Monday, September 16, 2019

A project underway

By Beth Sullivan
Many of this blog’s readers have followed the Hoffman Preserve saga for years. If you don’t know the whole story, please check our website for details and history.
The project we have planned and studied and agonized over for years, has finally begun. The timing is perfect as the birds and mammals have completed their nesting and are moving on. The ground conditions are so much better than they were last fall, winter, and into the spring when the torrents of rain made a muddy mess of everything and delayed the work. It could not have waited much longer as even now there are more oak trees succumbing this summer. A recent forestry report stated that close to 75% of New London county’s oak trees have died. How sad.
After thinning, large healthy trees will have room to expand.

Many areas of the interior will remain untouched.

The forest is still dangerous in many places.

An unfamiliar landscape

Today, several of us, Avalonia stewards, walked into the preserve with permission of the forester. There was no work being done today. There is no doubt that the face of the landscape has changed. The roadways through the forest are wide enough for the big machinery to maneuver. They can then reach into the sides and extract individual trees for the thinning process. In some areas it is almost impossible to tell that work has taken place. If you look, you will see a stump, still marked at the base in blue, but around it the forest floor remains much as it was with just more light and room for the remaining trees to branch out and grow. As we walked the roadway, we were amazed how soft and fluffy the soil remained. It was churned up a bit, which is good, mixing in the organic material. Because they are using low ground pressure machines, the soil is not hard and compacted. It will be easy for seeds that have been dormant for a long time to germinate and get established.
We walked near one of the four patch cuts. These are more open areas, pretty much cleared of trees, but the understory small shrubs remain. These areas do look pretty bare, but the trees that were there were mostly crowded, dead, or dying. The new patch cut will grow in slowly, first with grasses and wild weeds. We hope to give Mother Nature a boost by getting funding for a more specialized conservation mix of seeds that will include flowers for pollinators, forage for small and larger mammals, and some shrubs with berries and fruits for birds. As these areas regenerate, they will grow in from the sides, with shrubs adding height and good cover. This is what is called creating soft edges: a tiered effect like bleachers in a stadium, which is attractive to all species of animals and birds. If we are lucky enough to be around to see this area in 5-10 years, the difference will be amazing.
In this area, the Mountain Laurel will regenerate thickly and with the sun will soon blossom. 

These hemlocks are not dead, just too crowded. Thinning will reinvigorate them.

Thinned areas are still forested, just more open, and soon small berry shrubs will thrive.

Still more work to do

We will hope to get professional assistance in monitoring and managing all the areas for invasive plants and not let them get established and take over. In this town, invasives are everywhere and their seeds are carried by birds, animals and even hikers. A professor from Connecticut College and his interns are monitoring several plots to study how regrowth occurs and how invasives get established.
As we walked, we mostly followed the new open areas, but we noted that the old trails remained and criss-crossed through the landscape. When the project is done, Avalonia stewards will walk all the areas, old paths and new, and decide where we will establish trails that will serve us for the next decades. There is a smart phone app called Explorer for ArcGIS . All of Avalonia properties are documented in a file called Avalonia Online Maps. It shows boundaries and trails. We used that today to help us orient ourselves within the landscape. Lots of old markers are gone, though there are still colored blazes on many trees. The app may be very useful in the beginning.
The work will continue into early October, and the preserve must remain closed to hikers until we are given an all clear. There are still many broken and leaning trees. It is easy to get disoriented. The forester is hoping to offer a walk through the area in early October as part of the Last Green Valley Walktober events. Details will be posted on our website.
We truly appreciate those of you have supported this project and have taken the time to read about it and understand our goals. It will take a lot of work to get it ready for the public. We all need patience and faith in the process. If you are interested in helping us with restoration, please call the office. When you get back in to the Hoffman Evergreen Preserve, please record your observations or take photos and send them in. It will be part of the education for all of us.
This toad still has plenty of good habitat. 

