The Connecticut College Arboretum is located in southeastern Connecticut, about 5 miles up the Thames River from Long Island Sound. Join tour guide, Glenn Dreyer for a rare look at some regional native plant and animal habitats including upland meadows, salt marsh, and Mamacoke Island.
Upland Meadow and Mamacoke Island
We will be visiting a meadow restoration site and the coastal environs of Mamacoke Island on the Thames River, both part of the Connecticut College Arboretum.
A meadow restoration project was initiated in 2004 on approximately 12 acres of the upland to restore early successional habitat and control invasive plant species and as a result woody plant encroachment on seven acres of existing old field was reversed. In addition, about five acres of pine plantation and early deciduous forest heavily infested with invasive plant species were completely cleared and planted with native grasses and forbs. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is common and is one of a handful of preferred native grasses for this site. Annual mowing during late winter and semi-annual, selective spraying during the growing season to control invasives and other woody plants continues. Mature red cedar and occasional flowering dogwood, crabapple (Malus sp.) and pear (Pyrus sp.) were left in the north-most sector of these fields in an effort to maintain savanna-like conditions and improve wildlife habitat. During late June 2006, 100 pounds of a customized mixture of native grass and wildflower seed was planted to establish an uphill extension of the existing meadow in the area where woody vegetation had been cleared. The project was a success, and today this upper meadow is dominated by the tall Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), the shorter little bluestem, and wildflowers. Grassland with scattered trees in the restored meadows provides habitat for Orchard Orioles and other bird species that prefer open savannas.
Mamacoke Marsh, situated on the Thames River, is one of the few unditched marshes left in Connecticut. Tidal marshes are incredibly productive systems both in terms of vegetation and fauna, and act as a nursery for large numbers of marine organisms. The vegetation often occurs in bands corresponding to small differences in elevation above the mean high tide. On Mamacoke, distinct belts of smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), salt meadow cordgrass (Spartina patens), marsh elder (Iva frutescens), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) can be seen clearly.
Time permitting, the tour will also include portions of Mamacoke Island. The National Audubon Society has recognized the shoreline of the Thames River as an Important Bird Area for Connecticut and constitute a network of sites in the United States and other countries that provide critically important habitat for bird populations. The site on the Thames River centers on Mamacoke Island, which is a designated natural area within the Connecticut College Arboretum. It includes three coves and two salt ponds that provide important habitat for a variety of ducks that spend the winter in Connecticut. The brackish water of the Thames River generally does not freeze completely and thus provides an open-water refuge for Hooded Mergansers, Black Ducks, Canvasbacks and other waterfowl species. The coves also support Bald Eagles, Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots during the winter, and ospreys and a variety of species of herons during the summer. The adjacent upland areas within the Connecticut College Arboretum are also important for birds.
Glenn Dreyer began working for the Arboretum in a landscape maintenance capacity while still a graduate student in 1982. The next year he became Assistant Arboretum Director under William A. Niering. In 1988, he was appointed to the position of Arboretum Director. Mr. Dreyer is also an adjunct professor of botany and the executive director of the Goodwin-Niering Center for the Environment. His professional and research interests are at the interface between ecology and horticulture, and he conducts research in vegetation management, invasive plants, plant community ecology and urban forestry. He is the author of the books: Connecticut’s Notable Trees and Greening Connecticut’s Cities and Towns: Managing Public Trees and Community Forests, in addition to many professional and popular articles.
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