Land Trust Report Spring 2020

by Bob Miller

View of Fishers Island Sound from Chocomount Cove Sanctuary Trail.

Although many of the Museum’s functions have been cancelled or curtailed due to the coronavirus, use of the trails and properties of the Land Trust has increased dramatically as people have sought activities consistent with social distancing. Individuals and cohorts can be seen at all times of day in the woods and fields, many with copies of the new Trail Guide provided last year.

It seems appropriate to include in this edition of the newsletter photos of a few of the spectacular overlooks available on our nature trails. These overlooks make for appealing destinations for outings in our sanctuaries.

Completely understandably, the Fire Department could not assemble to supervise the burning of the southern portion of the Middle Farms grassland in March as planned. Approximately half of this area has now been mowed, but clearing was suspended in April due to spring flooding, the arrival of exceptional numbers of woodcock, and the imminent arrival of other ground-nesting birds. We hope to clear the rest of this area through mowing in the fall so that burning can continue on the same cycle in December of 2020 or very early spring of 2021.

Our stewardship coordinator, Jack Schneider, was able to resume visits to the Island in March under an isolation protocol approved by Dr. Chris Ingram. We are happy to say that with Jack here the Land Trust has been able to accommodate this unexpectedly popular off-season use of trails, as well as to prepare for continuing safe and pleasurable use as the summer approaches. The Land Trust has access this year to a used pickup truck purchased last season, and to a light and versatile 2-wheeled tractor and other power equipment.

A license agreement has been agreed between the Town of Southold and the Museum whereby the Museum acquires a 10-year exclusive right to manage the 5-acre parcel acquired by the Town with “2% Funds” along with contiguous properties on the north shore of Middle Farms Pond long owned outright by the Museum. While the final license was apparently not signed by the Town at its March 24 meeting due to the coronavirus, we were authorized to complete a path to integrate the parcels, and it is nearing completion, and will very shortly be ready for use, with signage in place by summer. The path wends through beautiful woodlands carpeted with mayflowers and has several lovely vistas of Middle Farms Pond.

During the Thanksgiving weekend last year, an exceptionally large number of volunteers joined Jack and Board Members Scott Reid and Megan Raymond for a major cleanup of plastic and other debris on Stony Beach and the area south of the oyster ponds, and for a major clearing of several of our trails. Extreme winds in the late fall and winter caused an extraordinary amount of tree damage and trail blockages. These were promptly dealt with by Scott Reid, Walker Reid, Buford Reid, Tim Patterson, and JR Edwards, among others, and all trails are clear as of this writing.

The osprey nest on the shore of Beach Pond blew down in the fierce winds as well. The nest platform and pole were found by Ken Edwards washed up on the east end some years ago. Ken, assisted by JR Edwards, Jim Baker, and staff of the utility company were able to erect the nest platform with a sturdier support pole over the winter, and an active osprey pair is using it now.

Elizabeth McCance and Jack have collaborated with the faculty of the Fishers Island School on a conservation course in which a number of students participated. Unfortunately the program was not completed due to the school closing, but hopefully this collaboration will resume in the fall. Also, Elizabeth, Jack and members of our Land Trust Committee have begun an effort to build on the science developed by the Yale interns who surveyed our sanctuary areas in 2012 by reviewing and expanding the studies of environmental values and characteristics of ten areas linked by similarity of habitat.

One of the great satisfactions of spending time on Fishers Island is a heightened awareness of natural rhythms and cycles–tides, bird migrations, changes in vegetation. Being in the sanctuaries and on the trails has felt like a special gift for many of us during this period of disrupted normal patterns. We hope that all Island residents will be able to return soon as summer approaches and the richness and diversity of our flora and fauna reaches peak.