Join Peter Picone and Ron Pitz for a guided tour of Hawk Hill Farm’s beautiful, gently sloping trails. Peter is an urban wildlife biologist at the State Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, and Ron is the former executive director of Knox Foundation (and regular volunteer at Hawk Hill). They will discuss the property’s many champion trees, native plants, and efforts to identify and control invasive plants.
The walk will be approximately 1 mile. Please expect to practice “social distancing” even as we come together to learn more about this site. Heavy rain cancels. (Co-sponsored by the North Central Conservation District, and rescheduled from their April 25 plant sale weekend.)
Update from Charlie Horn: A recording of Margery Winters’ online webinar is available on our YouTube Channel, and Margery shared Planting for Pollinators filled with additional resources for protecting our native pollinators. Many thanks to our cosponsors: Bloomfield Beautification Committee, Bloomfield Conservation, Energy & Environment Committee, Bloomfield Leisure Services, and Simsbury Land Trust.
Margery is Assistant Director of the Roaring Brook Nature Center, President of the Simsbury Land Trust, and Chair of the Simsbury Conservation Commission, and her expertise was clear. She provided a riveting and information-packed talk followed by a lively Q & A to a large virtual audience. We gained a clear idea of the dangers pollinators are facing, especially our native pollinators, and she provided us with many ways to help protect and enhance pollinators:
Half of all plant species depend upon pollinators to survive. In Connecticut over 300 native bee species have evolved to depend on native plants. For example, the native Miner Bee feeds primarily on the Trout Lily, a lovely early spring wildflower whose flowers emerge just as the bee breaks dormancy, the Spicebush Swallowtail needs the native Spicebush, the Monarch Butterfly needs Milkweed to survive, and many other native pollinators are similarly adapted to forage on specific plants. An alarming decline in native pollinators is occurring due to loss of habitat for the native plants (often replaced by lawns – “a biological wasteland” – or pretty, non-native ornamentals that support far fewer caterpillars and provide less nutrition to pollinators), contamination from non-native commercial bees, and more extreme weather due to climate change. Also more broad-spectrum pesticides are used in urban yards than in agricultural areas, creating seriously negative impacts on native pollinators and resulting in more pesticides in urban streams than in agricultural streams.
What we choose to plant in our yards can have a big impact. Native plants are best to serve the specialized native pollinators. For example, native shrubs such as the American Dogwood do “double duty” offering both flowers and berries that are the right size for local birds, whereas Kousa Dogwoods are non-native with berries enjoyed by monkeys but too large for our birds. Plant for a full season of flowers, and be sure to include trees such as Red Maples and Shadbush that flower early. Goldenrod (not its allergy-inducing neighbor Ragweed) and the late-blooming Witch Hazel give pollinators good late forage. Mountain Mint is an absolute must and a very important plant for pollinating insects. It makes Bee Balm pale in comparison! Try planting in masses as it makes it easier for the pollinators when they don’t have to hopscotch over a garden to get to a specific plant.
She also recommended providing some water and a wet area for “puddling,” especially now as we are in a period of drought. Use non-toxic methods to control pests, and get rid of standing water on your property to deter mosquitoes before treating chemically.
More welcome advice was to let our yards be a bit messy! Give the solitary nesting native bees and other hibernating pollinators places to abide the winter in the brush pile, an unpruned shrub, or an unmulched bare spot. Seed pods on spent flower heads are a good source of food in the fall, so leave them standing. Leaves are a much better mulch than bark mulch, so do less raking. Bring some life into that barren lawn space, and let your lawn grow native violets and clover by raising the mower blade or even converting some of your yard to meadow. When asked about how to avoid running afoul of local weed ordinances or complaints of a messy yard, she responded she has found that making the yard look “intentional” by mowing borders and a path helps placate others.
Update from Zellene Sandler: Have you ever stroked a snake? They are smooth and cool to the touch, rather like satin. I like snakes, and Adam Harris’ webinar on Reptiles and Amphibians did not disappoint. It reflected his love and respect for these often feared or maligned creatures. Adam is the son of Seth Harris, founder of Harris in Wonderland, located at 364 Albany Turnpike in Canton. He earned a biology degree at Hartwick College and has been keeping and breeding reptiles for more than 20 years.
Adam began his talk with an easy-going, attractive Corn Snake and moved on to native Black Rat, Timber Rattler and other exotics, including his 12 foot long Ball Python which weighs 40 pounds! Adam displayed each snake and described its disposition, habitat, and diet.
