Musings from a Property Steward

written by Paulette Hebert
When asked to write an article about my activities as a volunteer property steward I thought the timing could not have been better. The end of the month will mark one year since I first began monitoring at the Wilkinson property. I have watched the land and the life forms that depend on it evolve and thrive through an entire cycle of the seasons.
I head out to the Wilkinson property once per month to check up on it. I look for signs of vandalism or misuse and make observations about general conditions, changes, wildlife, and plants. I am fascinated by the endlessly changing palette of blooming flowers. Even the chorus of birds and frogs evolves as each species takes its turn to dominate the soundscape. On each visit I find something I have never seen before. I bring a bag full of my favorite field guides to help me identify the new and mysterious things I discover.

The weather is always beautiful, because I plan it that way. Today the leaves are beginning to change. It is aster and goldenrod season: gold, white and purple. As a property monitor, I get to pretend I am a photographer. The plants are such cooperative subjects.
Only on the windiest days do they refuse to stand still. I photograph each blooming species and identify it in my notes. I don’t even try to capture the birds and mammals although I do have a few mediocre shots of wood frogs and leopard frogs.
Birds are always the first thing I notice when I arrive. Birds love to advertise themselves with their songs and being able to recognize bird songs has been an invaluable monitoring tool. The chickadees and an eastern phoebe always greet me first. And then, the blue jays complain and alert the rest of the inhabitants, which is probably why I seldom see any of the larger mammals. I know they are there however, because they leave their tracks in the muddy trail or at the water’s edge where they come to drink: coyotes, white-tailed deer, weasels, raccoons, beaver, muskrat and, of course, the resident black bear.
Regular monitoring increases the chances of detecting rare and vulnerable species that may live at the property. In the spring, I was lucky to spot a big old Blanding’s turtle among the multitude of painted turtles that live in the swamp. It has remained elusive ever since. Regular visits also allow me to keep ahead of unwanted invading species which I remove and/or report.
I have a favorite spot at the Wilkinson property. Deep in the hemlock forest there is a fallen tree on which I like to sit to watch, listen and feel this beautiful place. I take stock of what I have learned, take some notes and wonder at the privilege I have been given to be a steward of this land.

Lone Pine Land Trust

Lone Pine Land Trust is a non-profit charity based in Northumberland County.