Notes from a Birding Hike at Avery Farm

Saturday, October13, 2018

A group of about ten intrepid hikers braved a somewhat dreary and rainy day on a GOSA sponsored birding walk at Avery Farm South.  The walk was led by Pat Tamborra, who was enlisted by old friend and Fraternity brother Jim Anderson.

We started by walking up the closed section of Lambtown Road toward the marsh.  A loudly singing Carolina Wren in the distance greeted us as we started.  We were treated to a pair of Swamp Sparrows foraging in the brushy field near the road.  We continued till we got good views of the marsh.  Canada Geese, Mallards, and a flying Wood Duck were present.  An Eastern Phoebe was seen and finally several Yellow-rumped Warblers were observed by some in the group.  We then walked back the way we came.

Threat of harder rain caused us to walk toward the stone bridge and beaver deceiver.  A good mixed feeding flock was observed.  Ruby-crowned and a Golden-crowned Kinglet, White Breasted Nuthatch, a special treat Red Breasted Nuthatch, Chickadee, Tufted Titmice, one Palm Warbler and more Yellow-rumped Warblers were seen.  The group continued across the bridge and to the power line cut.  There we found a larger flock of about a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging in the vegetation.  I think that everyone in the group could finally see why these little birds deserve the nickname Butterbutt.  Also seen was a White-throated Sparrow.  Perhaps the highlight of the morning was the appearance of a Coopers Hawk.  This type of smaller hawk preys upon small birds.  Yes, the other birds quickly flew off or ducked for cover.

Rain, cold, and threat of more concluded the walk.  Considering the weather, it was a very good day.  Another walk will be planned in the spring which should yield many more and exciting birds.

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Back in Time: 305 Acre Avery Farm Trails Pass Through Forests, Farmlands by Peter Marteka

“A horse swished his tail and chewed on grass along a stone wall under a maple, the tree’s leaves just starting to show a blush of autumn color. In the nearby forest, an old hay rake sat rusting in the woods. Along a dusty farm road, cattails swayed in the wind at the edge of a marsh filled with pond lilies.”

So begins a wonderfully written article from the Hartford Courant on the Avery Farm Nature Preserve trails and his visit there.

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Notes from Summer Camp on the Sheep Farm!

Groton Open Space Association, through its Sidney F. Van Zandt Educational Fund, provided conservation scholarships for up to 10 children to attend a one week session of the Groton Parks and Recreation Discover Summer Camp.


In addition, we were also delighted to host two groups of those campers on the Sheep Farm for an adventure exploring the stream, woods and fields of the property. Two science teachers, GOSA volunteers, members of the Groton Senior Center OATS Program, and students and counselors together explored the biodiversity of Ft Hill Brook which runs through the Sheep Farm, into Mumford Cove and then out into Long Island Sound. After a brief introduction by our volunteer teachers, the students grabbed macroinvertebrate identification cards, dip nets, magnifying glasses, and holding buckets hiked down to the stream below the waterfall.  After a brief demonstration on how to look for animals using dip nets and collection buckets, students were able to spread throughout the stream area and explore the benthic biodiversity of stream life. The students were amazed at the different animals they found: baby salamanders, frogs, helgramite and damselfly larvae, water striders, water beetles, and worms! The students were amazed at the benthic life they found and really understood the importance of the stream ecosystem to the area… abundant stream life is a direct indicator of the cleanliness and health of a stream!


A short nature walk along the trails was followed by additional explorations of some of the historic foundations, field plants, butterflies and the many ways to climb a large rock dropped on a hill by a glacier!

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The Pitch Pine Forest: A Rare Ecosystem – by Laurie Gorham


At the top of Candlewood Hill. One pitch pine tree center right is surrounded by chestnut oak and maples and black huckleberry underneath.

On a ridge in Groton, Connecticut lies a fragile ecosystem where pitch pine exists in unusually large numbers. The ridge resides within the Candlewood Hill Wildlife Management Area, a 200 acre preserve recently acquired by the state. Both the name “candlewood,” and the vulnerability of the ridgetop ecosystem reflect this species relationship with fire.

