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Connecticut Audubon's Chaney preserve looking to attract shrubland species

Amid remnants of fieldstone foundations, a root cellar and a well from a farmstead that existed at the Morgan R. Chaney Sanctuary in Montville in the 18th and 19th centuries, new habitat for some feathered and four-legged residents has been created.

“I anticipate the first bird species will start showing up after two growing seasons,” said Andrew Rzeznikiewicz, land manager for the Connecticut Audubon Society, as he showed the 10-acre area recently cleared of most large trees and shrubs. “We’ll come back every 10 years to keep it as semi-open shrubland.”

The area he referred to is on the northern end of the 233-acre preserve, a Connecticut Audubon property that’s recently gotten new signs, trail improvements and the habitat work.

While Connecticut Trails Day this weekend offers many guided hikes throughout the state, the event also encourages people to enjoy unstructured woodland walks as well. For anyone looking to try an unfamiliar preserve, the Chaney Sanctuary on the southwest corner of town might be a worthy destination.

“Our long-term goal for the preserve is to develop a Friends of Chaney Sanctuary group of neighbors, to help keep an eye on things,” said Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for Connecticut Audubon, as he hiked with Rzeznikiewicz one day earlier this month. “A forest management plan is also in the works.”

At the preserve, given to Connecticut Audubon in 1986, Rzeznikiewicz has been leading trail improvements, installations of new signs and the habitat work. The purpose, he and Bull said, is to make the property more welcoming for hikers and more attractive to wildlife species. The easy-to-moderate trails pass by several handsome stone walls, a stream that supports native brook trout and a stone hunting cabin once used by the former owner who donated the property to Connecticut Audubon.

After looking at aerial photos of the property, Rzeznikiewicz saw that the 10-acre area around the old farmstead would be an ideal spot to create shrubby habitat without fragmenting the mature forest around it. A similar project at the organization’s Croft preserve in Goshen had succeeded in attracting shrubland species, so he was confident it could work at the Chaney preserve, too.

The mature forest supports bird species including scarlet tananger, ovenbird, hooded warbler and red-eyed vireo. An expert at identifying birds and bird calls, Rzeznikiewicz said he’s seen or heard American redstarts and wood thrushes there, too. During the hike that day, he also heard a worm-eating warbler and a great crested flycatcher, and he found the feather of a broad-winged hawk along the trail.

“But this habitat work should increase the diversity,” he said.

Species including blue-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, eastern towhee, brown thrasher, field sparrow and indigo bunting are in decline, and need more of the shrubby habitat. The shrub habitat also supports New England cottontail, the region’s only native rabbit and subject of a multi-state effort to restore their populations. A grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is supporting the species restoration effort, helped fund for the work, which included felling several large trees and creating large piles of brush small animals use as cover.

“This will make this property more fun for birdwatchers, too,” Rzeznikiewicz said.

About Connecticut Trails Day

More information:

Connecticut Trails Day events will take place throughout the state June 3-4. For information, visit:




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