The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center

Our spring 2017 lectures are here! Read more about them and RSVP online today. Click here to view our invitation.

Estuary Exploration with Paul Spitzer

Rites of Spring in the Lower Connecticut River Valley

Saturdays in May, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Register Now!

Photo by Brock Graham

Estuary Explorations will be led by PhD ecologist Paul Spitzer, a protégé of internationally recognized naturalist and painter, Roger Tory Peterson. Each exploration will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the possibility of extending the field trip into the afternoon, depending on the participants’ interest.

Spitzer learned his natural history while growing up in the Connecticut River Valley. He is a graduate of Old Lyme High School and continued up the river to attend Wesleyan University. He later earned his PhD in ecological sciences from Cornell University. 

PhD Ecologist Paul Spitzer

More recently, he has studied the now substantial Connecticut River Estuary Osprey colony as a “biomonitor” of migratory menhaden abundance, the Osprey’s preferred food source. Spitzer advocates for sustainable management practices of this keystone fish for its ecosystem, economic, and societal functions. 

Our other specialist, Jim Arrigoni, grew up in Old Saybrook and earned a degree in wildlife and fisheries biology. He has conducted research in Belize and China, and is currently working on his doctorate. 

Local naturalist Jim Arrigoni

Spitzer has designed the programs to follow in the footsteps of one of the 20th century’s most famous naturalists, field guide author and illustrator Roger Tory Peterson, who spent his adult life painting in his studio in Old Lyme and examining the flora and fauna of the Connecticut River Estuary and the world.

Spitzer will showcase some of Peterson’s favorite natural sites and share his extensive knowledge of the ecology of the region. Spitzer plans to lead these explorations at a “Thoreauvian saunter,” moving slowly to appreciate many of the birds, plants, and insects that Peterson once enjoyed.

After meeting at the Old Lyme I-95 Park and Ride (exit 70), participants will enjoy three hours of ecological exploration followed by a brown bag lunch and guided discussion in the field. Spitzer is also willing to offer optional afternoon sessions gauged by the stamina and interest of the participants. Register online today.

Planting for Bees and Butterflies

Planting for Bees and Butterflies
April 29, 10:30 AM

A spicebush swallowtail butterfly

The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) is teaming up with the Henry Carter Hull library for a morning of planting! 

Join us on Saturday, April 29 as we re-plant one of the library beds and talk about how you can attract pollinators at home. We’ll be there to answer questions like how much sun do they need? What local plants can I purchase? And why is it important to protect these pollinator species? 

Email with questions. 

Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center Spring Lecture Series

May 2, 5 p.m., Old Lyme Town Hall

David Kozak from Connecticut DEEP will address the impact of sea level rise specifically on the Connecticut River Estuary and what steps can be taken to mitigate the effects. Read more here.
RSVP here.


May 9, 4 p.m., Essex Meadows

Kimberly Damon-Randall, from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, will discuss the discovery of Atlantic Sturgeon in the Connecticut River Estuary and the impacts of the discovery. This is a joint lecture with the Connecticut River Museum. Read more here.
RSVP here.


May 16, 5 p.m., Lyme Art Association

Dr. Gregory Nobles is a historian and author of the new biography, John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman. This lecture discusses J.J. Audubon, the naturalist and painter, as well as the rise of citizen science. Read more here.
RSVP here.





April Update

Tiley Pratt Pond, an Essex Land Trust preserve, April 6

Welcome spring! Amphibians are on the move during perpetual rainy nights above 40 degrees. One by one, Ospreys are returning to our estuarine coves. Many of us feel delayed in our enjoyment of classic spring activities due to soggy and sun-less circumstances. Yet we all know that buds, bugs and birds are ready to burst in their imminent explosion of spring vitality.

Meanwhile, the RTPEC team could not be busier. Our hard work in the fall of 2016 prepared the way for a tripling of bookings for Spring 2017 of Connecticut Audubon’s award winning, Science in Nature programs in regional schools. This science-based, environmental education program aligns with Next Generation Science Standards and STEM curriculum goals of Connecticut schools. With generous foundation support we are able to offer 4-hour, inquiry-based experiences outdoors for students from New London to Essex. Combined with our burgeoning public programs for all ages in the libraries and community centers, our first year of outreach has well surpassed what we imagined would be possible.