Pitch pine, Pinus rigida, occurs naturally on sandy soil and ridge tops favoring nutrient poor, dry, and acidic environments where other species cannot survive. One of the most drought tolerant of the trees, pitch pine is common throughout Cape Cod and is the dominant tree of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Yet despite its preference for areas other species avoid, seeing a large stand of these trees in Connecticut is rare. In fact, the pitch pine forest has been identified by the Connecticut Department of Environmental and Energy Protection (CT DEEP) as one of the 13 most critically endangered ecosystems in Connecticut.

Resin oozing from a tree that had fallen over the trail and had to be cut.

The noun “candlewood” has been used to name all sorts of places: streets, health spas, mountaintops, and undoubtedly others, but the word was originally coined to denote any “resinous wood used for torches or as a substitute for candles.” Pitch pine is highly resinous which made it valuable as a source of illumination in colonial times. Colonists used slivers in place of candles and the knots as torches. In addition to being flammable and useful as lighting, resin  could be mixed with other substances or refined, yielding products such as tar, pitch, and turpentine.  Across the two-lane highway from the wildlife management property an aptly named Candlewood Street connects routes 184 and 117. Could the street be so named because of a former prevalence of pitch pine in the area?

 Immature pine cones. It takes two years for the cones to mature.

Ironically, the tree that served humans as a source of fire is also one of the most highly evolved to survive it. The thick bark, for example, (as much as 2 inches thick on a mature tree), insulates the trunk against fire damage. The bark has another secret too, for underneath the bark lies dormant, epicormic buds which can sprout should a fire burn away all its needles. The tree can also regenerate from its basal roots which sink deep into the soil. And finally, pitch pine’s cones provide what writer Charles Fergus describes as the tree’s “ace in the hole.” The tree produces some cones that are serotinous — sealed from the inside with resin that require heat to open them. Should a fire kill the tree and its roots, it will also cause the serotinous cones to split open, scattering the seeds on freshly fire cleared soil.

  Epicormic buds.

And therein lies the fragility of the pitch pine ecosystem. Although the trees are highly adaptable and can grow almost anywhere if planted by humans, they require open sunny ground to regenerate from seed. Wildfires, which would periodically clear an area of underbrush, are now suppressed, allowing shrubby undergrowth to flourish and more shade tolerant trees to creep in, crowding out the pine. Currently, within the CHWMA, black huckleberry provides the understory, blanketing the ridgetop in a near mono-culture, although it is intermixed with lowbush blueberry and a shadbush here and there, as well as drought-tolerant bear oak. All these species can regenerate from underground roots in case of fire. In the absence of it, pitch pine seedlings are shaded out by other vegetation.

Bear oak, occurring frequently with pitch pine, hosts several endangered moth species. Pink ladyslipper and wintergreen dot the shaded area beneath the shrubbery. Many birds of interest including ruffed grouse, worm-eating warbler, scarlet tanagers, and rufous-sided towhees call this place home.

Pitch pine-bear oak forests were once common along the sandy coastal plains of the northeast. Development and fire suppression have degraded pitch pine stands by an estimated 95% in Connecticut. Candlewood Hill hosts the largest contiguous stand of pitch pine in the state; yet even here, red and chestnut oak, sassafras, and the black huckleberry are quickly overtaking the pitch pine. It is hoped that once the state completes its management plan for the area, DEEP officials will begin controlled burns to protect this special habitat.

Written by Laurie Gorham

Fergus, Charles. Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2002

Many thanks to Whitney Adams for sharing his notes and sources, and to Bruce Fellman for the birds.




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Notes from the Bog…

On a beautiful day a great crew showed up in response to a call for help to span a bog area in the lower reaches of Candlewood Ridge!

The bugs were out, but it didn’t deter the hauling of supplies down the trail. The sounds of sawing and hammering, the smell of the woods warning in the sun… a quick project and, you can see fromthe expanse, well needed. Got a bit of trail marking done as well!



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April 22, 1970 and Groton’s First Earth Day

“The Groton Public Library Historical Room houses the Groton Collection—primarily books of historical and genealogical interest to the community, along with a small collection of manuscript and archival materials relating to Groton.”

The new state of the art Historical Room at Groton Public Library, housing the James L. Streeter Collection, contains fascinating historical materials and is well worth the visit! Our own Sidney Van Zandt has spent an incredible amount of time organizing and updating all the history of the activities GOSA has been involved with since it began as the “Save The Haley Farm” committee in 1967. Below is Sidney’s account of how the first Earth Day was celebrated here in Groton!

