trusts and by getting out onto the preserves and giving thanks for the open space that will remain beautiful and open for future generations of people and wildlife too.
Hope you had a Happy 4th of July.
Celebrate the RED, WHITE and BLUE!
Watch for the Red,


And Blue at an Avalonia preserve.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, July 2, 2018

A note from Beth

Dear friends and readers of Avalonia eTrails:
Some of you might have noticed I have been a bit MIA over the last couple of months - no personal blogs but a lot of great help from the Conn College students. The Blog-Master Al has also been able to comb through past blogs to find things that are seasonally timely and pertinent. They ran years ago, before we had so many new readers.
Life has conspired to deliver some challenges. One wonderful and inspiring, one scary, and both at the same time. We have been blessed with a new granddaughter: Ava Josephine. And I am providing some special care and a lot of time that only a Mom/Grammie can provide. It is a special opportunity to form a bond that will, hopefully, last a lifetime.The other is illness in our immediate family. It is a blow, it is scary, and it is challenging to think about the best way to move forward. Certainly one day at a time. It has made me reorder my thoughts and priorities, set aside things I used to think were important, and use my energy and time for different goals. However, I realize that underlying so much of everything that is happening, I still hold strongly to belief that being in nature has healing powers. I have had time to think.
When faced with an illness, we absolutely have to cherish every moment we have. We have to notice every little thing. Appreciate the small beauties and details we find on even a very short walk in the woods or around the yard. There is no need to go far to find small bits of peace in a hectic time. I have a rock in the woods where I sit for a minute when I can. I am grateful when I have time to weed my garden a little bit. I will not take for granted my health and energy. I have learned to enjoy the Catbird that sings incessantly at day break when I may really like to sleep but am snuggling a newborn. We talk about birds a lot during those hours together.
Bringing a new human into this world is a major responsibility. But it is an amazing opportunity to be able to teach and shape a new little life. With a child, I see things differently. Like that Catbird. Or just the beautiful simple contrast of green leaves against a blue sky. I feel the breeze on my face and watch her try and taste it as it reaches hers.
I am ever more committed to our mission of preserving land and habitats, so that this next generation will always have a place to walk and learn and explore and love. There is so much at risk in this world today. Everyone must choose their passion, and mine is to do as much as possible to make sure that there are places to explore, and create ways to help people explore them and learn from them and love them.
I surely hope that the next months will become calmer and settled. That newborns and new moms grow into security and joy together. Each day there is such amazing growth and beauty. And that illness will be cured and strength regained, so we can get out and enjoy stretching our legs a bit farther to heal better.
In the meantime, please take the time to get outdoors, to find a trail, find a special spot for meditation and release. Enjoy that Catbird. Take a child to a new place and take the time to appreciate the small things in life, because those will be the great things that they will remember. I sincerely believe that.
Enjoy some eTrail reruns, take some photos and share with other Avalonia friends on Instagram or Hike and Seek. I will be looking out for them.

Children remind us of the truth and need for time in nature

Enjoy the early morning chatter of a happy Catbird.

One only needs to look up from a stationary spot to find vast variety.

Find beauty in the smallest of shapes in places close to home.

I saw pink clouds welcoming a new little girl into our life

I look forward to showing Ava the fun of dandelions.