[CT Birds] Habitat Management at Harkness Memorial State Park

Stephen Broker ls.broker at cox.net
Thu Nov 30 09:33:54 EST 2017

Connecticut Birders,

The following message was sent to COA by DEEP wildlife biologist Jenny Dickson in order to share information with our birding community about implementation of the management plan at Harkness Memorial State Park.  COA supports this effort to restore grassland habitat at Harkness.  Please contact Jenny Dickson or COA officers & board if you have questions or comments.

Steve Broker, Kathy Van Der Aue, Frank Mantlik

Good morning, birding friends.
I wanted to give you all a heads up about some upcoming habitat management work that will be occurring at Harkness Memorial State Park/Niering NAP-Goshen Cove/Verkades since I know this is a favorite spot for many birders and there have been concerns in the past about park management activities. 

The Wildlife Division has been working with the current park manager, Vincent Messino, on a management plan that will restore much of the grassland habitat in this area while still providing stop-over habitat for migrants and cover for wintering birds. Before Nelson DeBarros, our plant ecologist, left he worked with Ann Kilpatrick and me to evaluate management options. That assessment serves as the foundation for what we are implementing.

Many of you are aware that this area had fairly effectively used prescribed burns to maintain the grassland areas of the NAP. For the last several years, burns have not been possible and alternative habitat management was not implemented. As a result, a lot of wood vegetation and some invasive species are now starting to dominate the site. While the shrubby growth has provided beneficial cover and the proliferation of bay berry has provided a food source, it has had a negative impact on breeding birds and native pollinators. The Wildlife Division’s Habitat Management Program is now guiding management efforts here with the full support and cooperation of Park staff.

In the next few weeks, birders are likely to see significant cutting occurring at Niering NAP and Harkness. While this will mean a loss of bayberry, sumac, and some other woody shrubs in these areas, ample bayberry and cover will remain at Verkades to accommodate any wintering birds. (Verkades is more sheltered and actually better for wintering birds.) I wanted to make sure everyone was aware that while things may look rough at first, there is a plan in place, the activity is not only being done in consultation with wildlife folks, we are leading the efforts, and the long-term goal is for much better habitat for birds and native pollinators year-round and creation of a plan to help guide future management efforts in this area. This is definitely not an attempt on the part of Parks to increase manicured lawn area at the state park!

On a quick interesting aside, folks from the Habitat Program and I were down there right before the holiday and ran into a woman who asked what we were doing. When we explained, she went on at length about how the field we were looking at used to have bobolinks, but hadn’t for a long time and she was thrilled we were going to restore it. I’ll count that as our first positive feedback!

If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me. Feel free to share this info as needed. I think it is really important that the birding community knows that what is happening there is specifically for the benefit of birds and not another random action. I don’t want anyone to see mowers or brush hogs and think the worst.

I hope you all had a very nice Thanksgiving and have seen some interesting birds. (I’m not seeing many passerines here in Burlington at the moment.)


Jenny Dickson
Supervising Wildlife Biologist
DEEP Wildlife Diversity and Outreach Programs
Sessions Woods WMA, P.O. Box 1550
Burlington, CT 06013
P: 860-424-3114|E: jenny.dickson at ct.gov <mailto:jenny.dickson at ct.gov>

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