The secrets of Aton Forest

Kateri Kosek in Aton Forest.
Writer Kateri Kosek in Aton Forest.

Many residents may not be aware that tucked between Norfolk and Colebrook against the Massachusetts line, an ecological research station called Aton Forest, Inc., preserves over 2300 acres of habitat unique in the state of Connecticut. With an elevation of 1250 to 1655 feet and part of the Berkshire Plateau, the forest’s flora and fauna have a northern character. Moose, for example, and loons that raise their chicks on a quiet pond, though this is very far south for them to breed. Aton Forest, originally the home of the pioneering plant ecologist Dr. Frank Egler, was named an Audubon Important Bird Area in 2015, and under a grant from Audubon Connecticut, I was hired a couple of years ago to continue the study of breeding birds on the property. One part of my job, which I’ll be resuming this June, was to count birds along three survey lines that traverse the interior of the property. In the last two years, I counted 78 species of breeding birds Starting at 5 a.m., I walked through the forest and stopped at stations every 200 meters to record what we heard in a five-minute period. This was 95 percent birding by ear; it is hard to see birds in the deep forest. We hear a diversity of songbirds—thrushes, sapsuckers, Blackburnian and Black-throated Green Warblers. The lines occasionally pass beaver ponds and other open areas, adding many species like Bobolink, even members of the small, local Sandhill Crane population. The data, when compared with previous years and entered onto the citizen science database eBird, helps track population trends. Connecticut, for much of its history, has been either heavily wooded or heavily cleared for farmland. But many species require an in-between: open, shrubby areas with young forest. This habitat is at a premium in Connecticut, often overlooked and hard to maintain as much of it quickly reverts to forest. Oddly enough, powerline corridors are highly important in this regard. I spent time in two overgrown fields, even climbing trees and sitting in tree stands, to see what species were breeding there, how many and how they divided up the fields. If two males were singing simultaneously, for instance, I knew that the two territories came together there. By transferring data onto a map, I could see where sightings were clustered. The most numerous bird breeding in the actual fields was the delicate, colorful little Chestnut-sided Warbler. One large field was big enough to hold five pairs, situated in distinct places along the perimeter. A presentation about the forest will be held at the St. Joseph Church Bitterman Center in Canaan, June 2 from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. p.m. For more information about the event go to www.atonforest.org.

Exit mobile version