The first Earth day held in Groton was produced by the newly formed Environmental Education Committee (EEC), and the Groton Open Space Association (GOSA). It was headed by David McKain, a professor at Avery Point, and Sidney F. Van Zandt, President of GOSA.

            The celebration was held on April 22, 1970 at the University of Connecticut, Avery Point. Boat trips to Pine Island began at 9 AM ferried by Edward P. Jones of Mystic. Robert Dewire, assistant director of the Thames Science Center, conducted nature walks.

            There was a “row in” down the Thames River, Birch Plain Creek, Baker’s Cove, down the Poquonnock River, down Palmer Cove around Bluff Point Coastal Reserve, to Avery Point.

            Afternoon workshops were conducted on air, water, noise pollution, land use, zoning, environmental law, pesticides and population growth. Other events were at Mitchell College about “the little man’s contribution to pollution”. Also covered were litter, problems of DDT, water and air pollution, as well as use of natural resources.

            A tree planting ceremony at Patchaug by Connecticut College students was held to protest the proposed National Jetport Industrial City. In Stonington residents were asked to participate in a trash pick-up. Various newly formed conservation clubs in Jr. High Schools held “bike-ins”

            Anti-pollution forces took aim at the proposed Jetport by signing petitions (in an area now called “The quiet Corner” now that the opposition has won their battle.)

            Earth Day was a great success drawing more than 800 persons to the 11 workshops.

            After Earth Day students from schools all over the region became activists by forming “Ecology Clubs”, courses were given at local schools and colleges, recycling was begun by the Fitch Sr. High Conservation Group by collecting bottles across the street at the Town Annex.

Earth Day #2 1971, was again held at Avery Point with all-day activities, with many Lectures followed by weekly activities.

The EEC continued with many activities, over the next 5 years.

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Notes from Earth Day: Middle School

While Johnny Kelley and FHS were involved with Earth Day, so were the younger versions of the new environmentalists!

“I attended what was then Robert E. Fitch Junior High School (later to become Fitch Middle School) as a 7th, 8th, and 9th grader between the fall of 1970 and graduation in Spring of 1973. The 60’s and early 70’s were a time of greater consciousness as the world began to look at it’s surroundings with new awareness.

My attention as a 12-14 year old was particularly drawn to nature partly due to living in what was then a rural area of the town in close proximity to the ocean, and partly to the attention being given to the effects of pollution on our environment by the media.  I found these reports particularly distressing and, therefore, was glad of the opportunity to participate in the just-forming “Ecology Club.”  It was a small group of students and our primary job was to brake down glass soda bottles and jars dropped off by town residents.  We would go outside during our free period and load the glass into a metal drum fitted with a lid through which a hole had been drilled in order to accommodate a “masher” like a straw through a soft drink lid.  Once the glass was broken down it was combined with glass from other recycling efforts within the town and I believe was taken to a state recycling center.  It was a small contribution but we felt as if we were doing our part to contribute to the movement!”

Thanks to MG for sharing these recollections of an important time in Groton!

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Notes from Earth Week 1971

Did you know that we have Johnny Kelley and the Conservation Group at Fitch High School to thank for recycling in Groton?

In 1971, Mr. Kelley was a member of the GOSA Board, an English Teacher at Fitch High School, head of the Conservation Group at FHS, as well as the track team. This article is from the school magazine and written by him!

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Notes from a Vernal Pool

Stewards out walking The Merritt Family Forest a little while ago checked in on one of the vernal pools and found a healthy sampling of the Eastern Fairy Shrimp (Eubranchipus Verhalis).

Fairy Shrimp are an important part of the ecosystem as they are Benthic scraper feeders which eat the algae found on the bottom of vernal pools. In turn they are eaten by the Wood Frog ( and the Spotted Salamander ( which then carry those nutrients to the upland environment!

“Fairy shrimp are freshwater organisms found in small vernal pools isolated from other bodies of water, which usually dry up during the summer months. Suitable pools must be deep enough so that they don’t freeze all the way through during winter months, which would kill the developing young. Fairy shrimp are also rarely found in water warmer than 20°C. The cyst-like eggs of fairy shrimp are very robust and can be transported by the wind (if the pool has dried up) or other organisms to other pools before hatching but, once hatched, young are confined to one pool… Eggs do not hatch until the vernal pools are filled with water again, usually in October or November.”

