BRISTOL – In an effort to encourage better nesting sites for the Connecticut endangered grasshopper sparrow, several volunteers from a variety of environmentally-minded organizations gathered to clear the Roberts Property Park area of invasive plant life.
Around 20 individuals spent the morning pulling up vines, multiflora roses and more, targeting around two acres to be cleared.
“The grasshopper sparrows are on the state endangered list,” said volunteer Jack Swatt. “There’s only a few places in the state they nest and they’ve been nesting here for quite a few years, but they like sparse, grassy habitats. The invasive plants are growing and ruining the habitat for them.”
Swatt said it was therefore important to remove the invasive plants to assist the local bird populations. He noted the land management effort may be a multiyear project.
Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut Land Stewardship Coordinator John Correia conducted a study of Roberts Property land in connection with the grasshopper sparrow population.
“The numbers (of sparrows) have been slowly going down as (the area) has been left to regrow like a forest,” he said. “We did a study of the number of birds on the property and where they are. I walked around and tracked their territory size. We found they’re using areas with less bittersweet, which is an invasive vine that we’re pulling out.”
Correia created a vegetation map to note what plants were growing in the area and also surveyed area birds to see where potential crossover areas for good grasshopper sparrow habitat could be. Volunteers pulled invasive plants from spaces somewhat already suited to becoming sparse, grassy habitats.
“We do this work a lot on the property in our bank,” said Jennifer Frank of the East Granby Land Trust as she pulled Asian Bittersweet off a tree.
Among the volunteers from area land banks and environmentally-minded groups was Bristol Parks, Recreation, Youth and Community Services Deputy Superintendent Sarah Larson.
“One of our core values for the department is conservation and stewardship so we’re excited to partner with (Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut) and their network of volunteers and expertise to be able to do this habitat restoration and hopefully create a space where we’re seeing more breeding populations of grasshopper sparrows,” she said.
Roberts Property was acquired by City Council in 2004. She said according to surveys of area residents, the overwhelming majority wanted to see the park become an “enhanced, passive recreational area.” Passive recreational areas do not require prepped structures and facilities like sports fields. The area was formerly a quarry and has now seen the return of more plant life.
“This is an area of Bristol that does not have a lot parks,” said Larson. “So this is a property where a lot of people come to walk and recreate.”
Environmental Learning Centers of Connecticut Executive Director Scott Heth called the effort a culmination of several groups coming together for the betterment of environmental work.
“We’re far enough away where we don’t think we’re disturbing where (the sparrows) are now,” said Heth. “They like singing perches so we’ll leave some shrub. We’re thinking of putting some little stakes in different places to see if they like to perch from that.”