Thursday, July 29, 2010

Many hands & many eyes make light work

During the summer months CAS Science & Conservation staff spends much time in the field doing survey work. Whenever possible we try to share our experience with young people from around the state. In the past two weeks I was accompanied by a group of volunteers from the Beardsley Zoo's Conservation Discovery Corps who helped me survey our Pratt Valley Preserve in Bridgewater.
A dramatic hemlock gorge bisects this 150-acre sanctuary and we surveyed this area for the presence of state-listed species of animals and plants, as well as any conservation priority species. It was a scorching hot day with some severe thunderstorms in the area, so everything kept quiet and mostly hidden from view.
Nevertheless, our search revealed several species of amphibians and a substantial list of birds. Unfortunately, the only bird we detected inside the gorge was a Northern Waterthrush. Although this species breeds here, the bird we saw may have already been an early migrant.
Sections of the Pratt Valley Preserve are still actively farmed, while other sections are managed for early successional habitat. Prairie Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Eastern Towhees and Gray Catbirds are common breeders here. Even though the heat kept animal activity down, it did not stop us from doing a thorough inventory of the non-native plant species that occur in the sanctuary. Hopefully targeted habitat maintenance work will help to keep these invasives in check!

A few days later a group of energetic summer campers from our Coastal Center in Milford bravely followed their leader, Frank Gallo, and joined me at our Croft Preserve in Goshen. You can see them in the above photograph, enjoying a well-deserved lunch break in one of our early successional habitat mangement areas after a long and strenuous hike into the middle of this 700-acre forest.

These guys did a fantastic job spotting critters big and small and we ended up with a good list of species by the end of the day! Luckily not many invasive plants here.

Some of the proud volunteers show off a Redback Salamander we found. However, the most exciting thing for this group was undoubtedly that they had a three mega-mammal day, managing to see a Black Bear on the roadside before arriving at the preserve, finding numerous Moose signs around the preserve and getting amazing looks at an American Porcupine in a tree during our lunchbreak. I don't think that there are many people in Connecticut who can boast such a trifecta in one day!

This American Porcupine gets a little testy and retreats with all quils at the ready!
It is such a treat to be able to spend time in the woods with kids and hopefully many of them will be back with all their friends. These kinds of experiences certainly stay with you for a lifetime! And I have to admit that all those extra hands and eyes really make a my work seem like a walk in the park....

All photographs by Twan Leenders

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