Monday, May 27, 2019

Spring has arrived at Dodge Paddock

By Beth Sullivan
It seems that there are some areas that take longer than others to green up in the spring. Salt marshes are like that. Besides being close to the colder water of the Long Island Sound, Dodge Paddock is still recovering and in the process of changing. But it is getting green.
It has been six and a half years, more or less, since Hurricane Sandy ripped through Dodge Paddock, dumping debris, inundating everything with salt water, and altering the landscape forever. There are some things we, as humans stewards, could do to help restore the area, but others are pretty impossible. However, in the years since then, we have done our best to enhance and restore a lovely small bit of green in the Borough.
You can catch up on past projects by reading articles and past blogs on line. Our first post about Dodge Paddock is here Over these last years we have been granted several rounds of funding to help with restoration, and have been very lucky to have been supported and guided by some of the best scientists/ academics/environmental brains in the industry. With the help of the CT DEEP we have been able to control and nearly eradicate the Phragmites that created an invasive monoculture to the exclusion of everything else, including wildlife.
Wonderful new wildlife enjoys the restored marsh area in Dodge Paddock. Photograph by Rick Newton.

An engineering study may help us know if we can protect this area.

New areas of marsh are becoming established in sheltered areas.

The high storm surges beat at and erode the dune frontage.

Water tables keep getting higher throughout the preserve. 

A start with native grass

With grant funding and assistance from the Mystic Aquarium we were able to fill the now-open areas with native plants. Thousands of native Spartina grasses were plugged into the marsh mud and have now filled it in, creating a more natural expanse that is inviting to native wildlife. The neighbors continually report their sightings of new birds and mammals making use of the Preserve.
Another round of grant funding helped restore plants that we hoped would anchor the berm or dune at the south facing frontage. While some of them are doing well, the forces of the water, rising seas, and bigger storms continue to eat away that area. While new areas of marsh are establishing themselves behind the rocky outer areas, the bigger storms continue to surge in and erode the front and sides of the drainage channel. It is inevitable that some big storm will further breech that area, and we are continuing to get advice from DEEP, environmental agencies, engineers, and others as to the best way to proceed in the face of this challenge.
In this most recent round of grant funding from National Fish and Wildlife Federation’s Long Island Sound Future’s Fund, we continued to explore our options. Under the guidance of CT Sea Grant scientist and educator, Juliana Barrett, we collaborated with an engineering firm to give us baseline thoughts about the best way to preserve this area. There are many scenarios and multiple levels of options. A true engineering study and detailed plan will take a big grant to fund. Then implementation will be enormous. We are not at all sure what route we will go. There are those scientists that still believe that no matter what we do, Mother Nature will march on, and the best thing for us, any of us along the shore, to do is to adapt and make ourselves and our land more resilient.
The holes filled with water before the plants went in. Photograph by Jim Sullivan.

Volunteers dug more than 100 holes.

The water's rising

The second part of this most recent grant addresses the idea of resiliency and marsh migration. The waters are rising in the Paddock, the ground water rises as well. The plants are changing from meadow grasses to salt marsh grasses. Many of the old trees have already died. The shrubs that are growing up are those that can tolerate the salt and wet roots. In an effort to experiment and educate, we have taken Mrs. Beal’s once productive vegetable garden and turned it into a marsh migration buffer planting. The plants were researched with great care; however, the conditions of the area are extremely challenging. Just a few weeks ago we put in a large number of plants, from grasses, to perennial flowers, to shrubs and some small trees, all of which we hope will survive there. It is an experiment, but one that we hope will educate us as well. We will label the plants and keep track as they adapt. It is not going to be a garden. Weeds will grow and the plants will need to compete as they would in a more natural setting. Of course we will offer some TLC as we can.
For those visitors who come to enjoy the area, it can offer some guidance about plantings in ones’ own coastal property. It looks a little rough right now, but already we are watching the plants adapt to the very high levels of water in the ground. Over the seasons and the years, we hope these plants will demonstrate their ability to be resilient.
I guess that is something we all need to learn as we face the challenges of the changing climate.
The former vegetable garden now has native plants to fill in and adapt to their changing habitat. Photograph by Juliana Barrett

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.  

Monday, May 20, 2019

A damper on a sunny day

By Beth Sullivan
Mother’s Day was forecast to be quite miserable, weather-wise, and it was. The Saturday before was a glorious day; so I declared my own personal Mother’s Day to do what I loved best; be outside and in the woods. However, I didn’t have my kids and grandkids with me, which would have made it perfect. Sometimes it’s nice to have an unplanned, dedicated fun day in the sun.
A pileated woodpecker family makes their home in these woods.

Star flower (Trientalis borealis) was a lovely surprise. 

