Loffredo Introduces Interactive Birding Trail for Branford
Jonathan Loffredo, who hopes to become a pilot, has just landed his eagle scout award by completing an interactive Branford trail walk with a technology-based native bird information component available at the tap of a smartphone.
For his project, the 15-year-old Branford resident and member of Boy Scout Troop 633 worked to enhance a trail on the Pisgah Brook Preserve. He started nearly a year ago in November, at age 14, and completed the project in May.
Jonathan’s project involved installing 10 native bird pictograph posts embedded with QR codes providing specific information and bird call sound recordings, installing benches on the rail, installing a colony birdhouse, and building and installing an informational kiosk at the trailhead, a gravel lot next to 154 Laurel Hill Road.
“Inside the kiosk, there are instructions on how to do the QR code if you’ve never done it before, and information about the trail and different birding websites,” says Jonathan.
Jonathan worked on the project with the support of his family, members of Boy Scout Troop 633, donations from local businesses, and approval from the Branford Land Trust and the Town of Branford. On July 29, Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove helped Jonathan cut the ribbon on the new trail.
Cosgrove, Jonathan, and Troop 633 Scout Master Michale Loffredo, who is Jonathan’s dad, were among those who spoke at the ceremony. The event drew a group of 20 attendees and included an introductory walk on the trail led by Jonathan.
Cosgrove said Jonathan is an example among today’s youth of “...the next generation of leaders” and thanked him for further developing a valuable asset to the community.
Jonathan’s eagle award marks the fifth eagle scout project in the community contributed by members of Troop 633, now in its 10th year.
Jonathan thanks the town of Branford and Branford Land Trust for supporting his project with the necessary approvals, including those granted by Branford’s Parks and Open Space Authority.
“The Branford Land Trust owns the field where the birdhouse is installed, and the trail is owned by the town, so we had to get approvals from both,” says Jonathan, who attended two Parks and Open Space Authority to help green-light the project.
The Branford Land Trust became the project’s main benefactor, receiving the eagle scout project as a donation.
The colony birdhouse in the field is designed to attract dozens of beneficial, insect-catching Purple Martins, who put on a great aerial acrobatics show as they catch their food on the wing.
“We haven’t had any move in yet, but we did have some visitors—I saw a group of tree swallows there,” says Jonathan.
Jonathan became interested in birding through scouting.
“When I first started out in scouting, I did the bird-study merit badge, and it sparked something in me, to where bird-watching became a hobby,” he says. “I started listening to the birds where we live, and now I’m able to pretty much name any bird I hear.”
Once he decided he wanted to focus his eagle project on bird-watching, “...one of the things I thought of was how could I introduce technology into it? And that’s when we thought of the QR codes.”
Each QR code signpost includes an etched-out image of a bird, such as a Robin, with a QR code below.
“You can scan it, and it will bring you to a part of our troop website, and you can press play and hear the sound that the bird makes. It also says a little bit about the bird,” Jonathan explains.
Jonathan and his dad worked on developing the bird information extensions at the website, Troop663ct.org.
To raise funds for the project, Jonathan struck out into the community.
“I had to raise over $1,400 in materials, so I went to local businesses, telling them about my project and asking if they could help. One of the largest donors was Branford Building Supply. They donated all the wood,” he says.
To organize, develop, and undertake an eagle scout project, the scout acts as project manager.
“You have to pull up your sleeves and make sure everything is getting done,” says Jonathan.
Once all the materials, donations, approvals, volunteers, and any other requirements were gathered, it was time to get to work.
“We did three separate work days, and to complete it, we had 25 scouts and adults, so a lot of people helped out,” says Jonathan.
Among the helpers were Jonathan’s family, including his dad; mom Crystal; younger sister Amelia, who is also a member of the Boy Scout Troop 633; and older brother, Joseph, an Eagle Scout who brought in a Gaga Ball pit at Pardee Park in 2018 for his project.
When you add up the cost of materials and the 285 man-hours put into Jonathan’s project, the total project cost comes in at approximately $5,000.
Jonathan’s next aspiration is to become a pilot, another interest that began with scouting when he earned his aviation merit badge.
“In the upcoming year, I’m planning to get my pilot’s license,” he says.
Right now, Jonathan encourages residents of all ages to get out and enjoy the newly-opened interactive trail.
“The length of the trail is less than a tenth of a mile. It’s great for everyone,” says Jonathan. “I want it to be something birdwatchers and residents of Branford can enjoy for years to come.”
This week, Jonathan earned his eagle scout award during a special ceremony. It’s been quite a journey for someone who started out as a Cub Scout at age 6 and earned an Eagle Scout award at an age that’s younger than the average age of most.
“Scouting teaches you so much,” says Jonathan. “Teamwork, life skills, survival skills, friendship, how to persevere. I’ve been camping in negative 15 degrees and climbed mountains, all with friends while learning great things.”