World Wetlands Day 2016

February 2nd is World Wetlands Day, celebrated internationally every year since 1997 to commemorate the signing of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran. The Ramsar Convention represents a multi-national treaty which has facilitated work to survey, study, prioritize and conserve valuable wetland resources around the world and to promote the wise use of wetlands.

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World Wetlands Day is set aside to raise awareness and appreciation for the unique, essential and fascinating wetlands that surround us every day. This year the theme is Wetlands for our Future: Sustainable Livelihoods. Throughout the world, more than one billion people make their living supported by wetlands. Fishing, crop farming (cranberries and rice), shellfish aquaculture, tourism, and more all depend on healthy and thriving wetlands.

On Nantucket, we are lucky to have some spectacular wetlands from the shorelines of Sesachecha and Almanac Ponds, to quaking bogs in the Middle Moors to our broad stretches of salt marsh in Madaket and Nantucket Harbors. Historically and currently many of these wetlands have provided the basis for  Nantucketers to make their living including supporting both cranberry agriculture and the Nantucket Bay Scallop industry today.

Jackson Pt Madaket, KAO

Coastal salt marshes in Nantucket’s harbors provide nurseries for commercially important fish and habitat for a variety of shellfish. These marshes also filter excess nutrients from uplands, helping maintain our harbors as beneficial habitat for oysters, scallops and more. Without wetlands like the Creeks, Monomoy, Medouie and more – Nantucket’s harbors would have a hard time staying healthy enough to support our scallop industry which is still an important part of our island economy! Out of approximately 1,600 acres of salt marsh on island, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation protects approximately 1,200 acres, helping protect our island’s harbor health.

 

 

There are many ways to be connected to and appreciate the wetlands in your backyard even if they don’t directly provide your livelihood…..

So how can you celebrate World Wetlands Day on Nantucket?

Get out, take a walk and appreciate our fabulous wetlands! Post your photos on social media using #WorldWetlandsDay or maybe submit to the Ramsar photo contest (see below).

Commit to practicing sustainable fertilizer in your landscape and year this year. Check out the Nantucket fertilizer guidelines for more information and help protect both our freshwater and saltwater wetlands on island!

Support business on island that depend on wetlands! Visit your local fish store and take home some scallops for dinner. Check out the fish selection at Nantucket Fresh Catch at Bartlett Farm. Cranberry season is over but mark Oct 8th on your calendar to purchase local cranberries at the Annual Cranberry Festival!

Help protect wetlands on island: consider becoming a member or make a donation to island land conservation groups that all help to protect our wetlands from development. We would definitely appreciate it if you joined us at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation!

#World Wetlands Day Photo Contest

A photographic competition for 15-24 year olds. The photograph must be taken in a wetland and must capture how people make a living from wetlands. The winner will receive a free flight to a wetland location anywhere in the world, courtesy of Star Alliance Biosphere Connections. To enter, take a picture of your favorite wetland with your phone or digital camera between 2 February and 2 March 2016, and upload it to Ramsar Convention Secretariat’s World Wetlands Day 2016.

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MassWildlife Habitat Management Grant Funding Approved!

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This overgrown sandplain heathland at Head of the Plains will be targeted for brushcutting later this winter,

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation recently received the news that we have been awarded a $20,357 grant to undertake a sandplain heathland management project on our Head of the Plains properties in the southwest portion of the island. This funding comes from the new Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) Habitat Management Grant Program, which provides financial assistance to open space landowners to improve and manage habitat for rare wildlife and game species and expand opportunities for hunting and other outdoor recreation. This is the first round of grants awarded through this program, which will be distributing $320,464 to support 13 projects across the Commonwealth….and we are honored to be one of these!

We will be using this funding to brushcut a 14 acre area of sandplain heathland habitat that is becoming overgrown with dense stands of scrub oak and scattered pitch pine. This woody vegetation clearing will be done during late winter of this year (prior to the start of the spring wildlife breeding and nesting season) using the Foundation’s Fecon FTX148-L mulching tractor. The area to be treated is bordered by grassland and heathland prescribed fire management units to the south and east, with tall, dense pitch pine woodlands immediately to the north.