It really didn’t work out that way

It started off well. Three of us decided to install the preserve sign for the Woodlot Sanctuary. It has been a long time coming. For some reason it has been impossible to find someone willing and able to help us create Avalonia’s well known brown and yellow preserve signs. One of our dedicated stewards did it the hard way, using hand router, not with a new, easy, computerized machine. It looks great but the labor is just way too intensive to keep up with our needs. So on this beautiful morning the fellows got to work digging the holes for the posts. They do not call this town Stonington without good reason. While they rearranged stones to create two properly aligned holes, I decided to walk off the trails a bit, explore some of the places I hadn’t yet investigated. That’s where part of the trouble started.
In some of the most beautiful spring wetlands, dappled with greens and violets and yellows, there was trash. Items of plastic must have washed down the stream during the heavy rains. Deep in the woods I found a pen, several empty cans, a Styrofoam cup, and a plastic bag. That got me started. I continued walking along the roadside, inside our wall at first, and was so disappointed to find a high volume of litter that had been chucked over the wall, likely from passing cars. There were some big old pieces: fuel containers, a big metal pail, and a big plastic contractors’ bucket. But mostly it was just stupid, senseless, discarded trash.
An entire dump in one spot. I can't imagine why?

The redbellied woodpeckers called from their nest hole. Photograph by Rick Newton.

The variety of waste would make a great sociology study.

Still some hope

Walking along the road in that area is a little challenging, because the road curves, there is no shoulder and sight lines are poor. But after grabbing a second trash bag from the truck, I continued along the roadside. Lots of alcohol bottles; big ones and many tiny nips. There were also beer cans, soda bottles, energy drinks, and water bottles. Then there was the plastic trash: bags, balloons, take out containers, and cups. Why can’t people just wait until they get home to ditch their leftovers? By the time I finished both sides of the wall, on one side of the street, I had filled two large garbage bags one of which leaked some kind of fluid all over my clothes. This was NOT what I had planned. I was so saddened by the thoughtlessness and laziness of people. It was depressing. One older man drove by and gave me a thumbs up and a thank you. There is hope.
By the time I got back to the parking lot, there were two perfect holes and a sign almost ready to be nailed together. The sun sparkled through the new spring green foliage. A pair of red-bellied woodpeckers chorused from their nest site by the parking area. We were serenaded by woodland warblers and a pileated woodpecker flew right by to hammer out his message on a big tree trunk.
The small seedlings planted by the Cub Scouts a couple of weeks ago have been well watered by all our rains. There really is so much beauty at this time of year, and I want to have faith that the majority of the people are well intentioned and caring.
I am not sure what is wrong with those few who insist on using our roadsides and wetlands as places to toss their trash.
The Woodlot Sanctuary finally has its sign. It welcomes visitors to come and enjoy a lovely walk in the woods. Enjoy this beautiful time of year. It ended up being a lovely pre-Mother’s Day in the sun.
Thanks to Rick for making the sign and working with Jim to install it.

The wetlands in the Woodlot Sanctuary should all be this pristine. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Connecticut College wrap up

Another semester with the students of the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment (GNCE) has come to an end. The students presented their final projects last Tuesday evening, and once again I am awed by their accomplishments. Keep an eye on our website for some new additions reflecting their efforts.
One group scanned several volumes of newspaper clippings of Avalonia’s history, and then once digitized, they were labeled and organized. These will eventually be put on line in an archive and will be available for all to enjoy and not just remain hidden, yellowing, in binders.
Another group expanded the Hike and Seek program to include the new Tri-Town Ridgeline Forest Preserve. There were two loops created, targets found and photo clues developed. These will need some final editing and formatting before they are added to the webpage, but we are working on it.
A third group created an online wildlife booklet with examples of typical creatures that could be spotted on Avalonia’s preserves, based on the types of habitats they are found in. They have included mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and birds with photos and fun facts. Once edited, this booklet will be linked to Hike and Seek as well as to our preserve pages.
The last group took over our Instagram account and tried to teach some of us older dogs, some new tricks. I am including in this post, their very helpful step-by-step instructions, so share your photos on Instagram while you are out and about on Avalonia’s Preserves. These will show up if you follow Avalonia as well as possibly being posted on our website, too.

Thank you to all the GNCE students and their professor Jen Pagach for a wonderfully helpful and creative semester.  
Sample page from Wildlife Booklet.

Creating an Instragram Account

Hello readers, we are Julia Whelan and Grace Neale from Connecticut College. As student members of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment, we were tasked this semester with creating a project that would benefit Avalonia and improve their outreach efforts. We decided that the most effective way to reach more people was to revamp their Instagram account. As social media gains momentum, sites like Instagram are phenomenal ways to gain an audience for an organization. Instagram is a photo-sharing app for smartphones, so for a group like Avalonia that owns copious amounts of gorgeous nature photos it is an ideal platform. We have used the account to encourage participation as well as advertise events. Although we originally took over the Instagram account to reach a younger audience, we want everyone to enjoy this app. Below are instructions on how to operate your own account. Just be sure to click on the magnifying glass and type in @avalonialandconservancy to follow us and see our photos when we post them.

