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Early Successional Forest and Old Field Habitats of in Dummerston
Jack Lilly and Hector Galbraith
Conservation CommissionHave you heard the nasal “beezp” of the American Woodcock at dusk? Have you seen the pink beak and rusty cap of the Field Sparrow, or heard its “bouncing ball” song? Perhaps you have an ear for the display song of bobolinks. In Dummerston we are lucky to have each of these species even though they are in decline in most of the northeast. Fortunately for us, there are still places in town that are ideal habitat for them. They are species that like to feed on the ground in grasslands, but also need the refuge provided by shrubs and tall forbs. The vegetation that evolves through succession from pasture to the early stages of shrubland and forest are perfect for them. More generally, these early forest and old field habitats provide important habitat for many other wildlife species in the town – savanna sparrows, towhees, thrashers, being among them. They also provide important habitats for butterflies such as monarchs and mourning cloaks, and hunting territories for red foxes and coyotes.
Dummerston has several of these areas and they support the species named above. Most such areas are on private land but there is a fine example of town-owned habitat on the top of Prospect Hill. Early Successional forest and old field is land in transition. Most likely the land has been disturbed, either by agricultural planting or pasture or by natural events like fires or wind storms. Some of the tree and shrub species that colonize these lands include grey birch, dogwood, aspen species, cherry, willow, and alder, while tall forbs such as goldenrod, mullein, and asters may also dominate. Due to the propensity of these plant species to quickly colonize disturbed sites, they are often referred to as “pioneer species.” These species are natives to this region, however there are also undesirable invasive species like Buckthorn, Honeysuckle, and Japanese Barberry that can also move in and quickly colonize abandoned agricultural fields. Once established these invasive species can be extremely difficult to eradicate and may degrade the habitat’s value to wildlife.
Prospect Hill with Monadnock on horizon
As the name Early Successional suggests, these lands have to be maintained if they are to continue to provide the protection they are known for, otherwise they will transition into mature forest. In the case of Prospect Hill, occasional clearing is done anyway to preserve the views of Monanadnock to the east and Mount Snow to the west. (As of the end of March the snow on the trails was clearly visible).