Please consider becoming a member of the Connecticut Audubon Society and support its new Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center. We are here to safeguard the sustainability of the flora and fauna and all living things within the Connecticut River Estuary and its vast watershed -– the Amazon of New England.

-Eleanor Robinson, RTPEC Director

Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center 

 If you want to read more about our virtual center, our staff, and our board, click here.

Click here to read about Eleanor Robinson, our Center Director.

Click here to read about Heather Kordula and Amelia Graham, our teacher-naturalists.




Events at The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center

Education Programs

News and Announcements

Amphibian Adventure

Arguably the best part of Spring is the new life– trees are budding, daffodils have started poking out of the ground, birds are singing, and, of course, there’s the indescribable smell of earth after it rains. 

But there is more happening than we realize. Have you ever driven home on a rainy night and seen small, bright spots on the road in front of you? Or opened your windows overnight in April and heard the spring peepers? Every spring, woodland amphibians migrate from their homes under the leaf litter to nearby lowlands that fill with spring rain. These temporary wetlands are called vernal pools, and they generally only last for a few weeks in March and April. 

Rather than risk the predators found in reservoirs, ponds and streams, many amphibians choose vernal pools for their eggs because they have more of a chance of survival. Without fish to eat the eggs, more of them advance to the larval stage and the adult stage. 

Six out of twelve salamander species in Connecticut are listed under the Connecticut Endangered Species Act, so it’s illegal to remove them from their habitat.

Instead, join the RTPEC in observing them and their egg masses in these vernal pools, and learn more about this delicate, essential habitat.

April 15, 3:00 p.m.
Old Saybrook Town Park

April 29, 3:00 p.m.
Pleasant Valley Preserve, Lyme

To ask questions or register, email

Birding Basics- Saturday Field Trips

Are you interested in learning more about the popular hobby of birding? The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) is offering biweekly outings to local birding hot spots to observe winter populations of birds. Join us for Birding Basics, our free program for adults. To date, we have enjoyed forays to Long Island Sound and Estuary habitats that maximize species diversity. You can read more about our past walks here

Birding enthusiasts on our Jan 14 walk at Hammonasset State Park in Madison, CT.

The Rockfall Foundation supports Environmental Programming in Middlesex County.

Each Birding Basics  program begins at 9 AM when we gather for a quick binocular and field guide tutorial followed by an hour-long walk while we identify birds. We will address environmental concerns that threaten our birds, including the affects of  habitat loss and climate change. 

Email to RSVP or with questions.

Our next walk will be at 4 p.m. on April 23 at Meig’s Point, Hammonasset State Park.  See you there!


Forage & Feast

June 1, 5:30-8:30 pm
White Gate Farm
83 Upper Pattagansett Road, East Lyme
Fee: $52/person

Join ethnobotanist and clinical herbalist Hayden Stebbins for a walk through forest and field to see the world in a way you’ve never seen before. During this walk, Hayden will teach you about common plants and mushrooms, how to identify them by family, and their edible, medicinal, or poisonous properties. You and the group will harvest edible plants as you go, and will bring them to a kitchen where a multi-course meal will be prepared combining the harvest with regular food. This will include a wild plant pesto, hummus, salad, a couple teas and an extra dish depending on what plants and mushrooms are found. Space is limited to 24 people. Register here.

Environmental Education Programs

In the Fall of 2016, the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) launched its environmental education initiative into Essex, Old Lyme, and Lyme schools.

RTPEC educators Amelia Graham and Heather Kordula visit New London’s Harbor School.

With grants from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Rockfall Foundation, and the Kitchings Foundation, the RTPEC was able to introduce CT Audubon’s signature and award winning Science in Nature Program into regional schools.  RTPEC teachers adapted each outdoor, environmental educational experience to meet STEM and Next Generation Science Standards and integrated estuary science concepts into each lesson. Topics included weather and climate, bird ecology, wetland ecology, adaptations, and geology.  Each 4-hour program utilized the natural assets of nearby land trust properties, public parks, and schoolyards as our outdoor classroom. (more…)

Advocating for the Estuary

Identifying Environmental Impacts of High Speed Rail Tunnel/Bypass

Co-chairman of the RTPEC board, Claudia Weicker, speaks at Town Hall.

