Community Partnerships for Conservation
Skiff Mountain is a vibrant classroom for our science students. Under the direction of Science Department Chair Laurie Doss, students work on a variety of projects in partnership with outside organizations and the greater Kent community.
Eversource Energy Land Trust
In September, 2018, a long-term project was begun with Eversource Energy Land Trust to monitor changes in avian populations over time, in a non-managed forest verse a patch of forest recently clearcut with reserves. Early successional habitat is in decline in Connecticut and the goal of the clearcut with reserves is to create more habitat for birds to use throughout their different life stage and to increase avian biodiversity on the property. Eversource Energy owns four properties in Connecticut; Long-term goals for these properties is to enhance wildlife habitat, protect endangered plants and animals, ensure forest health, create wildlife corridors and allow for public recreation. The largest one, Skiff Mountain Wildlife Management Area, is almost 800 acres and less than two miles from the Marvelwood campus. Forester Eric Hansen is working with the Connecticut Department of Environmental and Protection (CT DEEP) to manage the Skiff Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Students are using a variety of technology and techniques to gather data, including aerial photographs and videos from unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), bioacoustics, macro and micro photography, and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. This type of documentation will help determine how avian populations change over time, especially as succession occurs within the clearcut with reserves management area. The collaboration between Marvelwood and Eversource’s Skiff Mountain Wildlife Management Area will continue for the next three to five years.
Ornithology at Marvelwood
The study of birds has long been a part of the Marvelwood science curriculum, including participating in national research projects and contributing to databases. With over 7,500 acres of protected property on or near Skiff Mountain, including Kent Land Trust and Sharon Land Trust preserves, Pond Mountain Natural Area, Weatinogue Heritage Land Trust, the National Park Service and the US Forest Services Forest Legacy Program, there’s no shortage of field research opportunities. Oliver Sanchez’s Story Map tested the use of passive bioacoustic recordings on these properties to add species to the Connecticut Bird Atlas Project.
The Return of the Purple Martin
In 2006, Marvelwood started monitoring a colony of Purple Martins near campus. The Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) had been concerned about the decline on martins, and especially inland populations. There were just two known colonies in our area. Marvelwood and the Kent Land Trust partnered to build houses in several places near the original colonies, including our campus and Lake Waramaug. As of this year, a total of nine colonies are being monitored. After banding just 20 nestlings in 2006–many of which returned to the new colonies to breed–over 300 nestlings were banded in 2019!
Students are designing interactive sound Raven Exhibits (Recording and Acoustic Visualization Environment), featuring the Macedonia Forest Block Important Bird Area in Kent and Kent Land Trust's Audrey and Robert Tobin Preserve, which will be installed in various locations in the Town of Kent, including the Kent Memorial Library, for the community to learn more about the incredible biodiversity which exists in our area. On a field trip to Cornell University last spring, students had the opportunity to work with scientists from Cornell University's Bioacoustics Research Program to learn more about Raven Exhibits and how best to customize their projects.
The Macedonia Forest Block Important Bird Area
Since 2001, in conjunction with the Kent Land Trust and The Institute for Bird Populations, Marvelwood students and community volunteers of all ages have helped to capture birds at the School's banding stations on Skiff Mountain. In the 19 years that data has been collected and recorded from Marvelwood's various banding and feeding stations, in addition to field observations on or near Marvelwood's campus, approximately 135 (updated number) species have been documented, including two species of global concern, the Cerulean Warbler and Wood Thrush. Data collection remains ongoing throughout the year, and students volunteer their time during the summer months, including Brennan Wilkins ‘22. Data collected by Marvelwood students and community volunteers was utilized to nominate land owned by the School and the Kent Land Trust to be included in Audubon Connecticut's Macedonia Forest Block Important Bird Area (22,500 acres), which was named one of the last great places in Connecticut by The Nature Conservancy.
Drones to the Rescue
For the second January in a row when the Housatonic River spilled its banks, Marvelwood students were called into action by the Town of Kent for their drone skills to help the Kent Volunteer Fire Department and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) assess and monitor the ice build-up on the Housatonic River and the flooding along its banks.