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The Foundation’s Fecon FTX148-L mulching tractor.

Brushcutting in this area will achieve several important priorities. Nantucket’s sandplain grasslands and heathlands are globally significant habitats that support some of the highest concentrations of rare and endangered species in Massachusetts. Our Head of the Plains properties represent the largest acreage of these habitats that we own. Tall, dense shrubs and trees have been slowly increasing in this area over the past century, primarily due to the end of historic sheep grazing and fire suppression. This has reduced habitat for many species of rare plants, animals and insects – a trend that will continue without some type of disturbance. Therefore, sandplain grassland and heathland habitat management is a very high conservation priority identified in the recently-updated management plan developed for this site by our Science and Stewardship Department.

Reducing the height of tall, dense shrubs will also improve safety for future prescribed burns in this area and reduce overall wildfire risk. Huckleberry, bayberry and scrub oak are highly-flammable shrubs that produce extreme fire behavior when burned. This, coupled with the lack of prompt mutual aid from off-island fire departments in the event of a wildfire, led the Foundation to start developing wildland fire management plans for our properties in 2011 (see previous blog posts for more information). These plans complement the goals of our habitat management efforts described above by targeting strategic locations for reducing flammable vegetation to protect adjacent properties and lower the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

Map for Science Blog Post

The work funded by this grant will also improve access and visibility for hunting on the property. Shrubs like huckleberry and scrub oak are essentially impenetrable to hunters due to their dense growth forms. The reduction in woody vegetation height and density from brushcutting will provide hunters with improved access to the area and increased visibility, especially from hunting stands that are regularly deployed within the adjacent pitch pine woodlands.

The abutting pine groves serve as important shelter, feeding and resting sites for many species of songbirds passing through the island during the spring and fall migration, due to close proximity to the coastline where these birds make landfall. Head of the Plains is a popular destination for Nantucket’s local bird watching community, which visit these pine woods on a regular basis. This proposed management will improve visibility for bird watching while leaving these important stop-over sites intact and protected.

Liatris novae angliae,KAO (4) WM

New England Blazing Star (Liatris novae-angliae) is one of many rare species found on the Foundation’s Head of the Plains properties.

We are very grateful and proud to have been selected for this competitive, initial round of funding, which is designated for habitat improvement efforts undertaken by municipalities and private landowners. According to MassWildlife Director Jack Buckley, “Though the Division is responsible for the conservation of wildlife and the habitat upon which it depends, the reality is that 80 percent of Massachusetts’ lands where wildlife lives is held in private ownership. It makes sense as an agency to apply science-based habitat management activities with committed private landowners, thereby protecting their investment in wildlife and habitat.”

Our Science and Stewardship Department has a long history of partnering with MassWildlife on many conservation initiatives. We provide detailed data to their Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program database on population trends of rare species occurring on our conservation lands, ensure that rare beach-nesting shorebirds are managed according to state and federal guidelines, and incorporate feedback from their staff biologists into our property and wildfire management plans so that they can be approved for implementation.

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!

 www.nantucketconservation.org

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Botany Detectives: Exploring the Nantucket Flora in the Off-Season

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) on Nantucket? Maybe just one or two...

Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) on Nantucket? Maybe just one or two…

Since arriving on Nantucket in January of 2008, I’ve found that the colder months offer some of the best opportunities to check out new places and get the lay of the land. With the summer tangle of scrub oak, grape and other greenery magically absent after leaf drop, you can see a lot more detail. You don’t have to wait for spring to learn about the island’s forests and shrublands!

It’s also a good time to be a botany detective, if you’re willing to sharpen your eye and learn to identify plants by their twigs, buds, bark, and fruit. Check out the paper birch at left, that I noticed while driving down Milestone road. This tree is hidden under entangling poison ivy and screened by scrub oak in the summer, but has recently grown large enough that its outer bark has split to reveal the light colored under layers. That papery bark makes it stand out from all the other vegetation. I stopped to check it out thinking that it might be a grey birch (Betula populifolia), but was surprised to find a paper birch instead! It’s the first I’ve seen on Nantucket.

