Friday, December 13, 2019

Aton Forest, Inc.
Ecosystem Research Station
assassin bug on a red trillium

2019 Accomplishments

Our annual winter bird count was held on December 29, 2018. We began with a search for owls at 4 am but came up empty, and then began the daylight birding a 7 am. The usual cast of characters were seen or heard; chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, blue jays, woodpeckers, juncos, robins, and a raven, but we did see a bald eagle fly over, and had a Carolina wren and an American tree sparrow near a neighbor’s bird feeder.
Kateri Kosek, a local expert birder, was hired as a seasonal bird research technician during the spring to conduct the breeding bird surveys, with support of a grant from the Hartford Audubon Society and matching donation from board member Mike Aurelia. 18th year of the Aton Forest Breeding Bird Surveys were conducted in June. The three forest interior lines were surveyed three times and the two road lines were surveyed twice.
The DEEP ruffed grouse survey was completed again this year in April and one grouse was heard this year. Last year three birds were heard during the survey. The protocol established by the State DEEP is only one survey day, A more extensive survey would probably locate more birds. Birder’s continued to come from all over the state to hear and see them here.
Botanists Chris Mangels and Steve Messier visited AF twice this year to conduct surveys of lichens here. They are interested in making a comparison of the lichens found by Smithsonian lichenologist Mason Hale, who published “The lichens of Aton Forest, Connecticut” in 1951. They plan several more surveys next year and expect to bring in some lichen specialists.
A paper on a new to Connecticut naturalized species Geum urbanum, authored by AF Fellow John Anderson and botanist William Moorhead will be published in the premier Northeast botanical journal “Rhodora” in early 2020. Anderson is also working on a paper comparing Frank Egler’s dataset of first flowers of many species of plants found on AF lands from 1948 to 1978 with his own data from 2010 to 2019. Monitoring of flowering phenology, rare plants, invasive species, pollinators, amphibians, and vernal pools continued this year. Reports on these surveys will be available soon.
A pair of sandhill cranes again returned to AF and were seen with a youngster here this fall. Two common loons were also seen this spring on nearby ponds and another chick was hatched. The loud calls of these two species can be heard often as they fly overhead. And a pair of red crossbills were reported to hatch young on or near AF this year.
Our free educational programs were held on the two Weekends In Norfolk at AF. First, we conducted our annual porcupine monitoring and did some early morning owling and wildlife tracking during Winter WIN in February. Then in August for the Summer WIN, we held a program on Naturalistic Landscaping and Plant Identification, trekking though fields around Headquarters.

For the past year we have ensuring the protection of the Spaulding Pond Preserve, a 900-acre mini-wilderness near the center of Norfolk. AF, Inc. received a conservation easement on this property back in 2016 from the Connecticut Conservation Association. During the past year we refined the map of the property to show not only the easement protected areas but also the areas not under easement but deed restricted. This required extensive work by surveyor John DiCara, who was able to map all the interior lot lines as well as the perimeter of the property and provide land record information for each of these. Attorney Fritz Gahagan was also instrumental in helping us sort out the often time confusing easements and boundaries. More importantly, however, he was able to clarify the restrictions and affirmative rights of the easements. Another matter with which we had to be concerned was the proposed sale of Spaulding Pond by the Connecticut River Conservancy (aka Connecticut River Watershed Council). Working with AF attorney Gahagan and Keith Ross of Landvest, the company handling the sale for the CRC, we are hopeful that a conservation organization with interests compatible with the unique preservation afforded by the conservation easement will be found and provide us with a new partner in protecting this wonderful preserve. We are looking for volunteers to help monitor our easement and the land, so please let us know if you are interested.

