Stratford Salute

Audubon Accolades from “On the Wing”

Cover Photo by Mark Brucker

2022 was a big year for Connecticut’s shorebirds and seabirds. From nest monitoring to bird banding to outreach on the beach and more, Audubon staff and volunteers worked hard to make sure the 2022 season was full of many significant conservation wins and accomplishments, including:

  • A record-setting nesting season for all three of our focal species—Piping Plovers, American Oystercatchers, and Least Terns—that showed improvement from previous years.
  • Continued American Oystercatcher banding efforts that have now amounted to 28% of Connecticut’s breeding population being banded.
  • Completion of the first phases of the monumental Great Meadows Marsh salt marsh restoration project in Stratford, with the help of more than 150 volunteers and staff.

For threatened and endangered species, every fledged chick is a success and a sign that our hard work is worth it. All three of our focal species—Piping Plovers, American Oystercatchers, and Least Terns—had excellent nesting seasons in 2022!

In total, we monitored 66 pairs of Piping Plovers during the 2022 season. These pairs produced 97 total fledglings, adding up to a productivity of 1.51 fledglings per pair. Compared to the 2021 nesting season, this year we had more pairs, more fledged chicks, and a higher productivity—all sure signs that the population is growing!

American Oystercatchers also had a successful breeding season, with 79 confirmed breeding pairs out of a population of 200 individuals—an increase of 28% over the last decade. These pairs successfully fledged 62 chicks, amounting to a productivity of 0.78 fledglings per pair. This is higher than the 0.5 fledglings per pair recovery goal for this species, and our highest number of fledged chicks since we started this work in 2012.

The 247 pairs of Least Terns we monitored fledged 211 chicks, adding up to a productivity of 0.85 fledglings per pair. This is the highest number of fledged least terns we’ve had in years, and significantly higher than the 0.11 productivity from the 2021 nesting season.

 

Bands for Birds

Catching and banding fledgling American Oystercatchers helps us understand how to conserve them. Photo: Beth Amendola/Audubon

In addition to monitoring, we also continued our banding efforts with the American Oystercatcher. To date, we have banded 45 adults (making up 28% of Connecticut’s breeding population) and 17 pre-fledge chicks. The bands allow us to learn all about where birds go, and when, so we can better understand their movements and what it will take to conserve these birds.

Point of view shot of a person holding a scruffy fledgling American Oystercatcher. Around its legs are numbered yellow bands and silver bands.

This year, we got a surprise visit from two birds we had banded in 2020 and hadn’t sighted since—the first of the 17 chicks we’ve banded to be re-sighted returning to CT! You can help the American Oystercatcher banding project by reporting any sightings of banded oystercatchers to the American Oystercatcher Working Group.

Least Terns:  The 247 pairs of Least Terns we monitored fledged 211 chicks, adding up to a productivity of 0.85 fledglings per pair. This is the highest number of fledged least terns we’ve had in years, and significantly higher than the 0.11 productivity from the 2021 nesting season. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers, staff, and partners, Least Terns were able to have a successful nesting season.

Front view of a Least Tern chick nestled underneath a Least Tern adult. The chick’s head pokes out from under the adult as it opens its beak. Photo: Fabiola Forns/Audubon Photography Awards

“2022 was a very successful year for CT’s beach-nesting birds thanks to hundreds of volunteers, field staff, wildlife guards, municipalities, and partners,” explains Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Audubon CT’s Director of Bird Conservation. “We are so thankful for to everyone for their time and efforts protecting our birds and their habitats!”

For the first time since 2020, our volunteer numbers returned to their pre-Covid numbers. As a result of holding our annual training virtually, we were able to reach a record number of 173 volunteers this season. All of their hard work added up to an amazing 1,376 volunteer hours.

With the help of our volunteers, techs, interns, and WildLife Guards, we were able to set up string fencing, install enclosures, monitor our many pairs of nesting shorebirds, and spread the word on protecting beach-nesting birds by engaging with beachgoers, boaters, and other members of the public.

An integral part of this successful season were the WildLife Guards, a group of 16 high school students and their college-age Crew Leaders who spent the summer on the beaches, monitoring shorebirds and educating and engaging beachgoers on shorebird conservation.