Some trees and shrubs are easier to key in on that way, giving you a chance to notice the uncommon species of the Nantucket flora. A flora is a list of plants that “belong to” a given place (whether it’s a county, island, state, or region). By “belong to,” I mean that they are able to reproduce on their own without cultivation, but are not necessarily native. For instance, sweet corn can grow here, but you won’t find wild patches of it to harvest out in the Middle Moors–it requires that humans plant the seed each year and coddle it with fertilizer and water. Some other non-native garden plants can escape and colonize new places on their own, such as Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and Morrow’s bush honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii). While they will never be Nantucket natives, these newcomers are now part of the island flora. The more aggressive and commonly planted a species is, the more likely it will become a long-term resident, as long as the climate and soils are suitable.

Updating the Nantucket Flora

The most recent Nantucket plant list, The Vascular and Non-Vascular Flora of Nantucket, Tuckernuck, and Muskeget Islands, was published in 1996 by Sorrie and Dunwiddie. It included 1,265 vascular plant taxa (counting all of the individual species, subspecies, and varieties) as well as 99 bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and 99 lichens. Along with that list, it described the plant communities of the island and included comments on plants that had once been present, but had not been seen in a long time. You can read a summary of the 1996 Nantucket Flora project here.

Since 1996, island botanists and conservationists have been using this plant list for our work, and we’ve been making notes when new species have been found, or those long-lost to history have been rediscovered. During that time frame, botanists have also made a lot of changes in species’ names and moved many species to different genera or families. Some plants look alike, but are actually not closely related at all. DNA evidence has helped us better understand this complex family tree and has re-shaped some of the branches. Here’s an example of a phylogenetic tree of plants showing some of these relationships:

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After years of exploring and making notes about interesting plant finds on the island, last year a group of us joined forces to create an updated Nantucket Flora. Island scientists Sarah Treanor Bois of the Linda Loring Nature Foundation, Andrew Mckenna-Foster of the Maria Mitchell Association, and Kelly Omand of Nantucket Conservation Foundation teamed up with Bryan Connolly, the former Massachusetts State Botanist, now teaching at Framingham State University. The Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative (NBI) provided some grant funding for this project and it will take place over the next few years. When completed, the revised flora will give island researchers an up-to-date resource.

Field Work in the Off-season

Working on this project has given us an added incentive to get out and do some winter and spring botany detective work. Here are some of the trees and shrubs that we have found (or are interested in finding). Maybe you can help. Take a look at some of our finds:

Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) fruits and yellow inner bark. Photo: K.A. Omand

Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense) fruits and yellow inner bark. Photo: K.A. Omand

One newcomer that had not been recorded in the Nantucket Flora until this fall was Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense), pictured above. We learned about this tree when it was reported by a curious NBI Conference attendee back in November. It was hard to determine what this strange tree with the huge fruits could be from a picture posted on Facebook, but checking it out in person provided several clues to its identity, and the mystery was soon solved. The large heavy fruits of this Asian tree species are noticeable in the winter, and so is the corky bark that thickens and splits as the trees age. But what clinched the identification was the bright yellow inner bark and the citrus scent of both the crushed fruit and the peeled bark. You may have noticed these “weird trees” yourself while driving by Sesachacha Pond. We’d like to know if there are more growing wild on the island. These looked like they were planted a long time ago, since they weren’t growing in a landscaped yard.

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Bristly locust (Robinia hispida) a species of shrub with hairy bristles covering the pods.


Another “new” species for the island that’s easy to spot in winter is bristly locust (Robinia hispida), a shrub in the legume or bean family. This shrub was spotted along the Polpis bike path near a section of former state forest land (now owned by the Land Bank). It’s native to the Southeastern U.S., but has been introduced in many other parts of North America — including Nantucket, apparently. The pods look like spiny edamame, but the bristles on them and on the stems are soft. Have you seen this bush growing in your neighborhood?

