Monday April 22, 2013

William C. Grant Jr.

We each know family and friends, many of our neighbors and scores of acquaintances and colleagues. Indeed, they help form the basis for a good life. But we tend to forget that we’re surrounded by a veritable host of non-human neighbors, many of whom also contribute to our sense of wellbeing. The One World Conservation Center hopes to correct this omission by identifying the fauna and flora that dwell in our Greenberg Reserve. Determining just who lives among us will always be a work in progress, the challenge of which depends on what we’re studying. For example, amphibians (frogs and salamanders), though often hidden from view, tend not to wander about much and generally form stable populations. This is true of many plants as well. On the other hand, birds and mammals may be relatively easy to spot but are likely just passing through our Reserve. They wander in and out according to migratory routes, food supplies and an array of environmental variables.

This spring the OWCC has launched a species census of our Amphibian populations. Given the reserve’s ponds and wetlands, it’s possible that as many as 17 (7 salamander and 10 frog) species live and breed here. Salamanders are mute but frogs and toads are highly vocal: come early spring we hear the rattle-like croaks of the wood frogs followed, a few weeks later, by the piercing chorus of spring peepers. The peepers belong to a very small species of tree frog thatuse the sticky pads on their feet to climb emergent vegetation in wet areas. Toward summer we hear the shrill, prolonged call of the American toad and still later the deep, rumbling croak of the bullfrogs. We’re hoping our first census will identify the majority of our amphibian neighbors. The same with reptiles, as the reserve has some species of turtles and snakes.

The OWCC hosts many bird watchers keen to identify resident and migratory species, their habits and the duration of their stay; many birders record their observations on sites such as Ebird. From data collected and some informed guesses, we know a lot about our avian inhabitants. For example, woodpeckers: we may well have four resident species (Pileated, Downy, Hairy and Red-bellied) and two migrants (Yellow-shafted Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker). It’s possible, if unlikely, that the Red-headed Woodpecker is present as well. Data from future visitors to the Reserve may help us find out. While Mammal identification often depends on occasional sightings, we’re lucky to have already located a resident population of beavers.

Otters and mink have been observed, and may live here too. Black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, both red and gray fox, Eastern coyote, raccoon, skunk, fisher and porcupine etc. may visit the Reserve on occasion and some may take up residence. Even a moose is possible! Groups of bat, squirrel, mouse, woodchuck, shrew and weasel are also likely to call the Reserve home.

Pinpointing our mammals, amphibians, birds and reptiles is only the start of our task. Many stands of trees and flower and grass species have been identified, but much plant classification remains to be done. As for animals, there are Molluscs (snails and slugs), Crustaceans (crayfish, wood lice) and the whole range of worms, spiders and insects. A world of natural exploration and learning awaits visitors to our Reserve and we welcome the opportunity to assist guests with identifying and classifying their observations.

Our director, interns and volunteers can steer you to the tools available at the center. For children, we have an assortment of "Discovery Packs" that can be borrowed for a trip into the reserve to facilitate nature sleuthing.

The results of our surveys will be sent to The Atlas of Vermont Life for permanent recording. The Atlas is an ambitious project intended to record every living species in Vermont, and the OWCC will do its best to contribute to this effort.

The OWCC aims to be a good neighbor in serving the greater Bennington area. Whether your interest in the Reserve’s ecology and wildlife is professional or amateur, exploratory or recreational, you are most welcome. For many, it will be a chance to become better acquainted with your non-human neighbors and to learn why conservation ultimately has to be practiced effectively from a One World point of view.

William C. Grant Jr. is board secretary of the One World Conservation Center in Bennington.