Monday, October 29, 2018

Getting oriented

By Beth Sullivan
Most people know left from right instinctively. I admit I have to think about it and sometimes look at my ring finger. Many people know North, South, East and West almost the same way; they just get it. Sometimes when I am outside I can feel it based on sun angle and position.
There are also those people who can look at a map whether on a trail, in a car, or on paper and know exactly where they are, which way they have come, and where they are going on the route or trail. I am definitely not one of those, and from what I hear from fellow hikers, I am not alone. When I see a trail map at an intersection in an unfamiliar woodland, it really takes me a while to sort out East and West, right and left,, and where I am. When I use my GPS or set my map on my car, I have to have my arrow going in the direction of travel pointing up. Can’t do that in the woods. Nor can I rotate the trail maps to get me headed correctly, so I am often found looking like I am standing on my head trying to figure it out. The easiest thing for me to do is to get to know the trails really well so I don’t have to consult the maps.
But that doesn’t help our visitors and our occasional hikers. In the town of Stonington, we have quite a number of beautiful properties with intersecting trails. As a steward, I am the one who gets the complaints from people saying that several of our maps in certain preserves are difficult to figure out. Maybe they were placed by those lucky folks who really know their directions. One problem we have is that we often do not have easy choices about where to actually place the posts for these maps. Our soil is so rocky, and in some places pure ledge. The volunteers who put up the signs in many of our preserves had to take that into mind too. A map on one side of the trail makes sense, that same map on the other side of the trail, facing opposite, makes no sense at all ( to me).
The map of Paffard Woods, when on one side of the trail was not oriented to East and West properly. On the other side of the trail it worked for me.

From our website, the trail map for Paffard Woods is available for viewing on your phone or can be downloaded and printed. It matches the signs found on the preserve.
The smartphone app opens with the entire area covered by Avalonia and dotted by all the preserves.

You are here  

We had noticed that some visitors had taken to printing “You are here” on some signs. Some had posted stick-on stars, which also works. It is hard and expensive to have truly individualized maps printed that designate individual intersections. Recently a couple of our town stewards decided to take matters seriously and assessed a few of the more complex trails in town and re-oriented the maps as best as they could considering conditions. In many places, simply placing the signs on the other side of a trail made it work. The positioning may not look as convenient or intuitive on first sight. But once you face the sign it is apparent that it is easier to get oriented. No uncomfortable head turning and consulting ring fingers for left and right, East and West.
Avalonia has all of our trail maps on our website. They are easy to download and print at home, if you want to have a paper map in hand. But they are also easy to access on your smart phone as you walk. And you can turn your phone any way you choose. You can find the maps here
Technology is changing and improving so rapidly that it is now possible to find our maps on-line in an interactive format, that not only shows you the preserve’s trails and some features such as stone walls as land marks, it also follows you along with GPS as you navigate the trail itself. No longer do you have to wonder where you are in relation to the next intersection, or try to figure out how much farther you have to go on a loop. You can see it in hand. For a better idea of how to use this map and download the app, visit our website page  here. There you will get a demo on how to use the maps on the app and you can then download it to your phone. You will have all the Avalonia trails in the palm of your hand.
Avalonia Land Conservancy recently received a generous grant from Chelsea Groton Bank. One goal of this grant is to create new trail signs for several properties where we have added trails and also create signage for some of our new properties. People will always welcome a map at a trail head and kids will need to learn maps skills too. But the present is in the palm of our hand.
And while you are hiking with your smart phone, be sure to try out Hike and Seek for some added fun. Find out more here.
We have weeks of lovely hiking weather ahead. Enjoy!
Zooming in lets you pick the preserve you want to explore. 

A closer zoom will reveal details like stone walls and wetlands. At this scale you can follow your movement along the trails.

Another helpful background shows the landscape.