Some other notable recent “rediscoveries” have been made, such as an ancient grove of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) at Coskata Woods that was reported by Thad Jones in 2014. Witch hazel is a common shrub on the mainland, but was only reported once on Nantucket: near Sconset Dump in 1896. This is another good species to look for in fall and winter because its yellow flowers open in late fall, and it has distinctive seed capsules that last through the winter and disperse their seeds the following year. Where else may this sneaky shrub be hiding on Nantucket? If you are passing through a tangled swamp in a forested area, you might be the next person to locate an unknown patch of this species growing wild on the island.

Some other tree and shrub species that might be easy to spot in winter — and that we would like to relocate on island — are speckled alder (Alnus incana) once found at Capaum Pond, and musclewood or American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), which was reported as “rare and shrublike” by Bicknell, but without a location or pressed specimen, back in 1901.

If you are out and about this winter, keep an eye out for unusual plants hiding in plain sight, and let us know if you find something interesting!

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Grey birch (Betula populifolia) growing near West Gate at Ram Pasture. The white bark on this species does not peel in large sheets, unlike paper birch. Photo: K.A. Omand

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Salt Marsh Dieback and the Purple Marsh Crab on Nantucket

Unexplained die off of salt marsh plants, particularly along creek edges and the low tide line, has become an increasing issue along the New England coast since the 1990s. Along marsh creek banks and harbor edges, salt marsh plants (particularly salt marsh cordgrass or Spartina alterniflora) began disappearing, leaving behind large swaths of exposed soil, filled with tunnels. The disappearance of grasses, both above and below ground, leaves marsh soils exposed and vulnerable to erosion (see the sidebar on marsh soils at the bottom of the post!) Given climate shifts and projected changes in sea level, salt marshes are already at risk and soil erosion from dieback makes these ecosystems even more threatened!

Exposed marsh soil along a creek bank in Medouie Creek. This bare soil is the result of salt marsh dieback.

Exposed marsh soil along a creek bank in Medouie Creek. This bare soil is the result of salt marsh dieback.

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation first began to document salt marsh dieback on Nantucket around 2010 (approximately 20 years after it became common on the mainland) and the dieback is still fairly minor although increasing in key marshes on island. The full picture of the cause of salt marsh dieback is still evolving but the direct cause appears to be increased feeding by the native purple marsh crab (Sesarma reticulatum). This crab is found in most New England marshes and feeds primarily on salt marsh cordgrass stems and roots while burrowing through marsh soil. Click here for an amazing GoPro video by my friend Marc Hensel of crabs feasting on Spartina! The reason why this native crab is suddenly increasing in numbers or increasing grazing is unknown but research is currently underway in many labs across New England. One hypothesis is that a decline in native predators such as striped bass, blue crabs, dogfish and cod may be allowing crab populations to increase; another is that changes in harbor water quality may be altering food availability for the crabs.

Native purple marsh crab at Medouie Creek

Native purple marsh crab at Medouie Creek

In 2015, our primary goal at NCF was to begin to take baseline data on the extent of salt marsh dieback on our properties and start simple estimates of crab populations in various salt marshes. Over June, July and August we spent many days walking through salt marshes and setting crab traps in areas of Polpis and Madaket Harbors.

Salt marsh dieback survey locations. Extensive dieback in Pocomo Meadows and Medouie Creek but very little observed at Eel Point

Salt marsh dieback survey locations. Extensive dieback in Pocomo Meadows and Medouie Creek but very little observed at Eel Point

Extensive areas of dieback were documented in Medouie Creek in Polpis Harbor and the adjacent Pocomo Meadows (just outside the Polpis Harbor entrance). Conversely, on the opposite end of the island, very little dieback was observed or documented in Eel Point marsh in Madaket Harbor.

In addition to documenting dieback, we set out passive crab traps in Medouie Creek, Pocomo Meadows and Eel Point Marsh. Traps are empty tennis ball cans, sunk intil the can rim is even with the soil surface – crabs will meander into this cans (fall in!) and can not escape out the slick sides. Checking traps in the morning (after 24 hours) helps guarantee the crabs survive to live another day!

