Creating young forests to save the N.E. cottontail rabbit

Twenty four girls and boys hunted pheasants over some of the finest bird dogs in Connecticut Sunday when the Groton Sportsmen’s Club opened its land for the annual youth hunt.

Mike Marchand photo, N.H. Fish & Game

Mike Marchand photo, N.H. Fish & Game

Inside the club lodge, meanwhile, the conversation was about rabbits. Bill Salisbury and Ray Thiel, two of the club’s committee chairmen, were discussing how they have been working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to manage club land for the threatened New England cottontail.

It’s being displaced by the eastern cottontail, a rabbit which is much more tolerant of humans and their suburban sprawl, Bill says.

necottontail.org

necottontail.org

Working with foresters and wildlife biologists — and supported by government grants — the club and other private landowners have been restoring woodlands to provide the native plants and the coverts New England cottontail need. Some areas required clear cutting.

When the old trees were felled, new brush appeared, and in other spots, state workers, biologists and club volunteers planted native shrubs that were grown in Connecticut nurseries.

It’s too early to tell how much the New England cottontails will benefit from the work, but Ray says that birders already are noticing that songbirds such as the eastern towhee, have moved in. The population of this beautiful sparrow has declined dramatically, due, in part, to forests maturing and the lack of new shrub growth.

Deer also love the new growth. They like it so much that the sportsmen’s club had to erect fences to keep the deer out of certain areas.

If you’re interested in learning more about Connecticut’s Young Forest Initiative, click here.

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NOAA: Warmer winter ahead for So. New England

Winter scene croppedA winter white-out in southern Rhode Island last year.

Southern New England is in for a warmer than normal winter, according to climatologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific have been near average since spring 2012, and forecasters expect that to continue through the winter. That means that neither El Niño nor La Niña is expected to influence the climate during the upcoming winter.

It’s a challenge to produce a long-term winter forecast without the climate pattern of an El Niño or a La Niña in place out in the Pacific because those climate patterns often strongly influence winter temperature and precipitation here in the United States,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Without this strong seasonal influence, winter weather is often affected by short-term climate patterns, such as the Arctic Oscillation, that are not predictable beyond a week or two. So it’s important to pay attention to your local daily weather forecast throughout the winter.”

The forecast calls for below-average temperatures in the Northern Plains and the Alaskan Panhandle. Rge forecast predicts above-average temperatures in the Southwest, the South-Central U.S., parts of the Southeast, New England and western Alaska. The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning that there is not a strong or reliable enough climate signal in these areas to favor one category over the others, so they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.

NOAA’s outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance. 

New bridge completes Grills trails in Westerly & Hopkinton #RI

New bridge enhancedHarvey Buford, left, and Ted Dionne complete a day’s work on the new bridge over Tomaquag Brook yesterday.

A new bridge, connecting the Grills Sanctuary in Hopkinton RI to the Grills Preserve in Westerly RI, may be ready for hikers this weekend. The span crosses Tomaquag Brook, connecting the 3.1-mile trail from the trailhead off Route 216 in Hopkinton (pictured below) to the parking area on Bowling Lane in the village of Bradford.

Tomaquag trail at sunsetThe top of Tomaquag Trail in Hopkinton RI at sunset yesterday

The new bridge, built by volunteers from the Hopkinton Land Trust, is less than a mile from the Polly Coon Bridge, an aluminum span, built by the Westerly Land Trust, over the Pawcatuck River.

The new bridge over Tomaquag Brook is 55 feet long, said Harvey Buford. It is about a foot higher than the 100-year-flood mark, but the boardwalks leading to it probably will be submerged in times of flooding, he said.

The new bridge has fiberglass braces and black-locust wood walkways that should endure for 100 years or so, he said.

Both of the Grills sanctuaries offer wildlife a variety of habitats, and hikers can enjoy some gorgeous New England scenery and sounds throughout the year. (For the past week, barred owls have been hooting away during the day.)

Trail maps ave available online from ExploreRI.org.