Moving on to amphibians, Harris showed frogs and toads, a Bearded Dragon, a Leopard Gecko, and a lovely Tegu, indicating which make good pets. He also discussed the differences between turtles and tortoises and cautioned against releasing pet Red-Eared Sliders into the wild because of how they can harm native turtle populations.
Adam’s message was clear about our native reptiles and amphibians: the snakes are doing a good service for the environment by controlling rodents in our crop fields and gardens, and our frogs and toads control insects. He encourages us to enjoy these unique and useful creatures for what they are – even if they make us jump a bit when we find them in our yards!
This event was co-sponsored by Bloomfield Leisure Services. Thank you!
Wintonbury Land Trust held its annual membership meeting online so participants could reconnect, ask questions about the annual report distributed last month, and elect members to the board of directors. Below are links to some of the materials shared for the meeting:
- Annual Report with highlights of the year and a photo slide show
- Treasurer’s Report summary and details
- Election of the Board of Directors
- Upcoming events, especially Wine & Dine on September 26
- Recognition of volunteers and sponsors, including our major event supporters
- Met Hawk Hill Farm’s new tenant: The 4 Five Farm
The group hiking events planned across the state became do-it-yourself hikes to help ensure everyone’s safety. Most remain listed on the CT Trails Day website, many with videos to help plan your adventure. So in addition to the Land Trust’s trails, we encourage you to enjoy the three hikes we had planned locally to explore our community’s wildlife and scenic views.
Update: Although mosquitoes transmitting malaria receive the most attention globally, in the U.S. the majority of vector-borne diseases are transmitted by ticks. Dr. Kirby Stafford, III, State Entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, partnered with the Land Trust and Bloomfield Leisure Services to present a webinar on the natural history of ticks and health risks of tick-borne diseases. Additional information can be found in CAES’ online brochure, Ticks, Lyme Disease, and Other Tick-Borne Diseases.
Of the 16 tick species native to Connecticut, only 4 transmit bacteria or viruses to humans: Blacklegged Tick (the most common at ~80% of the ticks submitted to the Station for testing), American Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick (uncommon here but the most common in the southeast), and Woodchuck Tick (rarely bites humans). These are most commonly associated with Lyme disease (the most common at ~68% of tick-borne illnesses in the U.S.), Babesiosi, and Anaplasmosis. Researchers also are monitoring the invasive Asian Longhorned Ticks because it can cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These illnesses can present with a variety of rashes, fevers, muscle and joint pain, nausea, fatigue, and in some cases serious, long-lasting health problems.
Ticks are terrestrial insects found on the ground and lower vegetation where they can reach animals to feed on blood during the larval, nymph, and adult stages of their life cycle, mostly small rodents and birds but also deer, dogs, and humans. Only half of adult ticks may be infected and able to transmit a pathogen during a bite, and their populations are greatest in the spring and fall. But though far fewer may be infected, nymphs cause more infections because they are harder to see and most common in the summer when we are active outside.
So reducing leaf litter, invasive plants, and small rodent habitat in our yards can be among the most effective methods to reduce our exposure to tick bites. Wearing long pants and high socks treated with permethrin (min 0.5%) repellent is the most recommended personal protection method. When that’s not possible, DEET (min 25-30%), Picaridin (min 20%), or oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (min 30%) can help. Keep in mind it can take 24-36 hours for an infected tick to transmit a pathogen during a bite, so simply checking for and removing ticks remains your best defense.
Update: No snow? No problem! On February 22 we held our annual winter hike in the Land Trust’s Speer Preserve. Led by Board member Dale Bertoldi, sixteen enthusiastic hikers (and three dogs, also enthusiastic!) enjoyed two hours of splendid conditions on the Preserve’s loop trails, across stunning cliff outcroppings, past a beautiful pond, and over three bubbling streams. While it was disappointing not to be able to snowshoe on this winter hike, the unusually mild and almost snowless winter made for great hiking in the upland forest, with little ice on the trails or streams. (Photo credit Dale Bertoldi.)
Join us at the Land Trust’s Speer Preserve for a winter outing. Come early and be prepared to be on the trails shortly after 9:30 a.m. The trail is easy to moderate and the hike lasts about one and a half to two hours.
