CCF Members Urged To Observe The Wonders Of The Natural World

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Eunice Burley, outgoing president of the Chatham Conservation Foundation, and naturalist Peter Trull, who spoke at the group's annual meeting last week. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

Observe nature by our kettle ponds, at our outer beaches and in the local woods and you will be well rewarded by the wonder that insects, birds, animals and flowers provide.

“Observe, observe, observe. Be better observers.”

That was the message naturalist Peter Trull delivered to about 160 members of the Chatham Conservation Foundation Inc. (CCF) at the group’s 57th annual meeting at the Wequassett Resort in East Harwich Aug. 5.

The CCF, which is a non-profit organization, was the first private land trust on Cape Cod when it was chartered in 1962. It maintains three walking trails for public use as a part of its mission of preserving land “for the benefit of the people, plants, animals, and ecosystems of Chatham.”

Trull, 68, is the author of six books on the Cape’s natural history. His latest is “Birds of Paradox: The Life of Terns” (Schiffer, 2019).

“I’ll bet a lot of you don’t know what’s on that land,” Trull said at the beginning of his illustrated 50-minute talk, referring to the CCF’s 785 acres of land held in trust. He added that his motto is “you’ve got to get out more.” Trull described himself as a “wet feet, dirty knees kind of guy.”

“When the Chatham Conservation Foundation buys a new property, go to the wetland to see what’s there,” he advised.

His talk, which featured many close-ups of insects and birds, was designed to cultivate a feeling of wonder for the natural world. Trull, who began teaching seventh graders at the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in 2003, noted that it is imperative to introduce children to nature.

But adults should not lose that sense of awe. He encouraged adults to bring binoculars while kayaking in fresh water ponds. He showed close-up pictures of endangered damselflies and dragonflies. “Watching them—it’s like a gift,” he said.

Sundew plants that live near coastal plain ponds are another of nature’s wonders. These threatened plants exude a sticky enzyme that catches and eats bugs. You don’t need a Venus fly trap to see this marvel, it’s right outside on Cape Cod. The extremely-rare Plymouth gentian grows in 106 places in the world—and most of those are on Cape Cod.

Trull described the life cycle of dragonflies which, after mating, drop their eggs into pond water. The nymph stays in the water for three years before climbing up a stalk of grass in early August. Eventually its back splits open, and out comes a dragonfly.

“Pretty incredible, right? Right across the street today,” he said. “This is why you’re shelling out all that money to protect the land,” he added, generating laughter and applause from the audience.

He noted conservation successes such as bringing back ospreys, piping plovers and gray seals. And he said he has worked with a Canadian scientist to study the DNA of Eastern coyotes, 40 percent of which have some wolf DNA. “It doesn’t mean they’re looking for Little Red Riding Hood,” he said. It just means that “somewhere in the past a coyote mated with a wolf in Canada.”

During the business part of the meeting, Robert Lear was elected as president to replace Eunice “Oonie” Burley on Sept. 3. Paul Chamberlin will continue as vice president, Gerry Stahl as treasurer and Edyth Tuxbury as clerk. David McNally will serve as the member at large.

Burley, who served on the board for a maximum term of nine years, the past two as president, noted that the organization is now “running as a proper non-profit business.” She commended the staff—Dorothy Bassett, who has served as executive director for five months; Julie Baca, who has served as land steward for three and a half months; and Evelyn Burckhart who has been secretary for 19 years. She also praised McNally, who served as acting executive director for several months after the group’s first executive director, Matt Cannon, moved to Maine, and Scott Tappan, who served as acting land steward.

The group is working to acquire additional property which Burley said is exciting as “so little land is available” in Chatham. She also noted that the excavation of William and Anne Nickerson’s c. 1664 homestead is happening right now on CCF land in partnership with the Nickerson Family Association, Inc. The dig is at the rear of a 1.84-acre parcel next to 1107 Orleans Rd. in North Chatham, which will soon be restored by removing invasive plants, replanting the site and adding a walking trail. An $87,000 Community Preservation Act grant will pay for the work and maintain the site for three years.

Board member Carol Odell listed some of Burley’s accomplishments as overseeing the writing of a strategic plan, enlarging the CCF staff and moving the group’s headquarters to the early 19th century Mayo House at 540 Main St.

As a parting gift, Odell presented Burley with a bowl made from a Bradford pear that once stood in front the Mayo House, as well as a gift certificate for three native beach plums.

“It’s been an honor and a privilege,” Burley said, accepting the gifts.