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, September 2, 2019

A blue trail: Avalonia Preserves by kayak

By Beth Sullivan
There is often talk of creating greenways through the inland landscape, allowing connectivity and longer hikes. The difficulty with that is the need to acquire land or easements to allow the connections to succeed. However, a blue trail, by water, already exists. Over the last years I have truly enjoyed kayaking along the shoreline and experiencing Avalonia from a different point of view.
Many of our preserves include a water feature. There are ponds, marshes, streams, even rivers. You can walk along, around, or even through many of these. With the end of summer very near, crowds are diminishing, colors are intensifying, migrating birds move along the shore on their way south, and even some butterflies and dragonflies stage migrations over water along the coast.
Many of our coastal preserves are marsh lands, and it is difficult and unwise to walk on the fragile salt marsh. Usually the closest you can get is a glimpse from the road. To really appreciate the expanse of grasses, the wildlife along the inlets, channels and over the land, it is ever so much better to view from the water.
From Simmons Preserve, it is a gentle paddle around Quanaduck Cove.

Sandy Point

Sandy Point is an Island, so of course you need a boat. Put in from Barn Island Boat launch and paddle across little Narragansett Bay, and you can pull up close to shore and either paddle or wade, towing your boat along the North Shore. Now you can observe the staging of migrating shore birds: sandpipers, plovers, and terns. Some of them are protected species so avoid undue disturbance. Also from the Barn Island Boat launch you can head far east to find the Continental Marsh Preserve with osprey nesting in both the trees and on a platform. Go west and up the cove to see the Wequetequock Cove Preserve and meadows full of milkweed and Monarchs.
Another launch spot is a small access area on the side of Wilcox Road, off Rt 1 in Stonington. From there you have some choices: paddle north, under Rt. 1, up the Quiambaug cove, and on the east shore look for Avalonia Land Conservancy signs. The Knox Family Farm runs along the cove for quite a ways and includes a small inlet area. On the gravel bank of the cove, volunteers have created a kayak landing, with tie up rail and stairs up the slope. From there, you can do a nice loop hike on the preserve.
From the same roadside launch, nearly the entire west shore, except the cemetery edge, is the Knox Preserve-a totally different vantage point. The rocky shores are so different than the mowed trails. When the tide is low you can get onto a small beach that is hard to reach from the trail, due to massive poison ivy patches.
Paddle under the railroad bridge and head east, around Lord’s Point, and the next big marshland area is the Woolworth-Porter Preserve. From this angle you can see the beautiful greens of the marsh grasses and can head up a little inlet or creek and wind deeper into the preserve which actually extends quite a ways north, to the railroad tracks, but the water way doesn’t extend very far.
For a longer trip, from the same launch site you can head west along the shore and out and around Latimer’s point, remembering that the Knox preserve is just on the other side of the tracks. Look for the osprey nest high on a pole. West around Latimer Point, you will come to another large marshland area. This is a big expanse of Cottrell Marsh which extends all the way over to Mason’s Island Road. This area has some interesting high islands with trees and shrubs where Herons and Egrets love to roost at this time of year.
Go through the gate at the Simmons Preserve, on North Main Street in Stonington, to a little access area onto Quanaduck Cove. You can paddle up, under Rt 1 and find yourself at the marshy southern tip of Paffard Woods.
From Dodge Paddock or Barn Island, Sandy Point is an easy paddle. Photograph by Roger Wolfe.

Paddle up Quiambaug Cove to get to the Knox Family Farm Preserve.

Land on a sandy stretch of Knox Preserve's shoreline and explore for snails and crabs.

Watch your step

Getting out on any of the marsh areas is really not encouraged. The ground can be quite unstable, the habitat is fragile, and there are several species of birds that are in need of protection during nesting season. Best to bring your binoculars.
Take note of what a wonderful buffer the marshlands are, protecting the upland from storm surges and rising tides as well as providing a sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife. Avalonia is dedicated to protecting and preserving the marshlands along the coast line. As our shoreline is threatened by sea level rise, our marshes will be one of the casualties if there is no place for them to expand. They are vital to the health of the oceans and estuaries. Enjoy the views.
Maps and directions to all these preserves can be found on our website.
You can pull up kayaks in several areas, just please avoid fragile marsh habitats.

Cottrell Marsh has wooded knolls and extensive salt marshes to explore.

Woolworth-Porter Preserve has channels that can lead deep into the marsh at high tide. Photograph by David Young.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.