Thursday, July 29, 2010

Other Stratford Point updates...

Things have been a bit busy lately so I am a little behind on my blog posts. Scott has been keeping you updated on the bird sightings and avian activity on Stratford Point, but there are other things happening there as well that are noteworthy. Most importantly, two developments concerning the wildlife habitat of the site are worth a closer look.

For those of you who are not familiar with the site, Stratford Point is essentially a peninsula that juts out into the Long Island Sound just west of the mouth of the Housatonic River. The site comprises 28 acres, much of which we manage as a coastal grassland. Grasslands, if left to their own devises, will eventually turn into scrub land and vegetational succession will ultimately cause the area to become forest. Grassland can only remain grassland if it is intensely managed. Grazing or mowing are the most commonly applied management practices, but both have drawbacks. Historically there were fairly extensive grassland areas along the Connecticut coast and most likely these areas remained grassy because of periodic fires, triggered by lightning.

Grassland management through controlled burns is a preferred management strategy that allows for the removal of all aboveground vegetation without soil compression from mowers or grazers, it does not result in the accumulation of downed vegetation on the ground (which can cause problems because it creates habitat for unwanted mammals and may hinder the regrowth of new shoots in spring) and it does not leave the site with excessive nutrients from all the biomass that is left to rot. Most sensitive plant species in the state require nutrient poor soils - which are hard to come by nowadays with the massive amounts of fertilizers used everywhere.

We are looking into the possibility of having a series of small controlled burns carried out at Stratford Point to manage the unique habitat that the site sustains. Obviously, these kinds of practices require a ton of permits and oversight and we are a long way from actually doing anything, but last week we convened representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection (who authorizes and oversees controlled burns in CT), the state's Forest Fire Service, and the Town of Stratford to join us on a site walk and take a first look at the feasibility of this plan.

Everyone is excited about the concept and wheels were set in motion. We are now in the process of officially applying for state authorization to carry out the burns and will go from there. I will definitely keep you posted on developments on this front.

Other habitat management-related news can be seen on the shore of Stratford Point. I am in the midst of carrying out a feasibility study to determine whether it will be possible to bring back Saltmarsh vegetation (Spartina alterniflora) to the intertidal zone of the site. Years of remedial activities on-site have led to the disappearance of all shoreline vegetation and the fauna that depends on these plants. To my great surprise I noticed this week that one of the recent storm events had altered our beach enough to create conditions suitable for Spartina to grow and in the last three weeks several plants have grown in! I counted no fewer than 79 individual plants spread over a substantial sections of the beach -- hopefully future habitat management work will allow us to bring back the original vegetation to Stratford Point.
Several small Spartina plants have recently sprouted around this newly formed tide pool

If you are visiting the site, please tread lightly around these plants to allow them to recolonize the beach and form a solid foothold for next year's growing season.
Yes, as you all know, the shorebirds are back in town again. However, I wanted to briefly introduce you to two other inhabitants of Stratford Point which I encountered this week.
Semipalmated Plovers are now regular visitors to our shoreline again
As I was surveying the new Spartina growth on the beach earlier this week, I came across another Lion's Mane Jellyfish like the one Scott reported from the Warehouse pools on Long Beach Boulevard last week. Nick Bonomo commented that he has seen many of these animals in the New Haven area recently. I have no idea why they are suddenly this common on our beaches, but it sure is interesting to see these sudden appearances of rarely-encountered species. Any suggestions are certainly welcomed!
Lion's Mane Jellyfish on Stratford Point beach
Another visitor actually dragged me away from my computer (which is easily done) as I watched it run around on my office window, trying to snag one of the many yellowjackets that had taken up residence in my AC unit.
Believe it or not, this Chinese Praying Mantis is actually Connecticut's state insect! An exotic species introduced for pest control! Even though these guys are not necessarily very rare, they are not frequently seen. And although I do encounter them fairly regularly, I have never had the pleasure of watching one walk on the sky like this one!
Chinese Praying Mantis (Tenodera sinensis) poised to snag a passing insect
All photographs by Twan Leenders

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