This year marked the first year where the WildLife Guards took part in a pair of “swap” days with one of Audubon Connecticut’s other youth conservation groups, the Junior Forest Technicians (JFT) from Bent of the River Audubon Center. In addition to learning new skills of their own, they were able to show the JFTs what its like to be a WildLife Guard, including shorebird monitoring, shorebird identification, and outreach.

Significant Salt Marsh Restoration

Partnerships with Connecticut’s environmental conservation officers and the Connecticut Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection Boating Division also helped us expand our outreach capabilities.

Outreach on the Beach

Beaches are not the only habitat that Connecticut’s shorebirds focus on, nor are shorebirds the entire focus of our coastal conservation work. Another invaluable habitat is the salt marsh, essential habitat for birds like the declining Saltmarsh Sparrow.

Throughout the course of this year, Audubon Connecticut, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the State of Connecticut, and the Town of Stratford, implemented the largest salt marsh restoration project in the state’s history at the Great Meadows Marsh in Stratford, CT.

Thanks to the hard work of our partners, Salt Marsh Stewards, crew leaders, and more than 150 volunteers, we were able to complete the first phases of the project and held a ribbon-cutting to celebrate this in August. We look forward to continuing the implementation of this restoration project and sharing progress as we do so!

Just a reminder, please be good environmental stewards and respect our environment.

Connecticut Audubon’s newest preserve: Stratford Point, a conservation centerpiece in a rich ecological region

Connecticut Audubon kicked off its 125th anniversary year by announcing the acquisition of the Stratford Point preserve, a 28-acre coastal habitat in the heart of one of the state’s most important environmental regions.

Stratford Point sits on a peninsula in Stratford, jutting into Long Island Sound and the mouth of the Housatonic River estuary. It features coastal grasslands and shrubs, salt marsh, a north-facing beach, and a coastal trail with panoramic views of the water.

Relatively isolated between the water and the adjacent neighborhood, it attracts migratory songbirds by the score and supports a growing Purple Martin colony. More than 30 species of waterfowl have been seen resting and feeding on nearby waters.

Stratford Point features a short coastal trail with panoramic views of Long Island Sound. Photo by Gilles Carter.

Its location, varied habitats, and commanding viewpoint have given birders the opportunity to see 300 species, as recorded on eBird, including rarities such as White-tailed Kite, Long-tailed Jaeger, Cory’s Shearwater, and Snowy Owl.

Stratford Point sits in an area rich with birds, fish, and other marine life, including vast oyster beds. Nearby are the 699-acre Great Meadows salt marsh in Stratford, part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge; the 840-acre Charles B. Wheeler Salt Marsh in Milford, and the Milford Point Coastal Center.

Stratford Point is also the site of important coastal resiliency research being conducted and overseen by Sacred Heart University and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The new preserve is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The sanctuary’s main building will be closed until renovations can be completed. With the acquisition, Connecticut Audubon now stewards 22 sanctuaries around the state for conservation and public enjoyment.

“Connecticut Audubon now has two locations as centerpieces of its conservation and environmental education work in the heart of one of Connecticut’s most ecologically important areas,” Connecticut Audubon Executive Director Patrick Comins said. “Our statewide vision is to conserve the natural world for birds and other wildlife, and to share the joys of nature with all.  This acquisition is 100 percent in keeping with that vision.”

Stratford Point History

Stratford Point was the home of the Remington Arms Gun Club, which operated a shooting range there for decades. DuPont acquired Remington Arms in the 1940’s and operated the trap and skeet range until 1986.  A large-scale clean-up of lead shot and target fragments was completed in the early 2000’s. DuPont and Remington Arms became subsidiaries of Corteva Agriscience in 2019.

Connecticut Audubon and then Audubon Connecticut, the state office of the National Audubon Society, maintained an office and conducted conservation work there in the intervening years, until Corteva donated the land to Connecticut Audubon.

Mike Liberati, the principal project director for Corteva, said, ““Connecticut Audubon Society has been a key partner in the restoration of this important coastal habitat. We are pleased with the property’s transformation, and it’s future use as a conservation and education resource.”

The land is already protected from development by a conservation easement. But by becoming its owner, Connecticut Audubon will be able ensure that its habitats are properly managed for the benefit of the region’s wildlife. Habitat work there will build on the success of ongoing coastal habitat work at the Milford Point Coastal Center and at the H. Smith Richardson Wildlife Sanctuary in Westport.