On December 16, 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released its Preferred Alternative for improving passenger rail travel along the Northeast Corridor. This proposal would create a new 50-mile segment bypassing coastal southeastern Connecticut via an inland route between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, Rhode Island. The FRA proposal calls for a multi-billion dollar tunnel under the environmentally sensitive Connecticut River Estuary, the Lieutenant River, and the Historic District of the Town of Old Lyme. Additionally, the new rail line would require the acquisition and/or condemnation of hundreds of acres of undeveloped land and conversion to transportation use.  Two members of the RTPEC Board worked on the Old Lyme Selectwoman’s strategy team crafting an 82-page response to the FRA in January of 2017. (more…)

Live Owls in Old Saybrook

The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) launched its first program for the Old Saybrook Acton Library in February of 2017.  Our debut featured our teacher/naturalist Amelia Graham and a CT Audubon bird handler and educator. The star of the program was Solo, an injured Barred Owl who survived a wing amputation after being caught in barbed wire.

CT Audubon teacher-naturalist introduces Solo, the Barred Owl, to library audience.

Graham lead a discussion on owl behavior that included the unique digestive tract of owls. Each participant explored and probed regurgitated owl pellets and discovered more about the diet of owls after identifying evidence of morsels like rat and mouse skulls, bird feathers, and jaw bones. Some families even brought bones home for further examination.  

Our next live owl and pellet dissection event will occur at the Henry Carter Hull Library in Clinton on June 14. Check the RTPEC website for more details as we get closer to the event. 


RTPEC Lecture Series Speaker and Meet the Scientist Presenter: Dr. Robert Thieler

Dr. Thieler at a "Meet the Scientist" session in Old Lyme.

Dr. Thieler at a “Meet the Scientist” session in Old Lyme’s Mile Creek School

The Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) welcomed renowned, sea-level rise researcher, Robert Thieler, to Old Lyme as one of three featured speakers for the RTPEC Fall Lecture Series. Thieler is based out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and works as a research geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, yet beaches of the planet serve as his living laboratory.

Earlier in the afternoon, fifty-five fifth graders of Old Lyme’s Mile Creek School were fortunate to have an up close and personal session with Dr. Thieler at the RTPEC’s first “Meet the Scientist” session for school children. 


RTPEC Board Member Donates Book Tour Proceeds to Center

Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) Board Member, Sydney Williams,  conducted a regional book tour of his new book, Notes from Old Lyme, Life on the Marsh and Other Essays. The book is a collection of essays, many of which touch on observations of the natural world, having lived near the estuary waters for 25 years. Williams donated proceeds of the book sales to the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center and other groups.



Dock Proposed for Whalebone Cove Would Threaten Wildlife Habitat

Egret_on_CtRiverThe coves and marshes of the lower Connecticut River estuary are among the most valuable areas for wildlife in North America. The Connecticut Audubon Society’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (RTPEC) opposes a plan to install a new dock in one of those coves, Whalebone Cove, in the Town of Lyme. Below is our letter, signed by Eleanor Robinson, the director of our Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, in Old Lyme. (more…)

Citizen Scientists Find Thriving Osprey Population

Ospreys in Fairfield. Photo courtesy of Anastasia Zinkerman

Ospreys in Fairfield. Photo courtesy of Anastasia Zinkerman

March 8, 2016 – Connecticut’s Osprey population, which numbers at least 250 active nests, is thriving and healthy, and in all likelihood indicates that local rivers, lakes and Long Island Sound are clean enough to support ample fish for Ospreys to feed on.

In addition, the fish seem to be free of toxins that would harm Ospreys and reduce their breeding success, as happened in the middle of the 20th century because of DDT.

Those are the key conclusions of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Osprey Nation report for 2015, which the organization released today to mark the start of the citizen science monitoring program’s 2016 season, its third.

Click to read the rest …


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