Speer Preserve is an upland forest surrounded by open land and MDC Reservoir property. Speer is an outing experience reminiscent of winter in the Vermont woods. Hard to believe Bloomfield Center is just minutes from Juniper Road.
Please come with snowshoes if we have snow, or hiking boots if there is no snow. Wear seasonal outdoor clothing. Meet at the cul-de-sac at the top of Juniper Road in Bloomfield. Rain date is Sunday, February 23.
As twilight falls we’ll head up the old farm road to Hawk Hill for views of the Metacomet Ridge and Hartford skyline illuminated by the colors of the setting sun and the light of the rising almost-full moon. Sturdy footwear required and a flashlight recommended.
Not up for a hike? Meet at the barn at 5:00 for a warm fire and light snacks, ready to welcome back our group shortly thereafter. It’ll be a good chance to catch up with friends … and ask us about on-going Land Trust projects. Dress in layers and let us know if you’d like to bring something.
Update: Thirty-six hikers participated in our sixth annual regional hike. After being rained out last year, it was a beautiful, clear fall day with near-peak fall foliage color. From SLT’s Tanager Hill parcel we ascended 540’ through ravines, orchards, and former farm fields to Penwood State Park’s Lake Louise. We climbed to the Pinnacle where we enjoyed stunning views of the Farmington River Valley.
We then descended to WLT’s Stout Family Fields and hiked across WLT’s Hawk Hill Farm to our end-point at the Oliver Filley House in Bloomfield’s LaSalette Park. For those wanting more mileage, WLT President Vic Herson led the way to Filley Park in Bloomfield’s center.
Thanks to Kevin Gough, Sally and Don Rieger, Vic Herson, and Dale Bertoldi for planning the hike and Paula Jones for the pictures. Thanks also to Bloomfield Leisure Services for providing a shuttle. And thanks to everyone who participated in this annual event showcasing the town-to-town trail connectivity the two land trusts have created between our communities.
Why do we love our butterflies, swallows and bees, but not bats? Bats perform many of the same services, and more, yet many folks fear them or at least don’t appreciate them. Is it because they fly at night, or because of vampire myths? We can dispel these fears with some knowledge.
The average bat in Connecticut can consume its body weight each night in insects, including mosquitoes and agricultural pests such as moths. Worldwide bats pollinate over 400 species of plants, including cocoa, bananas and agave. What’s a world without chocolate or tequila? Bats eat insects that infest corn and other important crops, estimated to save $3.7 billion in reduced crop damage and reduced need for pesticides in the US.
So-called vampire bats, which only occur in Central and South America, don’t suck blood, but make a small incision in an animal or bird and lick the blood. The anti-coagulant in their saliva, called Draculin, is being studied for use in heart and stroke medications. Even their guano is useful for fertilizers. In the Civil War, the Confederacy used bat guano to make gunpowder.
Bats are not rodents. Close-ups of their faces are rather cute. They are the only mammals that can truly fly. They fly by echolocation and don’t get tangled in your hair. Though rabies occurs in bats, only 1% of the population carries the disease.
In Connecticut, there are eight species of bats, all of which are in grave danger of extinction or serious decline. Big Brown Bats are the most common, followed by Little Brown Bats. Bats reproduce slowly, with each mother producing only one or two pups each year. Mating occurs in fall and by July the pups fly. In September, bats migrate to caves and mines, mostly in Vermont, where they hibernate until spring.
Bats are in trouble in many areas of the world. In Connecticut, 95 percent of our Connecticut bats have been lost due to White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a disease imported from Asia in 2006. However, there is some hope, as ultraviolet light has proved successful in eradicating the disease. More research is needed on how this treatment affects cave environments. Wind turbines are another serious threat to bats, adding to the decline. As Connecticut adds more wind power to its renewable portfolio, it would do well to look to Hawaii, which is providing a good example of how careful regulation of the wind industry may be able to minimize the toll on bats and birds through careful planning and siting of wind turbines.
How can we help our bats? Blueprints for bat houses and other information are available at www.batcon.org. Maternity roosts need to be very warm, so place them on a pole or building facing south. We can plant gardens for bats, especially those with pollinator plants that will attract night-flying moths, a favorite food for bats. We can advocate for bats. And just in time for Hallowe’en, Bat Week is October 24 -31! Learn more about these wonderful creatures by visiting www.batweek.org. So what’s not to love?
By Zellene Sandler, land trust member