Connecticut Audubon became the owner on December 29, 2022. Board members Kathleen Van Der Aue and John Tower led the transaction team for Connecticut Audubon.  Connecticut Audubon is grateful to Corteva for the donation, and to Corteva, the CT DEEP and Audubon Connecticut for its stewardship of the property over the years.

 

Boat be Gone

Russian Beach Sailboat Sent to Scrapyard

A sailboat that washed up on Russian Beach in June was sent off to a final resting place on Friday the 13th.

Calls to Stratford Public Works, Stratford Police Department, Department of Environmental Protection Abandoned Boat Division, , First District Town Councilman Chris Pia went unanswered.

A call to State Representative Joe Gresko (D) not only was answered, he knew what to do!  He enlisted the aid of the Long Island Soundkeeper, Bill Lucey.  The Soundkeeper showed up with a chain saw, sawzall, and many shovels.  Emma, assistant to the Soundkeeper, was also enlisted.

After using the chain saw and sawzall pieces of the boat needed to be moved – and it became apparent the help was needed!  A call for help from Labozzo Electric (company building new condos on Washington Parkway gave us 2 much younger men to help out.

New recruits Gage Dias and Andrew Labozzo joined in.

State Representive Joe Gresko

 

Soundkeeper Bill Lucey and assistant Emma

Electricity Rates Still a Charged Issue

Source: Trica Ennis, Connecticut Investigator; Ownerly; Hartford Courant; Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT Mirror;

Connecticut residents paid some of the highest amounts for electricity in the United States, second only to Hawaii, according to a new analysis from Ownerly.

The report analyzed electricity price data from the Energy Information Administration to determine which states saw the greatest price increases in 2022. In total, they discovered that 18 states, including Connecticut, saw increases of at least 10%.

Connecticut, specifically, saw an increase of 10.4% overall, and average Connecticut electric consumers spent $173.16 per month. Hawaiians spent more than $200 per month after their electric bills increased by an average of $40.

The rest of New England fared slightly better, though Maine saw the highest increase in the nation, as bills went up 31.26%. Still, Maine residents paid some of the lowest dollar amounts in the region, with average monthly bills of $126.

Vermont saw the lowest electricity costs with an average monthly bill of $114. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island customers, meanwhile, spent between $130-147 per month.

According to Ownerly, “inflation, a rebounding economy, and fuel-related repercussions from the Ukraine conflict” all contributed to a 40-year high in energy prices across the country last year.

Those factors don’t seem to be lessening any time soon. On January 1st of this year, customers of both Eversource Energy and United Illuminating saw a doubling of electric supply rates which will remain in effect through the end of June. Those rate hikes will result in an average bill increase of 40%, which amounts to an extra $80 per month for the average consumer.

Energy costs are likely to be a hot topic during the recently convened legislative session, as residents feeling the pinch from increased monthly expenses put pressure on Representatives to do something about it.

Connecticut’s first-ever Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), released 10 years ago, was built around natural gas. Gas was cheap, plentiful and cleaner than oil or coal. It was touted as a bridge from those fuels to renewables for electric power, and better than oil for heating. The CES set out to convert hundreds of thousands of homes to gas heat.

But that strategy came with a big red flag, now all too familiar.  “The interstate pipeline system that supplies Connecticut’s natural gas is already constrained, and there is limited liquified natural gas (LNG) capacity in Connecticut. At current use rates, there will not be enough interstate pipeline, storage, or peaking capacity to serve a large-scale addition of new customers,” the CES said. “Underestimating and purchasing too little capacity could lead to reliability issues (i.e., a shortfall in supply during peak winter season).”

And that is precisely what happened. Ten years later we are facing another winter of price-spiking, hand-wringing and finger-pointing over the current shortfall.  Only this time it’s worse, thanks to a cutback in fuel production during the pandemic and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

If there were any doubts, just look at what happened over the extremely cold Christmas weekend. During peak hours on Christmas Eve, some power generators experienced outages. Expected imports of power — apparently from Canada — were unavailable. ISO-New England, which runs the regional grid, had to declare an energy alert and for a short time wholesale energy prices on the spot market hit more than $2,800. Prices above $100 are considered elevated.