You can also change the background to see the topography.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Restoration of a Beloved Seaside Preserve

By Beth Sullivan

On a recent sparkling, crisp October morning, a group of Avalonia volunteers showed up at Dodge Paddock and Beal preserve for the next steps in an ongoing restoration effort .
Those of you who have been following this project know that Avalonia has been challenged by the changing conditions here for several decades now. Learn more here. We have battled invasive plants and continue to do so. We get bashed by Mother Nature, and also continue to be, but we are trying to work with her to restore certain areas and better prepare for a future that includes rising water, both sea level and ground water. We have banished most of the phragmites, and in their place, have restored native marsh grasses. When storms gave us a dune, we planted plants tolerating the high and dry conditions. When the water flooded in and was blocked up, we created a channel to release the water and encourage tidal flow to nourish the marsh.
Much of this was done with grant funding from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Long Island Sound Futures Fund. We have also had major support from CT DEEP, Mystic Aquarium, and Connecticut Sea Grant. Members of community groups and individuals have stepped up to help us as well. Labors of their love.
Already the area welcomed new wildlife this spring.

The plastic had been down for several months. Photograph by Judy Benson.

The soil was evened out and raked to make it ready for planting. Photograph by Judy Benson.

A continuing project

The project we tackled was the next step in restoration of the former gardens. Mrs. Shirley Beal and her husband had donated the property now known as the Beal Preserve, with the agreement that she could maintain her lovely flower and vegetable gardens on the property as long as she lived. We lost Shirley two years ago in September. Her gardens bore amazing vegetables, and her flowers were not only beautiful but also attracted birds and insects. But without a full time gardener or caretaker, we could not manage to maintain them. The decision was made to restore the area to native grasses and other plants. During last fall and this spring, the North Stonington Garden Club dug a huge number of perennial plants to offer at their famous garden sale. They have been very generous in turning funds back to Avalonia in several grant awards. Volunteers from Coogan Farm Giving Garden came and rescued Asparagus plants. Neighbors and friends were invited to share other flowers, tulip bulbs, raspberry plants and even horseradish roots. When the garden was as empty as possible, we mowed the remainder and covered it with plastic sheeting to cook for the summer, solarizing the soil and killing weeds and their seeds (hopefully).

We had purchased a variety of special seeds, selected to be tolerant of the specific conditions there at the preserve. They have to able to tolerate standing water at times, salt spray and occasional drought. After the seeds were sown, we added some mulch straw and then gave the area a mental wish for good luck.
In another part of the garden, a mound of old compost, we planted roots of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium), Snake root (Ageratina) , and distributed seeds of a special goldenrod ( Solidago), and butterfly weed (Asclepias). All of these are native, will be attractive to pollinators, and will create a mass of color especially in late summer. Even as we planted, we were visited by several Monarch butterflies and many birds of different species enjoying the flowers and seeds already available from plants on the preserve.
In just a few years, the area has gone from a quite uninviting area of Phragmites and invasive plants, to one that welcomes more native wildlife. Visitors have already noted wonderful new species. The new garden area will also do the same. We are quite sure, however, that Mrs. Beal’s tulips and asparagus will remain for decades to come, as they pop up in the grasses. We will welcome them too.

Everyone had a hand in distributing the seeds. Photograph by Judy Benson.

Mulch straw was added to help protect the seeds. Photograph by Judy Benson.

Where there was once nothing but phragmites, there is now a swath of native beauty.

We know Mrs. Beal's tulips will return for years to come.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Colorful, but not from around here

By Beth Sullivan

During this time of year, the scenery changes, seemingly minute by minute. Light changes: the angle of the sun creates shadows and details. Color changes; grasses go to warm browns and golds, meadows show off aster purples, goldenrods and Joe Pye weed magentas.
There are other colors showing up in hedgerows and shrub lands and along roadsides. This is the season for berries. Throughout the spring and summer we enjoyed the flowers, some showy, some discrete. Some are fragrant and others not at all. But now the great variety of berries, the fruits, creates a special show.

Take a ride along a back country road, or even along the highway, and it is impossible not to notice the bounty of berries. We have dozens of native shrubs and bushes that have evolved to provide the vital foods needed by small mammals and birds. Ripening over a succession of weeks and even months through fall and winter, they provide a food source for birds when insects are long gone. Migratory song birds will rely on shrub-lands full of cover and food as they stop after a long night of flight to rest and feast and refuel.

