On April 12, I spent the day at the sanctuary to survey the preserve's important landscape elements to produce GIS maps for the sanctuary, carry out point counts as part of our continued monitoring efforts, and also to evaluate habitat management work we carried out in the winter. Part of the site survey was done in conjunction with representatives from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) of the USDA. CAS works closely with the NRCS as part of the Federal Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP), which provides funding for wildlife habitat improvement projects. One of the ongoing projects at the Croft Preserve is the creation and maintenance of several early successional habitat areas -- clearings with dense scrub vegetation that require periodic maintenance to keep them from reverting to forest.
In December of 2009 we worked with a group of high school students from the Forman School in Litchfield to remove small trees and tree saplings from one of our habitat management areas, covering almost 7 acres (see pictures below). All work in the area was done without the use of tractors or ATVs and all trees were cut by hand to avoid compacting the soil in the area and to minimize the risk of spreading invasive plant species by equipment that moves between sites.
Trees were dropped on the spot and large brush piles were created to provide additional wildlife habitat. The habitat work seems to be paying off already because my surveys yesterday revealed no fewer than 4 different Winter Wrens singing on territory in the newly opened area (and several more were heard elsewhere in the preserve). The moose seem to have survived the winter just fine and fresh tracks were seen all over the preserve.
We currently have motion-activated cameras installed to see if we can catch a glimpse of these animals. Pictures will be posted here as soon as we do!
One of the site's wetlands, a 17 acre wooded pond, already had several female Hooded Merganser present and hopefully they will breed here again. Last year I counted at least 23 young in addition to many young Wood Duck. This large wetland continuously changes shape due to the activity of beavers in the area.
Old beaver meadows can be found in various parts of the preserve, but recently a newly constructed beaver dam caused a 4+ acre section of the forest to flood. The changes in the habitat that this action causes will provide a great opportunity for study in years to come!
Most of the vernal wetlands on site now hold numerous egg masses of Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders, while the calls of Spring Peepers can be heard anywhere and Red-spotted Newts carry out their elaborate courtship displays in all permanent bodies of water. A nice surprise during the wetland surveys was the discovery of a substantial number of Jefferson's Salamander egg masses in several locations throughout the preserve -- this is a rare species included as a Special Concern species in the CT Endangered Species Act. Clearly the Croft Preserve provides suitable habitat for all kinds of rare species!
A quick survey of our most recently created early succesional habitat area (an almost 20-acre clearing opened up in the fall of 2008) showed that young growth is starting to come in nicely with no sign of invasive plants yet (keeping my fingers crossed). Troutlily (Erythronium americanum), Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) and the first Purple Trilliums (Trilium erectum) are alread adding a splash of color to the landscape.
Even though the big new clearing still resembles a bombing range with its trees dropped in place and only a few remaining canopy trees, soon this area too will be providing critical habitat for Ruffed Grouse and other scrub species. Our ongoing monitoring efforts are put in place to periodically assess the impact our habitat management efforts have on the local birds and other wildlife, so we can fine-tune our future management practices and hopefully provide even more and better habitat for our state's threatened and endangered species. We will keep you posted on how things develop!
For more information on the Croft Preserve or any of the other Connecticut Audubon Society sanctuaries, visit the sanctuary section of our website. We are hoping to update it soon with additional photographs, trail maps and species lists. Please keep in mind that the Croft Preserve does not have much of an infrastructure yet and the trail is very muddy and steep in places and can be challenging to navigate.
All photographs © Twan Leenders