The Story Behind the Last Lot:
With your help, together we preserved this final piece of a very scenic and ecologically diverse conservation puzzle.
For historical land-saving context, let’s travel back in time to 1997 when a 15-lot subdivision was proposed for a fragile upland ridge jutting out into the marsh bordering Coy’s Brook, which is the major tributary to the Herring River. This represented HCT’s very first land fundraising campaign to buy 11 of those lots for a bargain sale of $225,000 from James and Marcia Stewart. When a property owner sells at less than appraised value or at a “bargain sale,” then the owner can realize significant tax benefits.
That first HCT purchase made possible by HCT members and grant- making groups like the Fields Pond Foundation resulted in preserving 16 acres. Over the next year, Robert and Charles Hall donated 9 adjacent acres. In 2000 and 2004, HCT purchased two more lots from the Stewarts as the conservation assemblage continued to grow. Unfortunately, James and Marcia passed away, but their three children approached HCT with a rare opportunity to buy the last one-acre lot. So now, 22 years after the very first acquisition, HCT has a chance to preserve the last wooded lot next to Coy’s Brook Woodlands.
Hawks, Wrens & Fiddlers:
Let’s reflect on why this Last Lot was so important to preserve in the bigger ecological picture of the Coy’s Brook Woodlands trail destination.
By preserving the land, we extinguished another septic system in the watershed, thereby protecting the water quality of Coy’s Brook and by extension the Herring River. By preserving the one-acre lot, we protected the visitor experience to this very scenic trail loop, which is also compelling, but let’s look deeper and closer at some of the wildlife that call this land home because of the mix of habitats including pine-oak upland and bordering marsh.
When HCT’s Mike Lach asked HCT volunteer Gus Romano to venture out to the property for photos, the two were first greeted by one of our local woodland hawks, a Cooper’s hawk. Loss of habitat that provides nesting, foraging, and sheltering opportunities impacts all wildlife including raptors at the top of the ecosystem food chain like Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, osprey, and others. Seeing this majestic bird right there in front of them was a sign that we’re on the right track to save this remaining parcel.
This land offers extensive marshside shoreline, which provides very important habitat for a variety of species. Let’s look at the marsh wren and then the fiddler crab, both photographed by Gus at the site.
Although not listed as rare in the state, the marsh wren like many bird species is declining due to habitat loss. So when Gus found a marsh wren keeping a close eye on him in the bird’s backyard of Coy’s Brook Woodlands, it became apparent that the Last Lot was important to this small songbird. This little creature actually builds elliptical, domed nests right in the nearby cattail reeds up to three feet or more above the high tide watermark. The males arrive from their wintering grounds in the southeastern U.S./Gulf Coast before the females and are known to build dummy nests, until they make just the right nest for just the right mate.
The fiddler crab is called “fiddler” because when it feeds with the back and forth motion of the small claw compared to its big claw, it looks like a fiddle player. They live in the intertidal area along the marsh edge that is inundated twice daily by the tides. The males make cylindrical burrows in the mud. When they see a female, they actually start waving the oversized claw and when a female pauses long enough, the male will scamper up to her and then back to the burrow, hoping for her architectural approval.
Gus also took photos of butterfly weed that grows on the land. Butterfly weed is a member of the milkweed family. And if we zoom in, we find a monarch caterpillar which survives exclusively on milkweed plants. And we all know that monarchs have been in decline due to habitat loss and other factors. Saving the land will help this species, too.
Box Turtles Benefit, Too:
Box turtles join the birds and butterflies as the beneficiaries of this land-saving project. It’s always a thrill when you find a box turtle on the edge of the wild, crossing your path. Every box turtle has its own unique pattern of orange, yellow, dark brown, and black starbursts gracing her/his domed shell. They have the potential for long lives (80-100 years), but again, habitat loss has taken a heavy toll.
The box turtle earned its name because a natural hinge on the lower shell (plastron) allows it to pull its head, legs, and tail inside the upper shell (carapace) and plastron. They are omnivorous, dining on a menu of slugs, insects, earthworms, and snails as well as mushrooms, berries, fruits, leafy vegetables, roots, leaves, and seeds. Females nest in June or early July and can travel great distances to find appropriate nesting habitat. They may travel up to a mile, often crossing roads during their journey.
Box turtles have been found crossing Lothrop Avenue nearby and they’ve also been observed at Coy’s Brook Woodlands. With a relatively small home range most of the year of up to two acres, preserving this Last Lot provides these rare turtles with important habitat for survival.
Thanks so much for making this important land-saving endeavor possible for both wildlife and people–for all time.