Augering holes in the soil to install tennis ball cans.

Augering holes in the soil to install tennis ball cans.

Carefully checking cans for trapped crabs (watch your fingers!)

Carefully checking cans for trapped crabs (watch your fingers!)

Medouie Creek and Pocomo Meadows were dominated by purple marsh crabs (~78-90% of trapped crabs) with only a few other crab species mixed in – the native fiddler crab and the non-native Asian shore crab and Green crabs. Eel Point, on the other hand, had a lot fewer crabs and was primarily dominated by the native fiddler crab (~60-70%) and only 12% of crabs trapped were the purple marsh crab.

Danielle O'Dell and her first purple marsh crab!

Danielle O’Dell and her first purple marsh crab!

Survey results from 2015 show higher numbers of purple marsh crabs in the marshes that currently have salt marsh dieback. Marshes without dieback seem to have a higher diversity of different crab species. The question still remains, why are there more purple crabs? Decrease in predators? Some of that work may be answered by Graduate student Marc Hensel – check out his blog Marsh Life for more info on his research. For NCF, in the 2016 field season, we will be focusing our research efforts on the direct impacts of crabs on Spartina and will be  caging salt marsh cordgrass to protect it from crab predation and seeing if that halts or reverses the impacts of salt marsh dieback. All of this will only help us understand the ecological processes of salt marsh dieback, not necessarily prevent or reverse it. Although, on Cape Cod and other marshes in New England, where this dieback has been in place longer, it may be cyclical with some marshes beginning to regrow as the crab populations rebalance. Our responsibility in the meantime then is to help protect our sensitive marsh soils from erosion and impacts until the ecological system of the purple marsh crab is rebalanced! Stay tuned for more information as this research progresses.

And if you are on Nantucket near a salt marsh and see what looks like salt marsh dieback – send me an email and let me know, we will add it to our database!

 

Marsh Soils Sidebar!

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Soils can be either mineral based (sand, silt or clay) or organic based. Living on Nantucket – we are used to sandy soils!! Marsh soils are very different and primarily are organic-based with some overwashed sand occasionally mixed in. These marsh soils are typically made up of undecomposed organic material, otherwise known as peat. When soils are waterlogged particularly for a day or two, oxygen is often not present, making it a difficult and slow process for decomposing microorganisms to eat up and break down dead plant materials. Instead, when plants natural die in the fall, they accumulate on the soil surface and slowly turn into peat, becoming the soil seen in our salt marshes. As vegetation dies off, not to return, and crabs burrow through this peat, oxygen increases in the soil and it begins to decompose to organic soil. Bare marsh soils can start to break down, becoming unstable and subject to increased erosion from tides and ice. Increased marsh erosion means less salt marsh which can have negative impacts to the ecosystems of both the salt marsh and the harbor. Peat soils also accumulate and build up at very slow rates but can be quickly lost through erosion.

 

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!

 www.nantucketconservation.org

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Sea Turtle Stranding Season

Over the last several winter seasons, Cape Cod has been experiencing record numbers of sea turtle strandings on their beaches. Last year in particular was a doozey with nearly 1,250 turtles rescued from Cape beaches. The previous record was in 2012 with close to 400 turtles. A string of early season strandings have already occurred and Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary has been preparing for what could be another record-setting year.

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Female loggerhead turtle found in the surf on Cape Cod in 2014. Photo credit: Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times

While Nantucket has not historically seen nearly as many stranded turtles, it is not out of the realm of possibility. In fact, this past Sunday, December 6th, 2015, a green sea turtle was found in Nantucket Harbor near Quaise Point. The turtle was found out of the water and near the high tide mark. Thankfully, the turtle was transported off island and is now at the New England Aquarium in Boston for rehabilitation. As you walk the beaches here on Nantucket, please keep an eye out for stranded turtles!

