Sunday, April 18, 2021

Spring Is Here!

 As in the past several years, I am getting a  fun break from writing the blog and turning it over to students from the Conn College Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment.  I enjoy the new voices. Sometimes they see the same things differently. They have different points of view. I always learn a lot from these enthusiastic and motivated young adults. This year has been more challenging due to Covid.  But they have adapted well.

These upcoming weeks will showcase essays for the blog post by different students. Some will highlight the project they are working on or offer their thoughts on different topics. The photos will be from various sources but the words are their own. 

Please enjoy their voices.  Beth


Blooming cherry blossoms
welcomingthe world to spring
The start of spring marks a new beginning. As the days get longer, the weather warms, and animals start to wake up from hibernation, we too crawl out from under our warm covers and start enjoying the sunshine and the outdoors. March 20 marked the first official day of spring this year and was welcomed wholeheartedly. As we start to leave cold, rainy days in the past and start to enjoy fresh air more, it is not unusual to encounter wildlife while taking a leisurely outdoor walk. Here are a few fun facts about common Connecticut wildlife during transitions from winter to spring.

1. Welcoming New Life

Spring is often viewed as a symbol for new beginnings, for growth, and for new life. This can be seen in the regrowth of plants from winter, new flowers blossoming, and, many people’s favorite, baby animals! As the weather starts to warm, you can expect to see and hear signs of new life.
Baby birds also make their way
into the world in spring.

Many common mammals, especially wild herbivores such as deer and rabbits have babies during spring.

Baby rabbits are called kittens, females are called doe, and males are called bucks. Doe are only pregnant for 28-31 days and can give birth to up to 14 babies. Rabbits mature between three and six months of life, so by next spring, all of this year’s kittens will have separated from their mother and will be on their own.

Baby deer, or fawns, are usually born between May and June. They are usually found in meadows during spring and summer months. Mother deer, or doe, usually leave their fawns for long periods of time the first few days. Although this may seem harsh, it’s because fawns don’t have a scent, so it is actually safer for them to lay still alone to hide from predators. Fawns usually stay with their mothers for up to a year, much longer than kittens!

2. Migration Season

Purple martins returning
to their colonies.

The start of spring also marks the beginning of a new migration season. With warmer weather, many bird species start to make their way back to their homes up North. Connecticut is a great place to see birds such as Warblers, Hummingbirds, Purple Martins, and Tree Swallows. Connecticut is also home to birds such as  American Robins, Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, and many more. Head over to an Avalonia Trail to enjoy nature and see some beautiful birds. Bring binoculars for the best views and don’t forget to take a moment to listen and enjoy the birdsong!

3. Spring Peepers

Saying hello to a small friend
Birds are not the only species to return for spring. Frogs, such as Spring Peepers also start to come out
more. These little frogs are known for their distinctive chirping. In fact, they have an especially pronounced vocal sac under their chin that looks like a bubble. The endless chripring you often hear at night is actually a spring peeper mating ritual. Males call out to females, who are attracted to the male’s chirping. After mating, females will lay their eggs underwater and wait for them to hatch approximately twelve days later.

4. Welcoming Wildflowers

Beautiful fruit trees bloom under
the spring sun.

After months of only seeing cold, grey outdoors, Spring finally reintroduces color back into our lives. Wildflowers can really help landscapes look more cheerful. From daisies, dandelions, clovers, and chicories, a variety of flowers start to color the ground. Spring is the perfect time for colorful, relaxing walks and taking beautiful pictures. Just remember to bring allergy medicine if pollen bothers you!

5. Saying Hello to Butterflies and Bees

Mourning cloaks are often the first
butterflies to be seen in the spring.
Warmer days and clear weather sure encourage people to go outside, but did you know that bumblebees 
feel the same way? Queen bees are the first to leave their underground hibernation sites in search of flowers to regain strength lost during winter. They search for the first spring flowers to feed on and rebuild their colonies throughout the season.

Butterflies are one of the most popular signs of spring. Their colorful wings and gentle nature delights people of all ages. Many butterflies emerge from their chrysalis in March or early spring, and some have overwintered as butterflies and hibernated. Most will continue to be active until fall. They usually become active as the day warms in the morning and can often be seen in the afternoon. Although butterflies start to appear in spring, peak butterfly season isn’t until summer, meaning that different kinds of butterflies continue to emerge throughout spring.