At a nearly three-hour public meeting on January 3d conducted by PURA to address increases in Eversource electric rates.  The utility operates in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire and has announced the doubling of rates from 12.05 cents per kilowatt hour to 24.172 cents in Connecticut as of January 1st.  Officials from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, representatives from Eversource and about 160 others, began discussing the energy price crisis — which is region-wide — and looking for ways states can pool efforts to find solutions, especially when it comes to procuring energy.

But with different procedures and energy policies in each state, a common solution was not apparent. And, even if reached, still wouldn’t address the longstanding supply problem.

Additionally, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority(PURA) has opened an inquiry into the Eversource price increases, hoping to better understand how the utility sets and alters its supply rates.

In November, Gov. Ned Lamont announced a short-term relief plan that would give Eversource customers a monthly credit of about $10. Also, the legislature has planned to give an additional $30 million to the federally financed Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Another way to assist would be by “diverting some money from other sources,” Martin  Looney, President Pro Tempore of the Connecticut State Senate, stated. “And I think that when something like this happens and creates a hardship and a crisis for customers, Eversource has a responsibility to use some of its own resources, its own reserves, perhaps have their shareholders participate in the relief a little bit more than they are.”

He said “one of the things that always disturbs me” is that Eversource acts like a private company in a competitive market, when in fact it has no competition and its profits are guaranteed.  “The world in which they live is a cushioned and protected one, dependent upon the public, and they should recognize that more than they do,” Looney said.

The rate increase applies to Eversource’s standard offer, not to rates customers receive when they get their electricity through third-party suppliers, but about 90% of customers in Eversource’s coverage area take the standard offer.

United Illuminating, which covers 17 towns and cities in New Haven and Fairfield counties, also will increase its rates by about 100%. Monthly charges will average $85 for Eversource customers and $80 for UI customers.

Eversource spokeswoman Jamie Ratliff issued a statement in which she said, “We understand and share the concerns over the volatile and historically high fuel prices caused by global events and demand.  “We’re always ready to work with state agencies, lawmakers and other key stakeholders across our service territory, and look forward to all opportunities to provide objective analysis,” Ratliff said.

Ratliff pointed out that the increase in 2023 is caused by the cost of natural gas and conditions in the market “that we do not control and is having a significant impact on customers in all New England states. … We do not earn a profit on the cost of electricity.”

The Senate’s Democratic caucus sent a letter to Gillett November 25th, saying members were “profoundly disturbed” by the increases and asking for the interstate hearing.

“This hearing should encompass the process by which Eversource procures energy, how it forecasts natural gas and other fuel source rates and if it is providing their ratepayers with sufficient protections from excessive increases such as we have just seen proposed,” the senators wrote.

Small municipal electric companies have kept rate increases to about 20%, the senators wrote, “How is Eversource, with large economies of scale available to it, unable to compete with small municipal electric suppliers? The obvious answer to this question is simple: greed.”

The letter also criticized Eversource executives, who “are paid millions of dollars. They are paid to do a good job and to deliver for ratepayers — over which they have a monopoly and a guaranteed source of income.”

Instead, profits go to shareholders and do not benefit ratepayers, while executives become “fabulously rich,” they wrote.

Eversource, UI will cut electric rates for some, but not until 2024.

“Nature Is Only Sleeping”

On Overwintering Pollinators

By Marca Leigh

A couple years ago I had noticed that the Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars covering my fennel were disappearing one by one, most likely as bird food. While this is the sign of a healthy, normal ecosystem, my yard is an island amongst a sea of lawns, and heaven for lunching birds. I knew if I didn’t bring a few of them indoors, they’d all be gone in a few days. So I decided to raise Eastern Black Swallowtails that summer.

It was fascinating watching them eat the fennel l had grown and brought in for them, watching them pupate and eventually eclose from their chrysalis after a few weeks. Once their wings had dried I brought them outdoors and set them free into my pollinator garden which is free from pesticides and other chemicals.

This all went smoothly until about September, when I noticed one chrysalis hadn’t opened. It looked like a tiny petrified owl cemented to the small twig I had provided in the enclosure. My friends were sure it was dead, and I too wasn’t sure why it hadn’t emerged. I googled and found that some species do something called “overwintering”, they wait until the following spring to come out and be their “butterfly self”.