What to do if you find a stranded turtle? If you find a turtle on a Nantucket beach this winter, it could use your help and time is of the essence! Please follow these protocols from Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary:

  • Do not throw the turtle back in to the water
  • Move the turtle up the beach above the high tide line
  • Cover the turtle in seaweed or eelgrass and mark its location with beach debris, buoys, sticks, etc. to make it easy to re-find
  • Call the Sea Turtle Hotline at 508-349-2615, extension 104
  • Leave a message with your name, number, date, time and be very specific when describing location. if you have the Google Earth app on your phone, give GPS coordinates. Be sure to tell them you are on Nantucket!
  • Do not remove the turtle from the beach unless instructed to do so by a volunteer at the Hotline

What causes a turtle to strand? Sea turtles are reptiles and are ectothermic, meaning that they are unable to internally regulate their body temperature. The body temperature of a reptile is dictated by the temperature of their environment. Some species of sea turtles migrate north in the summer and feed in the coastal waters off of New England. As fall approaches and water temperatures begin to drop, turtles should migrate south to warmer waters for the winter months. If for some reason they did not make it south in time, they can be caught up in colder water. When the water temperature reaches approximately 50°F, turtles will become hypothermic or “cold-stunned” – their body temperature dropped too low to function properly. They can no longer swim, can be quite susceptible to infections, and experience respiratory and other organ failure. At this point, they will bob to the surface and with luck, will be carried to shore with the wind and tides and hopefully found by a caring human!

To learn more about the sea turtle strandings on Cape Cod, the efforts of the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary to help save these turtles, and what else you can do to help, please follow this link:

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

 

The Nantucket Conservation Foundation is a private, non-profit land trust that depends on contributions from our members to support our science projects, conservation property acquisitions, and land management efforts. If you are not already a member, please join us!

 www.nantucketconservation.org

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Late Fall Color: Fruit, not Foliage!

Recent rainy and windy weather may have finished off most of our autumn leaves, but there’s still plenty of color across the Nantucket landscape.

The Science & Stewardship staff at NCF would like to wish you and your family a happy Thanksgiving, and encourage you to enjoy the natural beauty of the island around you. It’s deer hunting season, so be sure to check out information on which NCF properties are open for hunting, and important guidelines for hunters: 2015 Deer Hunting Information. It’s a good idea to wear your own fall color (blaze orange!) while out walking in the fall. Hunting is prohibited on Sundays, making it a particularly good time to get out and enjoy the autumn scenery.

This year has been a particularly heavy fruit production year for many of our native shrub and tree species. Right now, Eastern red cedar and winterberry holly are stealing the show.

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No doubt about it — Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) has a bumper crop of fruit this year. Photo: K.A. Omand.

Eastern red cedar (actually a species of juniper) produces waxy fruits that span a surprising palette — from nearly white to bright cornflower or deep indigo. The branches of these scrappy little trees are especially heavily laden this year. It’s the biggest crop I’ve seen in the eight years that I’ve lived on island. That’s a good thing for our local birds: the National Wildlife Federation describes juniper as one of the “top ten plants for wildlife” since it provides such wonderful shelter and food during the winter months. Cedar waxwings love this fruit so much that, well, they’re named for it!

Interestingly enough, the bright fleshy fruits of junipers are actually cones. Unlike more familiar pine and spruce cones, the scales of a juniper cone are fleshy and fused together, making the whole package edible to a hungry bird. Unlike a woody-scaled pine or spruce cone, which requires a bird to spend time removing individual seeds from between the scales, the juniper cone is truly fast food! So, when you are out driving around the island or enjoying a nature trail or bike path, take a minute to appreciate the bounty of these little trees. That’s a lot of food for birds to be thankful for this year. Cedar may not be a majestic tree, but it contributes a lot to the island ecosystem.

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Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis) is very common in many habitats on Nantucket, from dunes to shrublands. Photo: K.A. Omand.

In addition to the wash of blue juniper berries, you may have noticed that a lot of bushes have recently shed their leaves, revealing branches heavily studded with hard fruit that look like waxy gray bucky-balls, aka Buckminsterfullerene. If you don’t know what I mean, take a close-up look at the neatly pixelated surface of a bayberry fruit, and do your Googling. That textured surface, on a bayberry fruit at least, is a mosaic of waxy coating that’s unappetizing to humans, but provides a high-energy food source for migrating birds in the fall.

