In the Sanctuaries: Winter is here, and it’s great
February 8, 2021 — What’s happening at Connecticut Audubon’s sanctuaries?
And it’s amazing.
At the Bafflin Sanctuary in Pomfret, the local department of transportation often drops off road-killed deer for scavengers like vultures, coyotes, and crows. And eagles.
Sanctuary manager Andy Rzeznikiewicz tipped off Nancy Barrett the other day: Bald Eagles feeding on a carcass in the big field above the center parking lot. Andy mowed the field in late fall, so the view was unobstructed, assuming you stayed hidden.
“I set up with my camera and tripod under a camouflaged portable photography blind in the bushes near the parking area,” said Nancy, a Connecticut Audubon member who lives near the sanctuary. “The eagles won’t come in if they see people in the field. The photos were taken from quite a long distance. It was an extremely cold and windy day. I waited for over an hour before any birds came in. An immature eagle landed nearby before making its way over to the deer.”
A few days later, Nancy returned and this time added a species to her life list — Snow Buntings.
“There was a group of four birds and they were feeding on small seeds on the dirt driveway on the south side of the center,” Nancy said. “I hid behind the car of another photographer. I have never seen Snow Buntings, so the sighting was an exciting first for me.”
Andy keeps the parking area plowed at the Center at Pomfret and at Trail Wood, in nearby Hampton. Nancy didn’t have to venture far from the lot for her photos. But the snow-packed trails at both sanctuaries are in great shape and plenty of people are taking advantage.
Bafflin and Trail Wood are two of Connecticut Audubon’s nearly 20 sanctuaries. Most are open to the public and you’re encouraged to visit. During the Covid era, wear a mask please and keep a safe distance from other hikers.
On the opposite side of Connecticut from Pomfret, Cathy Hagadorn, center director at Deer Pond Farm in Sherman, checked five miles of trails on snowshoes the other day. Signs of wildlife were everywhere in the snow: bobcat tracks, coyote and fox tracks, raven and crow tracks.
Deer Pond Farm is a wonderful winter destination. Dress for the weather, of course. In some places the snow is knee-deep. If you don’t have snowshoes, bring hiking poles.
The other day in Fairfield, Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation, watched a mink climb out of a cold swamp on the Larsen Sanctuary’s Old Farm Trail. It stood on its hind legs and they gave each other the once-over, and then the mink hightailed it away.
No guarantees that you’ll see a mink, but visit anyway. The parking lot at the Center at Fairfield is plowed. Miley says the trails are in good shape — hikers have trod them and the snow is well-packed. Wear boots, of course.
Or visit the Smith-Richardson Sanctuary in Westport. You can easily see a dozen species of birds. A visitor last week found half a dozen Field Sparrows and 15 American Tree Sparrows.
Smith-Richardson is a neighborhood sanctuary, easy to navigate. Deer Pond Farm (850 acres), Bafflin (700 acres) and Trail Wood (160 acres) are much bigger.
“Always make a plan before setting out on the trails,” Cathy Hagadorn said. “Hiking in snow and snowshoeing can take more time and energy than just walking. Be prepared.”