 Written by Madeleine Gassin




Monday, April 5, 2021

Spring Updates

Native wildflowers, like bloodroot
are quite used to pushing up through
leaf litter

There are lots of things, little and big, to report on. As usual this is a terrifically busy time of year. Some of us clean indoors and open  windows, to chase away the old winter air and sweep away cobwebs. At the same time we are drawn outdoors, to look for our favorite firsts of spring; peepers, bluebirds and butterflies or to clean out garden beds and look for the first green shoots and blossoms. There is never enough time, or energy to accomplish everything! 

Piles of leaves make great shelters
for salamanders who have
emerged from hibernation.
One short cut I have taken is to leave my garden beds messy! Unless it is in a corner where huge  volumes of leaves have accumulated so that they suffocate my plants, I am leaving leaves as a mulch. I have to get used to the look and in some places I will do a little more cleaning later. Right now though, these piles provide much needed shelter and insulation for all number of insects, invertebrates and even amphibians. You might say there are no bees and butterflies under the leaves, but their larval caterpillars and pupae are there. Many species of bees have overwintering populations, including the queen, and they are found under composting logs and leaves. So, tell yourself to take a breather. The plants will find their way up through the leaves, they always do. And they maybe all the happier for the natural mulch.

On a garden related theme: last fall Girl Scout Troop 61047 created a pollinator garden at the Parker Brothers Pre-serve on River Road in Pawcatuck. They wisely included some spring bulbs to provide early nectar sources for flies and bees. The flowers are a joy to see. The girls have created a wonderful You Tube video which will be released soon which is educational and amazingly creative. I am hoping that they, or others, will continue the effort and help expand the pollinator pathway project that the town of Stonington has begun. 

A task I have mixed feelings about is cleaning out bird houses. We leave them over winter for families of to shelter in. I have seen bluebirds and woodpeckers roosting in bird houses over winter as well. But now it the time to have them cleaned out and welcome mats extended for bluebirds, tree swallows and house wrens, among others, that will appreciate the cleanup job. It can be messy though. This year many of the east-facing nests were very soggy, probably from some wind driven rain or snow storm, and there were all sorts of muddy remains inside of them! There were also the mice that refused to be evicted. They scampered up and over, down and around, and one leapt straight over my head as I gently tried to remove them and their bedding. Interestingly, some of the houses were infested with ants. I wondered whether the birds would enjoy them or not. 

It took skill to tackle the 
project to restore the
osprey platform.
Talking about nesting, by now I hope everyone has noticed that the osprey have finally shown up at many of their nest sites along the shoreline. Some of us mark our calendars each year, and recognize the arrival at a particular nest site, as the true beginning of spring. On the Woolworth Porter Preserve, there are three nest platforms, two on the eastern side, and an older one on the west side closest to Lord’s Point. This one has been in tough shape for a while, and each year, attempts to nest there have not succeeded. This year, an Avalonia member volunteer and several other Lord’s Point residents, assessed the situation and asked permission to refurbish and reinforce the nest platform and structure. What an amazing job! With donations of materials, and volunteer time, a magnificent platform was erected last weekend. As if on cue, a pair of osprey flew over and circled as it was being put up. I can’t wait for reports! Another nest, on Downes Marsh, along the Mystic River, was reported to have monofilament fish-ing line draped in it. This is a terrible situation for adults and could be fatal for young when they hatch a few months. A neighbor there was able to get access and remove the line. We are grateful for all the monitors who keep track of the osprey in our area and on our preserves. 

In the next weeks, the Conn College student will begin reporting on their projects. One group has already started monitoring calling frogs. Another is preparing to explore a property that is soon to be part of our list of beautiful preserves in North Stonington. One group is continuing our study of climate adaptation for coastal forests and an-other is exploring ways for Avalonia to reach out to populations that are minorities or underserved in our area. Avalonia properties are for everyone! You don’t need to be a member, or a resident of a particular town. Two students are working on creating page translations of Avalonia website, into Mandarin and French and Spanish will be on the way. These translations will be further welcoming to visitors and new residents here in our area. 

We want to make sure that every family, in every town, of every ethnicity and background, knows that they are welcome, that our preserves are open for everyone to enjoy and find peace and inspiration. What a great time of year!

by Beth Sullivan
Lord's Point Osprey Platform Team

The tree swallows have returned
to clean houses on Knox Preserve.

Cleaning gardens now may uncover 
wooly bears that may have
preferred to sleep in a bit.