By late November, the migrating hordes have diminished, but the remaining bayberries provide a welcome food source for our resident birds. Who sticks around in the winter? That should be a subject for another NCF Science & Stewardship blog post!

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Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is our common native holly, found in wetland edges around the island. Photo: K.A. Omand.

Maybe the cool blues and grays of red cedar and bayberry are not your groove, but you just can’t stop admiring the scarlet display of winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) surrounding the island’s ponds? You are not alone. We’re fortunate that winterberry holly is so common here on Nantucket. It’s another tough customer, but one that likes its feet wet. However, it could also find a good home in your yard– it’s a useful landscape plant in moderate conditions, and is readily available from nurseries in a range of colors and growth forms. Just be sure to get some female plants for the bright berries, as well as a male for pollination, if you don’t live near an established patch of winterberry.

Yes, you heard me right: winterberry holly is either male or female, and only the female plants produce fruit. Actually, the same is true of bayberry and red cedar. But both red cedar and bayberry are wind pollinated, while winterberry’s tiny white flowers require insects to visit and carry pollen from plant to plant.

Be sure to get out and explore the natural beauty of the island this fall. Take a moment to consider the value of our protected open landscapes– and the interesting plants and animals that call Nantucket home! Like the birds, we have a lot to be thankful for, too.

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View of Stump Pond, Windswept Cranberry Bog, with both Nantucket Conservation Foundation and Nantucket Islands Land Bank Trails for public use. Photo: K.A. Omand.

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Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative and the Biennial Research Conference!

The Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative is a group built of members of all of the various conservation, research, and ecology groups on Nantucket. For such a small island, there are a lot of different groups interested in and investing in protecting and promoting biodiversity!

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First thing: what is biodiversity? You might think it’s a commonly used catch phrase without a clear understanding of what it means – particularly in a place like Nantucket!

From Mirriam-Webster Dictionary: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals

From the World Wildlife Fund: Biodiversity comprises all the millions of different species that live on our planet, as well as the genetic differences within species. It also refers to the multitude of different ecosystems in which species form unique communities, interacting with one another and the air, water and soil. 1

Biodiversity is explored at three levels:
genetic diversity
species diversity
ecosystem diversity.

So on Nantucket, the NBI has identified that the biodiversity of our island and surrounding islands, is particularly important. The mission of the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative (NBI) is to conserve the native biodiversity of Nantucket through collaborative research, monitoring and education.

Since 2006 NBI has been fostering exploration of Nantucket’s unique biodiversity through research grants, Assessment weeks, species lists, and research conferences to bring together all of the various work on Nantucket.

This upcoming weekend – November 13th – 15th will be our 6th Biennial (every other year!) NBI Research Conference and there is a wealth of information to explore! Every event is open to the public although you need to register ahead of time as some events (like our workshops and fieldtrips have caps on participation).

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Dr Elizabeth Farnsworth, Senior Research Ecologist with the New England Wildflower Society, will be kicking off the weekend with a workshop on utilizing GoBotany to identify native plants throughout New England. Following that, the upstairs of the Atheneum is open to everyone to hear her talk on:

State of New England’s Native Plants: Challenges and Opportunities for Conserving Coastal Habitats, 7pm at the Atheneum

Saturday is our all day research conference at the Nantucket Hotel ballroom. Come for one talk or all! Each talk is ~20 min and focuses on one research topic such as Bats on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Scavengers on Nantucket, Sandplain grassland restoration and many many more – Find the day’s schedule on our conference website!

And on Sunday, Peter Brace of Nantucket Walkabout will be taking conference participants into the Middle Moors to explore first hand the unique diversity of the island.

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There will be something for everyone this weekend – so come and enjoy! And if you are interested in researching the biodiversity on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod – keep an eye out for our annual grant program which will be opening for 2016 soon.

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