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Notes from the Power Line Corridor

by Georgia Hann

It was an hour after noontime in the early days of November 2017, and Sidney VanZandt, Joan Smith, and Whitney Adams were poised to greet us in the parking area before the remaining homestead of the Avery-Weber family. We had just arrived at the Avery Farm Nature Preserve on the Ledyard-bound edge of Groton, ready to explore the flora as part of a series of walks designed to supplement students’ learnings about plant identification in a central undergraduate botany course at Connecticut College: Plant Systematics and Taxonomy of the Local Flora. As a member of our local chapter of WildOnes, a national organization promoting native plants and wildlife, I had been delighted to explore this area in a previous year with the expert guiding of Whitney Adams, an experience that motivated me to include this destination in our schedule of excursions. A G.O.S.A. board member since 2009 with a lifetime interest in the natural world, Adams has tempered his years of experience in biochemical research with his own diligent study of plant identification in the northeast.

Attuned to the burgeoning interest in plant and wildlife diversity that can thrive along the early successional habitats of powerline corridors, Whitney has worked to familiarize himself with the abundance of plant species that pepper the landscape along the gravel maintenance trail that cuts through the property. Powerline trails are unique because they require constant disturbance by industrial crews; as long as they are in use their vegetation will never be allowed to grow to the height of a bordering forest’s canopy, and even the undergrowth will be often trodden on and ripped up by vehicles and other machines. While this may seem destructive, there are actually certain biodiversity boons borne of this byproduct of our cultural infrastructure; these areas can sometimes provide a haven for certain short-lived species that would otherwise cease to exist in the shaded, later-successional habitats of a wooded area. The small, widely-dispersed seeds of such plants can be stored in the seed bank to await emergence after each new onslaught of disturbance.

Even with most of the tree’s leaves beneath our feet rather than adorning the branches as we crunched through the trail alongside Whitney, Sidney, and Joan, there was an abundance of plant life to explore and discover against the golden-hued backdrop of fall. As Whitney’s fountainous knowledge mingled with the new learnings of the students, we took in the spicy-mint aroma of Comptonia peregrina, soaked in the visual candy of the Ilex verticillata, and tickled our fingers on the playful prickles of the Lycopodium clavatum, all the while basking in the joyous sense of freedom afforded by our bathe in the fresh air of protected open space. Collection and removal of any live plant matter from the G.O.S.A. properties is typically prohibited, but the board granted students’ permission to collect several samples for educational and scientific purposes as part of a class project to identify and mount common local species. With permission, I also returned to make some collections for an upcoming exhibit of 100 Herbarium Specimens for 100 Years of Botany at Connecticut College on February 5th, 2018 to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of the school’s Botany Department. But far beyond any physical gains we gleaned from our journey to the Avery Farm Nature Preserve were the experiential gains of being offered shared knowledge from the generous local stewards of these precious conservation lands, and of forming new bonds with these talented and inspiring individuals. As the many strains of life that characterize the Earth’s ecosystems work in tandem to perpetuate the wholesome body that is this Earth, may we continue to work together to maintain a responsible and harmonious stewardship of the green spaces that surround us and support us.

Georgia Hann ’18 is a Mystic native who has recently completed an undergraduate degree in botany at Connecticut College in New London, CT. She intends to continue living in Southeastern CT as she pursues a lifetime of plant-related activity.   

Whitney Adams points out a stand of Toxicodendron vernix (common name “poison sumac”) across the street from the entrance to the powerline corridor trail. Photo Credit: Joan Smith





Georgia points to a delicate, light green fern called Asplenium platyneuron (common name “ebony spleenwort”) within a clonal patch of Comptonia peregrina (common name “sweet fern”). The darker green, long, slender, deeply-incised leaves of the Comptonia peregrina can also be seen in the far left lower corner of this photograph. Photo Credit: Joan Smith




An abundance of plump red berries adorns this Ilex verticillata (common name “winterberry”) found on the trail through the powerline corridor. Photo Credit: Joan Smith







Avery Farm Nature Preserve

Whitney Adams

February 5th, 2018

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