Setting up an account:
To set up an Instagram account, download the app and type in your email address or phone number and create a username (which will begin with @) and a password.

Make a post:
Once you have created an account on your mobile device, click the plus sign with a square around it on the lower center of your screen (seen below), which will bring you to the next screen.

Selecting photos:
Photos from your camera roll will be shown for you to select from. By clicking the button circled in red, you can select multiple photos to post.

Editing photos:
Once you have selected your photo(s), you can edit them on the next screen, either by adding filters (underlined below), or manually adjusting lighting, etc by clicking the edit button. When you are finished, click Next.

On this screen, you can add a caption, hashtags, tag people, and add the location where the photo was taken, before it is posted. Hashtags generally go at the end of the caption using the # symbol and are a way to broadcast your post to more viewers. Posts using the same hashtag are grouped together on Instagram so users can easily find more posts that are similar to one another.

So POST something!

Monday, May 6, 2019

An Arbor Day effort

By Beth Sullivan
Arbor Day has been around as long as I can remember. That’s because they will be celebrating 150 years of inspiring people to plant trees, in 2022. The Arbor Day Foundation was created in 1972 on the centennial anniversary of the first Arbor Day observance .
When I was young, we ordered small seedling trees to plant on a family farm. We did it other years as Scouts and then later when my own kids were in 4-H. I never really took time to research the Arbor Day Foundation until just recently, and that was thanks to yet another encounter with kids planting trees to help the planet. It is a great website with lots of interesting information about trees from all over and their amazing significance to the health of our world. You can find out more about Arbor Day here.  
The wetland woods are a perfect place for red maples.

Scout service project

Recently a new member, Jeff Alexander, contacted me about possible projects for his son’s Cub Scout pack to do to help Avalonia. With Arbor Day and Earth Day all at the end of April, they had decided to get some tree seedlings from the Foundation and wanted to find a good place to plant them. It’s always so tempting to obtain fun and fancy flowering plants, which is fine if you are establishing them on your own home property, but on a nature preserve we are obliged to keep things as native and close to local types as possible. There was quite a variety of species offered, but they decided, wisely, on species that are native to this area and would happily survive if given the right spot to set down their roots.
We wanted to find a preserve that would provide easy access for the kids, where they could work without too much trouble and bring supplies for the work day. These were young Cub Scouts, and we wanted to make sure they had a good experience. We chose the Woodlot Sanctuary in Stonington, their home town, for its ease of access and variety of habitats to suit the needs of the seedlings. Jeff and I met ahead of time to identify where each species might work best, and set stakes in to mark the spots. We knew the red maples require moist soils so the wetlands adjacent to the entrance area would be perfect. The oaks required more upland soils. More than a decade ago there had been some harvesting done on the property, and there remained some old oak stumps and areas of openings where we knew the seedlings would be happy. Those areas of richer soils would also be ideal for the hoped for sugar maples. There are also two big old pine trees on the preserve. It is where I most frequently see our barred owl and one of the few areas with any evergreen coverage at all. We chose that area for planting a nice number of white pine seedlings so that someday, those pines will grow up and provide a small grove of protection for more owls.
It took a team to get the big rock out of the ground.

Celebrating successful rock removal and a perfect hole for planting.

White pine seedlings await planting.

Enthusiastic Cub Scouts at work

The day of planting arrived: Saturday April 27th, and, as were getting used to, it was raw and damp. There were a few no-shows, but the pack arrived: four dads, four Scouts and a couple of siblings. They came with lots of enthusiasm! We talked a little about why each plant needed a special spot, and they came very well prepared with water and mulch and even wire caging to deter deer browsing. Digging in the woods is not easy, there are lots of roots to work around, and of course the occasional buried boulder. Dads came in very handy for those efforts but the kids provided a big cheering team.
It took a couple of hours to get them all placed and planted. Over all there were about 20 seedlings planted. The sugar maples were not available at this time. Jeff and his own kids stayed longer to make sure all were properly caged and secured. There are stakes near each plant with the scout’s name on it. Ownership might encourage a deeper interest in the future of their tree, and the forest as a whole. They are encouraged to visit, bring water during summer dry times, and I promised the group a guided hike when the weather gets nicer.
I don’t know how to guess percentages, but I might think that kids engaged in projects such as this will have a far higher rate of being interested in caring for the Earth. Right now our Mother Earth needs all the help she can get. There is absolutely nothing more hopeful than planting a tree.
Thank you to Stonington Cub Scout Pack 37 and their leaders.
Proud to be from Pack 37.

Making sure each seedling got water.

The Scouts put their name on a stake beside their plants.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.