Owning 235 acres can be daunting at times. So many questions about doing the right thing, doing too much, too little, which management technique, etc. That’s when it’s a good time to have a talented team. Ours is led by ecologist extraordinaire Jeff Littleton of Moosewood Ecological. Jeff has created management plans, hired and trained interns, and done annual surveys of birds, herps (amphibians and reptiles), mammals, vernal pools, pollinators, just about anything that wiggles, flies, walks, runs or crawls across the landscape. And that’s just a tiny portion of all the amazing things he does. He installed several trail cameras throughout the property to monitor wildlife movement (and occasionally landowners & dog). Since we have so much land, we don’t often see animals but know they are around by looking at the camera photos or tracking in the winter.
But we also like to walk on the landscape, so part of the planning included the design and installation of trails, about 6 miles of them crisscrossing the acreage. This enables us to walk silently and observe rather than bushwhacking noisily. Trails are maintained by interns each summer who also participate in ecological monitoring, invasive species management, brush cutting and many other tasks.
Thanks to an NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program grant, our work continues across the landscape. We are installing another 1.5 acres of pollinator habitat targeting monarch butterflies, adding shrubs along the woodland edges to increase habitat diversity as well as pollen and nectar resources for pollinators, managing invasive plants, creating patch openings to enhance wildlife nesting habitats for a variety of warblers and other birds that have experienced population declines over the past few decades, and forest stand improvements to release crop trees to increase food for wildlife such as acorns, beech nuts, hazelnuts, and black cherries.
One of the priorities for our land stewardship is to create more shrubland and early successional habitat, a critically rare type of wildlife habitat in New Hampshire. Shrubland and early successional habitat includes areas of dense, young trees and shrubs with scattered patches of wildflowers and ferns that provide habitat for 139 species of wildlife, not including the numerous pollinators found in these habitats. Once abundant during the mid-1800’s and early 1900s, our forests have matured leaving less shrubland and early successional habitat. As a result, there has been a dramatic decrease in the abundance and distribution of various wildlife such as bees, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and mammals.
We recently met with Matt Tarr, a UNH Cooperative Extension wildlife biologist, who helped assess the early successional and shrubland habitat we’ve created. This type of management targeted 15 acres of forest adjacent to various open habitats, including a pollinator meadow, shrublands, and a restored small orchard. The goal was to provide complimentary wildlife habitat beneficial for many species known to use the property, as well as to attract new species. It is always a good idea to get advice from experts as you make changes. New perspectives and ideas emerge that enrich the work you are doing.
Matt was very excited to see how the management was responding! Through our stewardship practices we have not only increased the abundance of wildlife, but we’ve also attracted new species not previously documented. Eastern cottontails are now bounding around, and occasionally provide us a quick glimpse as they take cover in the dense shrubs.
In addition, we did a small patch cut to open a stand of hemlocks and diversify habitat for birds and others critters. The spring migration of birds demonstrated the effectiveness of the management. We are also noticing different birds using this site during the breeding season. We hope our early successional habitats will continue to attract more prey so that predators will maintain their presence on this landscape.
We installed bluebird boxes last fall in anticipation of the following nesting season. We were excited to see a pair has already produced an egg. We’ve added a wood duck nest box along the shoreline edge, and plan to add another nest box adjacent to the shrubby outlet of the pond where we have observed wood ducks during spring migration. Additionally, we leave many snags and large dead trees in the forest and along forest edge. These provide potential denning and nesting sites for a host of species, such as owls, flying squirrels, fishers, kestrel falcons, and bees. Some of these snags succumb to rot and gravity, falling to the forest floor where they provide excellent microhabitats for salamanders, frogs, and insects while they decay and feed the soils and plant life.
Since pollinators -are a big part of what we do, we leave hollow-stemmed plants to provide nesting sites and have protected a sandy area for ground-nesting species. We also leave brush piles scattered about for nesting, cover, and over-wintering. Patience is an important part of planting pollinator habitat. The area we seeded last fall still doesn’t look like much. It certainly is not instant habitat in a jar. It can take 3-4 years for the area to begin to mature. But monitoring at all phases helps us understand how species diversity and numbers change as the habitat changes.
We are so fortunate to have this land for us and critters- large and small- to roam. Plus knowing we are contributing to the long-term welfare of so many species that call the Monadnock Region home.
If you'd like to explore this property in person, join the Cheshire County Conservation District on Thursday, July 12th from 4pm-5:30pm for Landscaping for Wildlife - Part II. Registration is required!
Written by: Amy Bodwell
CCCD Board Vice-Chair