Eagle Scouts Dig-in to Habitat Restoration in West Haven

Through teamwork and dedication, two brothers made a difference for birds, other wildlife, and the community at the Sandy Point Beach & Bird Sanctuary

Eagle Scout projects typically provide an opportunity for a mature Boy Scout to make a contribution to the community in which they live. But in 2018, in West Haven, something unique occurredtwo brothers each chose and completed independent Eagle Scout projects that were directly connected to each other and that helped to significantly improve the Sandy Point Beach & Bird Sanctuary as a place where shorebirds, marsh birds, and migratory songbirds can continue to thrive.

The beach at Sandy Point offers nesting habitat for shorebirds such as the Piping Plover, American Oystercatcher, and Least Tern. The restored marsh now provides excellent habitat for marsh species such as the elusive Clapper Rail. By the viewing platform, the presence of trees and shrubs gives this area great potential as a stopover site for birds migrating along the coast. However, "invasive" plant species in the potentially beneficial habitat. The goal of the two Eagle Scout summer projects was to remove these invasive plants and restore the area by planting native shrubs that are tolerant to the salty conditions at Sandy Point and are useful to wildlife.

Connor Lynch’s Eagle Scout project focused on the removal of invasive plants that were outcompeting the existing native plants that benefit birds and other wildlife in the area. Two months later, his brother, Aidan Lynch, came back to Sandy Point with his volunteer Eagle Scout Project team, with a mission of replenishing native plants to support native wildlife. Both Scouts are members of Troop 899 and worked closely with their Project Leader, David Driver, and Audubon Connecticut, the stewards of the viewing area habitat, to organize, plan, and accomplish this amazing feat!

“When the Scouts approached us about helping out with the work around the viewing platform, we were thrilled. Removing invasives and replanting native plants is hard work, but it gets a lot easier when more people are involved,” commented Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Bird Conservation Programs Manager for Audubon Connecticut.

Combating Invasive Plant Species

The Eagle Scout projects started in July 2018, when Connor Lynch, 16, took on the task of organizing a team to remove a number of invasive plants, including autumn olive, tree of heaven, multiflora rose, and mugwort. These invasive species had taken over large sections of the viewing area over the bird sanctuary, where there is great potential to attract migratory songbirds and butterflies throughout the spring and summer. The invasive plants in this area offered few benefits for songbirds and pollinators, and they smothered the native plant species that are beneficial to the health of the sanctuary. Native plants such as bayberry, chokeberry, beach plum, and inkberry, are generally more effective than invasive species at providing shelter, berries, and proper habitat for birds.

Over the summer, the Audubon WildLife Guards, who are local high school students employed by Audubon to monitor shorebirds and engage beachgoers at Sandy Point, removed a large chunk of the invasive plants directly adjacent to the viewing platform. The Boy Scouts made the impact of removing invasives even greater by cutting down autumn olive trees and a large stand of mugwort around the platform area. After the project, a grove of beautiful, native bayberry shrubs that had previously been hidden behind mugwort was exposed and given more room to grow. The view into the marsh also significantly improved after the large autumn olive trees were taken down.

Since habitat restoration work began by local community members and partners in 2013, Sandy Point has increasingly become a significant destination for ‘birders’ who come to see threatened birds like the Piping Plover and other coastal species such as Snowy Egrets, Least Terns, and Great Blue Herons. Osprey families now also nest in the vicinity of the sanctuary at Old Field Creek and use the water off of Sandy Point as a fishing territory. The recovery of the coastal and marsh habitats at Sandy Point has been a remarkable success.

In 2018, Audubon Connecticut aspired to continue the story of success at Sandy Point by improving habitat around the viewing area. The assistance of the Boy Scouts was vital to the realization of Audubon Connecticut’s goal and a great example of how local organizations can partner on community projects. Connor worked with Audubon Connecticut and the Sandy Point Recovery Subcommittee of the Watershed Restoration Committee, another important partner at Sandy Point, to identify the invasive plants to be removed and ensure that existing native vegetation was not damaged. The Boy Scout Troop 899 and the Audubon WildLife Guards dedicated their time to help Connor with the project and in total, 27 volunteers assisted with the weekend project (July 28 and 29, 2018).

Restoring Native Habitat

About the same time the invasive removal project was being completed, Connor’s brother, Aidan Lynch, 16, started developing his Eagle Scout Project description, which would enable a group of Scouts and community volunteers to return to the sanctuary on September 15 and 16, 2018, to plant over 30 plants donated by Audubon Connecticut and the Sandy Point Recovery Subcommittee. On that weekend, 20 Scouts and volunteers showed up to plant native species of plants that would help to restore a healthy and natural environment to help bird populations in this area thrive.

The Scouts planted native black and red chokeberry, arrowwood viburnum, meadowsweet, and beach plum in the area where the invasive species were removed. They also helped water each new planting and cut back any invasive species that sprouted up since Connor’s project. Upon visiting Sandy Point, you will now see these shrubs planted along the strip of habitat lining the parking lot. Come spring and summer 2019, the area will be bright with berries and flowers that attract birds, butterflies, and other pollinators!

According to Georgianna Jette, who oversees the Sandy Point Recovery effort, “The Eagle Scout project has been instrumental in the ongoing restoration of Sandy Point. We commend the scouts and their leaders for the hard work and dedication they have shown toward making a difference in our community.”

These Eagle Scout projects helped to reshape the natural environment at Sandy Point by bringing together almost 50 volunteers in creating a well-balanced habitat to support bird and wildlife populations for many generations to come. The viewing platform area now has a clear view of the marsh and a native plant garden that is no longer blocked by the presence of abundant invasive species. There was benefit for the community, for wildlife, for Audubon Connecticut—and a lasting memory for the Scouts themselves—all because two brothers decided they wanted to make a meaningful difference in their community.

This project was supported by funds awarded to Audubon Connecticut by the Long Island Sound Futures Fund.

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