Hurricane Sandy Update from the Field: Amid Downed Centuries-old Trees and Power Outages, Birds Bounce Back in Greenwich, CT
Ted Gilman leads a walk through the Audubon Greenwich sanctuary. Photo: Todd Standley
Ted Gilman is a naturalist and environmental educator at Audubon Greenwich, in Connecticut, where the power, knocked out by the storm, might be out for another week. In his 35 years at the center he’s inspired a love of nature in generations of children and helped to train educators from across the country. Gilman relates how the storm affected the center’s 285 acres, and the birds, trees, and other living organisms that live there.
I live right on the main Audubon Center grounds and the major impact for the center was the loss of many large, mature red oak trees, including our most outstanding specimen, approximately 100 feet tall and about four feet or more in diameter. Another loss was a towering tulip tree by the Byram River, which was a landmark there. When it fell, it took out a trail footbridge and a series of other trees on the hillside. We also lost some white oak, American beech, red maple, sugar maple, and white ash. The loss of these mature trees has left many open gaps in the forest canopy.
The red oaks are a very important source of acorns for our wildlife such as squirrels, mice, white-tailed deer, raccoons, chipmunks, blue jays, wild turkeys, and red-bellied woodpeckers. We had almost no acorn crop here this year and I am hoping that this loss of mature red oak trees will not have too severe an impact on the acorn supply in future years.
We have already worked to clear many of our trails, although additional cutting and clearing of fallen trees needs to be done to clear our remaining trails. The footbridge we lost over the Byram River will need to be replaced.
Since the storm, I have seen several winter wrens and hermit thrushes that are making use of the cover in the brushy tops and tangled root masses of fallen trees. Another person clearing trails with me spotted 14 wild turkeys.
In spite of my worries for their survival, our local birds seem to have weathered the storm pretty well. Mixed flocks of song, swamp, white-throated, and white-crowned sparrows are foraging in brushy areas at field edges.
Like many other locations around us, we are experiencing the irruption of pine siskins from northern forests and they are still very much in evidence after the storm. Our regular mixed winter flocks of downy woodpeckers, tufted titmice, white-breasted nuthatches, and black-capped chickadees are still active in our woodlands and visiting bird feeders. Our local red-tailed hawks still patrol the skies and scan the fields from their hunting perches.
The largest emotional impact for me, here on the property, is the loss of the giant red oak and the tulip tree. They have become 'old friends' as I have walked the Center's trails and shared them with many school children and other visitors for 35 years, as reminders of the forests that stood here long ago. We will still be able to point them out as they lay on the forest floor, but no longer will we be able to gaze in awe at their towering trunks and high crowns. We will have to seek out our visiting tanagers or warblers in the crowns of other younger trees.