Exploring The Last Green Valley – Enjoying Wetlands in The Last Green Valley

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Exploring The Last Green Valley – Enjoying Wetlands in The Last Green Valley

Exploring The Last Green Valley, Enjoying Wetlands in The Last Green Valley

When we plan an outing to explore the beautiful natural resources here in The Last Green Valley, we tend to think of our state parks and network of trails that lead us through large stands of exceptional forest habitat. We also launch canoes and kayaks into our lakes, ponds and rivers and take in the water resources that abound in our region. We don’t typically plan an outing into swamps, bogs and marshes even though wetlands are all around us and serve as the fragile linchpin to our ecosystem.

When I was young the woods that encompassed my neighborhood and surrounded my hometown were dotted with small ponds and several streams. My explorations and rambles with my neighborhood pals usually meant getting wet. We caught frogs and turtles, fished for bluegills and sunfish, made whistles from reeds, and returned home soggy, splattered with mud, scratched up, exhausted and smiling.

As adults we try to keep our feet dry. We swaddle ourselves with insect repellant and sunscreen and tend to avoid the bogs and wetlands of younger days. But to avoid wetlands is to miss great places where flora and fauna abound. The water-laden environment hosts a great diversity of life forms – both plant and animal. Wetlands provide fresh water for land animals as well as nest sites for rearing young. Wetlands are where life begins for many species.

Here are some basic facts about wetlands taken from the website for Defenders of Wildlife www.defenders.org.

  • Wetlands are the link between land and water, and are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Some common names for different types of wetlands are swamp, marsh and bog.
  • Depending on the type of wetland, it may be filled mostly with trees, grasses, shrubs or moss. To be called a wetland, an area must be filled or soaked with water at least part of the year. Some wetlands such as vernal pools are actually dry at certain times of the year.
  • Along with providing habitat for a wide variety and number of wildlife and plants, wetlands also filter, clean and store water – in other words, acting like kidneys for other ecosystems.
  • Wetlands help collect and hold flood waters, absorb wind and tidal forces and act like sponges by holding flood waters and keeping rivers at normal levels. Wetlands also filter and purify water as it flows through the wetland system, and plants found in wetlands help control erosion.

When I think of wetlands I think of the abundant flowers, insects, amphibians and birds located there. Here are my favorites, with information from Walking The Wetlands: A Hiker’s Guide to Common Plants and Animals of Marshes, Bogs and Swamps by Janet Lyons and Sandra Jordan:

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is a wildflower with a brilliant scarlet flower that resembles the rich, red robes of the Catholic cardinals. It is found in marshes and alongside rivers and streams where I have seen it on several occasions during summer paddles. It can grow up to 4.5 feet tall with stiff unbranched stems and alternative leaves. It flowers between July and September. I am always delighted to see the brilliant cardinal flower and will stop my paddle to enjoy its beautiful red against a sea of green.

Green Darner Dragonfly (Anax junius) is a familiar site in wetlands. Its darting splash of iridescence green is always startling to see as it streaks through the air forward, then backward, then sideways at high speeds. With a wingspan of 4 inches and 2 pairs of transparent wings, the green darner is the largest of the dragon and damselflies. Their eyes have as many as twenty-eight thousand facets, the largest in the insect world.

Eastern Newt (notophthalmus viridescens) is frequently found in small ponds, bogs, and marshes. It can live more than 10 years and grow to 4-5 inches in length. In its aquatic stage it displays 2 rows of red spots along its brown back. As it matures its gills are absorbed and it turns orange-red with black specks. The orange-red eft is the terrestrial stage of the newt and lives in moist woodland debris. They are easy to spot alongside wooded trails and this “warning coloration” is a way to alert potential predators to the eft’s toxicity. After two years the eft returns to water and transforms into the aquatic adult with olive green sides, yellow underside and large blade-like tail.

Each year a sure sign of spring is the return of the Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Our most common blackbird, it is 9.5 inches in length with the mature adult male having the distinctive black body with red and yellow shoulder patch. In March, large flocks of red-winged blackbirds return north to locations where they have nested in the past. Their nests are woven into a bulky down-shaped nest and lined with soft fine grasses. They feed mainly on marsh plant seeds including those of the cattail and wild rice. I have frequently seen them and heard their familiar “kon-ke-ree” call as I paddle some of our smaller streams with an abundance of cattails and reeds along the stream marsh and banks.

Protecting our wetlands is critically important. For years wetlands were disappearing beneath bulldozers and the precious habitat needed by thousands of species was quickly being lost. Here in Connecticut there is a long history of protecting water and land resources.

In 1972 the state legislature enacted the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act which requires the regulation of activities affecting wetlands and watercourses. In 1987 it was amended to declare it is the “public policy of the state” to require municipal regulation of such activities. The CT Department of Energy & Environmental Protection provides training, regulatory, and technical assistance to municipal inland wetlands agencies.

I invite you to get out and enjoy our region’s wetlands. They are all around us and waiting to be appreciated. Don’t forget to take rubber boots. If you don’t get wet, then you’re probably not looking closely enough to fully appreciate the bogs, marshes and swampy wonders of our region’s wetlands. I hope you’ll join me in exploring the wetlands of The Last Green Valley and to help care for them and pass them on.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 30 years. He can be reached at bill@tlgv.org

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the previous article.  The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.

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