Others were skeptical, but I decided to keep the twig: I placed it in a vase in a north facing window in my dining room where it wouldn’t be disturbed by anyone or anything. The winter holidays came and went. I would glance over occasionally to check on it without too much thought. The month of May eventually rolled back around and I found myself once again taking in a couple of the swallowtail caterpillars indoors. I came down to check on those chrysalises early one morning and to my amazement, there she was, Aurora ( I named her after Sleeping Beauty) gently dangling from the twig in the vase, drying her wings. I had a slight moment of panic as I wondered how I’d get her outside without flying all around the house, but luckily she calmly crawled onto my warm hand and I just casually walked her out of the house into my garden. She sat a while on some flowers before finally taking flight, as if to say “thanks for the stay, it’s been nice”. Her iridescent black and azure wings shining in the sunlight, up and up she went into my patch of sky.

This was what all the native plant and pollinator garden sites and groups have been talking about, the fact that the world outside our homes does not die, and not all take off for warmer places. Much of our local wildlife is asleep in the brown brush and under layers of snow, transforming into their spring clothes.

In late September when the colorful foliage starts to fall on the grass and on the walks, some leaves may hold a passenger or two, clinging to an oak in a tiny patch of webbing, or curled up in a corner of a maple like a tiny astronaut in cryosleep. As the autumnal spaceships turn brown and drift with the wind in late October,  human minds have traditionally practiced “tidying up” the outside world according to our own aesthetic…Fastidiously chopping leaves to bits with the blades of a mower, or blasting them into bags with noisy fume-emitting power blowers, only for them to be taken away to be shredded elsewhere.

Might we consider a kinder approach, one that would protect most sleeping cocoons by gently moving them with an electric powered blower that would mimic only the power of a windy day, into piles around trees and onto garden beds as a mulch blanket.

The piles can look intentional; so as to satisfy our neatness gene, and as the leaves slowly break down into soil in the rain and snow, the nutrients feed the roots of trees, bushes and garden beds.

The other option, of course, is to just let the leaves lie where they have fallen, if it’s possible where you live.

Leaves are a part of the cycle of nature.  The same goes for dried hollow stems- they become insulated tubular homes for native bees and pollinating wasps. If one piece of the puzzle is taken away, the whole system – the ECO system- falls apart. Insect populations decline: impacted by leaf shredding or removal, pesticides and general habitat loss. Birds and small mammals, losing the large part of their diet, follow suit. Predators such as  hawks, owls and fox also suffer.

If we could just change our minds a LITTLE about what is beautiful, by simply knowing more of the story, we can start healing the damage already done to our planet  by starting in our own yard.

The joy of discovering caterpillars I’ve never seen before, like the Sycamore Tussock, of watching tiny fairies like plume moths flutter by, of the sea of lightning bugs putting on their sparkling midsummer display, and a landscape of colorful birds enjoying the bounty, and knowing that they all need the leaves and stems as part of their survival, makes it a no brainer.  They are the nutrients, they are protection, they are home.  If you love the beautiful, fragile web of nature in your space.. “leave the leaves and stems.”

Luna moth cocoon in leaf casing. (They love especially black walnut trees in the northeast )

A Common Buckeye at Short Beach, November 26th. They are staying longer as climate change warms our area

My Aurora…”my Sleeping Beauty” overwintering Eastern Black Swallowtail. I do not recommend taking these chrysalises indoors over the winter as they may come out early, mistakenly thinking it’s spring! I got lucky! instead, give them some protection outside if you can, and leave the dry sticks and stems until after they begin emerging.

Suggested Reading/Viewing For Becoming Your Best Planet Self:

“Leave the leaves ”

https://xerces.org/blog/leave-leaves-to-benefit-wildlife

https://www.purduelandscapereport.org/article/hidden-in-the-leaf-pile-luna-moths-woolly-bears-and-swallowtails-all-need-a-safe-place-to-hibernate/

Watch a caterpillar make a leaf into a sleeping bag

https://xerces.org/blog/5-ways-to-increase-nesting-habitat-for-bee

Create firefly habitat

Don’t put all your fallen leaves out for curbside pickup; build a firefly habitat instead!

“Leave the stems”

https://xerces.org/blog/5-ways-to-increase-nesting-habitat-for-bee