But not all berries are created equal

Over the decades shrubs were imported and planted as ornamentals. Multiflora Rose created instant hedgerows and fragrant white flowers in spring. Those flowers turned into abundant fruits, rose hips, that were eaten by many species of birds. Seeds were dispersed in droppings and now the rose has become an invader, an aggressive spreader that is quick to colonize fields and roadsides. Even though it does provide food and cover, it will out-compete other native plants in our landscape.
Multiflora Rose

Autumn Olive was planted deliberately along our highways to create visual buffers, and also to be a quick cover to prevent erosion. Now that shrub dominates the roadsides. Red berries are abundant now and robins and thrushes are quick to find them. At this time of year we can witness great flocks of starlings, along the highways, swirling and circling as they descend into the medians and roadside edges to feast on the berries and further disperse the seeds.
Autumn Olive

We all enjoy the colors of autumn decorations, but beware of using the non-native and invasive Oriental Bittersweet. It is another truly lovely berry, but a menace when its seeds are spread. The resulting vines climb and twist their way up trees and over native shrubs, strangling and adding their weight and causing death to the plant that supports it.
Oriental Bittersweet

Oriental Bittersweet vine

Colorful but invasive 

One of the most outstanding plants for colorful berries is likely the very worst invader: Porcelain berry. A decade or so ago, it was a sought after nursery plant, a climbing vine with most unusual berries. They start creamy white, then to pale green, then light teal, deeper aqua, sky blue and then to purple when ripe. Porcelain berry vine is a vigorous grower, adding inches, if not feet, almost overnight. It covers everything in its path. Obstructing light, smothering plants beneath, it forms a dense monoculture allowing no diversity and changing the landscape and altering valuable habitat.
Porcelain berry smothering a ceder tree.

The colorful Porcelain berry.

Walk through the Moore Woodlands in Groton, Knox Preserve or Knox Family Farm in Stonington, Pine Swamp in Ledyard, Preston Nature Preserve and many other Avalonia Land Conservancy properties. Notice the berries. Take the time to learn the non-natives and notice the beastly effects they have on our landscape and avoid them in your own. Opt for natives instead and the birds will be happier you did.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.
This post originaly appeared October 26, 2015.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Musings at the Woodlot

By Beth Sullivan
Today was a beautiful day. FINALLY! Blue sky, low humidity, but maybe a bit warmer than one might expect for October 5. I wasn’t complaining, because I was joined by about 10 residents of the Stone Ridge community for a hike on the Woodlot Sanctuary. It is an easy hike, and you can easily do one or both loops to add some walking distance. Today we opted for the very flat and lovely yellow loop.
For years I hiked with school age kids who have great questions and powers of observations. This was fun today because not only do these slightly more senior folks have the some of the same questions and great observations, but we had an opportunity to think more deeply as we conversed along the trails. Experience makes for great insight.
A great gang from Stone Ridge offered insights and meaningful discussions on the trails. Photograph by Chuck Toal.

Watching the ground

Today we seemed to focus a lot on mushrooms and some other unique plants that are most abundant in the autumn. They were impossible to ignore as they were everywhere we looked. Many of us have become more interested in edible mushrooms and foraging recently. It was a great opportunity to share ideas, experiences, and our combined knowledge of these amazing organisms. With adults I didn’t have to worry they were going to pick and eat them on the spot or try them another time. With kids I wouldn’t even use the word edible and wild mushroom in the same sentence. We saw the great variety of colors that are visible now, as well as singles, clusters, corals, and all types from turkey tails to boletes and many of the gilled varieties.
We also were able to explore the subtle differences in some of the plants that are saprophytic. They are true plants, unlike fungi which are in a kingdom of their own. But because they lack chlorophyll, they must take food from another source, and those sources are very specific fungi that live in the soil and dependent on being near the roots of other plants like pine or oak trees. A very interesting relationship. We found Pinesap, Indian Pipes and Beech drops.
But something else we talked about was history of the land: recent years, generations to centuries of land use, and back to ice age as there are glacial erratics on the property. We also talked about change-somewhat appropriate for Columbus Day weekend-What changes did Europeans bring centuries ago, and what were the woods like then?
I would never tell a school-aged child that this is edible.