  We acquired the Danforth 15 acres in 2018, which is adjacent to other lands of AF and located on Route 183 in Colebrook. A work plan and a conservation management plan were developed for this property (a requirement of the grant, primarily to maintain the property in its undeveloped state). Activities that should be undertaken include: an annual walk-through survey and take photos; mark boundaries; monitor species, habitats, disturbance, etc.; control of invasive plants; litter collection; preserve historic features (ancient road and charcoal pits), and; prevent trespass. Volunteers are always welcome to help us with these tasks, so please contact us if you are interested.
We continued working on clearing AF’s riparian zones of invasive shrubs and trees. This work is supported by a Conservation Stewardship Program grant from the US Natural Resource Conservation Service. This is a 5-year grant, which ends this year. Approximately 3 acres of heavily to moderately infested land was treated to remove non-native barberry, honeysuckle, rose, and buckthorn. This means another 35 acres of AF riparian zone has been inspected and is clear of invasive plants, and over the life of the project, we treated about 20 acres, and 100 acres of riparian zone are now free of invasive plants, though some mop-up is to be expected. This is the second time we have received this grant, the previous grant project was to conduct an inventory of snags, downed logs and den trees from 2010-2014.

Seven workshops over 8 days were offered from January through October. Workshops ranged from identifying and understanding vernal pools, and native wildflower and pollinator identification, advanced shrub, invasive plant, sedge, and aster identification and ecology, to birding by ear. We received support from the AKC Fund.

Our free educational programs were held on the two Weekends In Norfolk at AF. First, we conducted our annual porcupine monitoring and did some early morning owling and wildlife tracking during Winter WIN in February. Then in August for the Summer WIN, we held a program on Naturalistic Landscaping and Plant Identification, trekking though fields around Headquarters.
We had a presence at several conferences and meetings within the past year, having a table or poster at three: Northeast Natural History Conference, CIPWG Invasive Plants Symposium, Connecticut Association of Wetland Scientists, Smaller American Lawns Today Conference, Connecticut Conference on Natural Resources, New Directions in the American Landscape Symposium, and Connecticut Botanical Society Annual Meeting.

A Kindness In Motion luncheon fundraiser organized by 16 year-old Ryan Carrigan  was very successful. This event was done entirely by high school students, who planned it, sold tickets and prepared all the food. Nearly $2,000 was raised, netting AF, Inc. $1,257. Thank you, Northwestern Regional students!

Field Station facilities:
Besides the AF Headquarters (the old Egler House) and housing for the executive director, AF, Inc. owns two other buildings providing quarters for those who visit AF. Both were small residences and will be made available for a fee to researchers, educators, students, workshop participants, birders, and other visitors interested in research or educational experiences that AF can provide. The Aton Forest office is maintained in the Egler House, which also has a meeting space with Victorian d├ęcor. There is classroom/laboratory space in this building, which also houses an herbarium and insect collection. We can provide dissecting scopes and some field research equipment for researchers, educators and students for use on AF property. Contact us for more information:

AKC Fund grant to support AF workshops and education programs.
Conservation Stewardship Program grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, for good land stewardship and conducting an invasive plant survey and control project along riparian zones.
Hartford Audubon for to hire a research technician to for the breeding bird study.
ESRI non-profit discount for ArcMap GIS software.
Audubon ILF grant for Danforth 15 ac. acquisition.

Aton Forest, Inc.
ecosystem research station
Bill Tilles, President
John Cox, Vice-president
Billy Gridley, Secretary
Rick Golin, Treasurer
Michael Aurelia
Betsy Corrigan
Andy Gregory
Matthew Johnson
Leslie Watkins
Fran Zygmont
Emeritus Board Members
Glenn Dreyer (active 1990-2014)
Robert Moeller (active 1990-2016)
Paul Lagel (active 2001-2018)
Past Original Board Members:
Frank Egler, Founder (1990-1996, d. 1996)
William Niering (1990-1999, d. 1999)
Michael Lefor (1990-2000, d. 2000)
Roland Clement (1990-2008, Emeritus, d. 2015)
William Urban (1990-2016, Emeritus, d. 2019)
John Anderson, Executive Director and Aton Forest Fellow