Save #CT and #RI forests to save birds, scientist says

For the first time in 300 years, residents of Rhode Island and Connecticut are seeing old-growth trees, says Robert Craig, executive director of Bird Conservation Research, Inc., a non-profit group tracking forest birds in southern New England. “Unless we set aside vast areas of forest now,” he says, the size and diversity of bird populations will be diminished.

Audubon Craig croppedCraig summarized his study, “The Forest Bird Survey of Southern New England,” at the 116th annual meeting of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island yesterday. Before he spoke, Candace Powell of Jamestown RI, Audubon’s president, reminded members that birds are indicators of health in the environment.

To save the size and diversity of bird population, it is critical to prevent the fragmentation of forests, Craig said.

His study of forest birds and their surroundings revealed the links between bird populations and habitat. “Extensive forests host the most diversity,” he said. Citing Rhode Island’s Arcadia Management Area and State Forest (which abuts Connecticut’s Pachaug State Forest) Craig said such vast tracts must be saved now, when they contain trees as old as 300 years as well as farm land.

To complete his study, Craig walked more than 1,000 miles and made 50,172 birds observation of 87 species. He examined 17,760 habitat sites.

A weekend for wildflowers and Harvestival

beach roses and daisiesIf you love wildflowers, this is the perfect time to saunter along southern New England’s coast. Inland in Massachusetts, Tower Hill Botanic Garden is celebrating Harvestival in its gardens and orchard.

beach rose croppedMontauk daisies, coastal goldenrod, and asters are among autumn’s wildflower display along the beaches of Cape Cod and Rhode Island this week. Some beach roses (pictured here) are still in blossom, and there is a bumper crop of rose hips to pick for vitamin-rich jelly. It may be a little late for beach plums, but Penny, my Brittany, and I are going to try to find some today.

One of the most beautiful displays of wild Montauk daisies is on the western side of the  Quonochontaug Breachway in Charlestown, RI.

Poison ivy, with leaves in every shade of red, is spectacular along the beaches and back roads now.

glasswort croppedIn the salt marshes, delicious glasswort (pictured at left) is changing from chartreuse to brilliant magenta now.

If cultivated gardens and orchards are more appealing to you, visit Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA during the three-day Columbus Day holiday. Harvestival, a family event, features kids activities, tours and more. Our favorite activity is the tour of the apple orchard which has the largest collection of heirloom apples in New England. There are opportunities to taste various varieties, and then purchase them.

Tower Hill will be open Saturday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admitance for non-member adults is $12, $9 for elders, and $7 for children between 6 and 18. Youngsters under 6 are admitted for free.

It’s Walktober in The Last Green Valley

Farmers Market at the Nathan Hale Homestead

Farmers Market at the Nathan Hale Homestead

It’s Walktober, a celebration of The Last Green Valley, in southern Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut, along the  Rhode Island border.

The 23rd edition of Walktober features scores of walks and paddle trips among natural wonders and important historical sites from Sturbridge, MA to Griswold, CT.

Sunday, we visited the Coventry CT Farmers Market at the Nathan Hale Homestead (pictured above), and walked around a bit through the rain. It was wet and muddy, but several children had a blast in the puddles. (And the farmers market was wonderful.)

Walktober includes 106 walks, hikes, paddles and bike rides as well as 36 events that highlight the cultural, historic or natural resources of The Last Green Valley.  The Walktober Calendar labels each walk as easy, moderate, or difficult. Many offerings are geared specifically for families with children. The family dog is welcome at pet-friendly walks. Adventurers will enjoy 13 paddles and three bike rides included in this year’s schedule. To download the schedule as a PDF file, click here.

Walktober is such a gift!

Tomaquag Brook gets a new bridge, extending trail

New bridge croppedMembers of the Hopkinton Land Trust in southern Rhode Island are building a bridge crossing Tomaquag Brook, one of the prettiest little streams in the state.

The new wooden bridge extends the white-blazed trail on the Grills Sanctuary. Earlier this year, a metal pedestrian bridge over the Pawcatuck River was completed; it connects the Grills Preserve in Westerly to the sanctuary in Hopkinton.