Indian Pipe


Beech drops

A little of the past

We know the history of the Woodlot Sanctuary back several generations. We would have to dig deeper to go back to colonial times and uses. We noted the large stumps of trees cut decades ago to provide wood for the owners’ homes. We also noted downed trees that came down due to natural causes including hurricanes and invasive insects like gypsy moths. Sadly, we noted many trees exhibiting signs of stress and disease. We know there were many American chestnut trees on the property long ago, but now there are only a few small ones. Black birch, a favorite of “kids” of all ages for the root-beer smell and flavor, are showing signs of a disease that causes cankers to erupt under the bark, weakening the trees over time. We also saw the many beech trees, some massive and old, but most doomed due to yet another disease that is killing them off before our eyes. Many of the great oaks have been damaged by gypsy moths and drought years . The few hemlocks have been affected by the Wooly Adelgid. Whether it is virus, fungus, bacteria or insects, even this small woodlot forest is under siege. It is hard to imagine what it might look like generations from now.
The question arose: Is it due to climate change? Great question, great discussion. It is hard not to feel that on a warmer than normal October day, when we haven’t yet had even a light frost, that the plants are not affected. But even if the plants themselves can adapt to warmer weather and longer growing seasons, it is the diseases, the insects, that are surviving longer, with the warmth creeping farther north, affecting our forests. We also live in a world where our boundaries are more porous, which can be a great thing in many instances, but it also means foreign organisms, diseases, or insects can find their way into our woodlands where there are no natural predators or controls. Back to Columbus again.
It was fun to think of all the changes this small woodlot has already witnessed but a bit sobering to wonder what is in store for the next generations, of people who love the woodlands, and the woodlands themselves.
Please get out this lovely autumn and appreciate all that we have now. Some of the very best places are right in your own back yards, and Avalonia has preserved so many of them for us all to appreciate.
Great old beech trees are succumbing to ad disease.

We spend a lot of time looking at the ground for fun fungi.  Photograph by Chuck Toal.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Support our State owned open spaces. VOTE YES

By Beth Sullivan

We live in a beautiful area, in a beautiful state, in a nation of amazing diversity of land and resources. In many areas open spaces are owned by private land trusts, like Avalonia Land Conservancy, which can protect and steward these places for our enjoyment now, but also in perpetuity, for wildlife as well as people. In some cases, individual towns do a great job of protecting open space; some towns do not.

We rely on the State to acquire and protect often larger areas using our tax dollars to do so. These are usually open to the public, many developed as highly visible and extensively used State Parks. Many are wonderful trailed and accessible areas, such as Barn Island, Haley Farm, Bluff Point and Pachaug forest, to name a few local and well-loved areas. However, many others are lesser known but no less valuable places where wildlife is left generally undisturbed.

Presently there exists a legislative loophole that would allow the state to sell, swap or give away lands without necessarily notifying the public. I am copying, here, a letter to the editor which appeared on September 28, written by two local conservation advocates, and which brings this issue to light. More importantly, it informs us all of an opportunity we all have to close the loophole and protect these State lands, in perpetuity.

Please read this letter and check this website, and use your vote to protect our special resources before they are lost.

On Nov. 6 we have an opportunity to vote for the first ever statewide Constitutional Amendment Ballot Initiative to enhance protection of Connecticut’s environment. A yes vote on Ballot Initiative No. 2 would correct a long-standing threat (the Conveyance Act) to our public lands, which has enabled the legislature, by majority vote and without a public process, to sell, swap, or give away state-owned lands to a local municipality or private company.

Many acres of our public lands have been lost using this loophole. A yes vote would improve accountability and transparency in our public land transactions by requiring a public hearing and a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.

Our state parks and forests belong to everyone. They provide places for passive recreation, relaxation, inspiration, and education. They help to conserve the natural areas and forests critical to protecting our drinking water and wildlife.

Annually, they attract eight million visitors, generate over $1 billion in state revenue, and support over 9,000 jobs.

Last May, the state Senate and House voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment; on Nov. 6, it’s our turn.

Liz Raisbeck

Eugenia Villagra


The writers are co-chairs of Groton Conservation Advocates

Please vote  yes on Question 2 this election day.

Salt marshes are protected all along the Connecticut shoreline.

Simple places deserve protection too.

State land includes upland landscapes.

State lands provide opportunities for all manner of  passive recreation.
State lands are managed for wildlife, too.

Unique plants are found in unique habitats.

We have incredible beauty and diversity in our state.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan