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An Island in the Swamp

There are few people who look to swamps as great places for island hopping.  However, you can do just that within the 22,000 acre Otter Creek swamp complex in western Vermont.

Local topography creates small islands of rich organic soils which peak above their marshy surroundings.  These islands have both archaeological and ecology significance and provide solid footing for a suite of species.

The Conservancy recently acquired a significant portion of one of these islands with the purchase of 178 acres in Cornwall, VT. Bond Island is a clay knoll that houses good examples of two of the eleven known natural community types in the swamp.  The more common Red Maple-Northern White Cedar swamp is home to an array of animal species that traverse its moss-covered hummocks and hollows.  In the winter, it provide important protection and food for white-tailed deer and plenty of hollows for snowshoe hare to hide.  In the spring, when the swamp floods with water and teams with insects, migratory songbirds flitter through its canopies and amphibians submerse themselves in its pools.

Bond Island neighbor, Steve Pratt, is happy to see the area protected.  “I’ve been walking in Cornwall Swamp for about 50 years,” he said. “I always knew it was a unique place, a unique forest.”

The unique property is also home to important swamp rarities. A Red Maple-White Pine-Huckleberry Swamp, one of only 3 known sites in the state, covers part of the island.  Additionally, the property contains two state threatened plants, the cuckoo flower and nodding trillium, and a maternity roost sites for the federally endangered Indiana Bat.

The protection of additional breeding sites for the Indiana bat could not come at a more critical time.  In the winter of 2007, biologists in the northeast noticed a mysterious and unknown disease they called “white nose syndrome”.  The name arises from the appearance of a white fungal infection on the muzzles of infected bats but the direct impacts of the disease are much more severe.  Infected bats leave their hibernating caves too early, sometimes when there is still thick snowfall, only to find no insects for them to feed upon.  This bizarre disease has caused high rates of mortality in bat colonies, including some Vermont’s own hibernating dens.  Protecting breeding grounds, especially ones with a healthy source of mosquitoes and insects for the bats to feed upon, is a key action for continued bat conservation.

Visit other conserved lands in Otter Creek.

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