Acres of woodland trails where wildflowers flourish and the sweet songs of birds fill the air. Nature centers with live animal and science displays. Guided walks to appreciate the wonders of the season.
All of these and more are found at the five Audubon Centers in Litchfield Hills and Fairfield County in Western Connecticut. Peaceful escapes year-round, these sanctuaries are at their beautiful best in spring, alive with the music of songbirds returned from their winter migrations and adorned with newly sprung carpets of wildflowers.
This region has some of the oldest centers in the nation, with thousands of acres of wooded preserves where wildlife flourishes. Busy spring calendars offer programs and walks to delight all ages.
Greenwich Audubon Center
The historic Audubon Center in Greenwich opened in 1942 as the National Audubon Society's first environmental education center in the United States. The 295-acre sanctuary has some seven miles of trails that lead to a hardwood forest, old fields, lake, streams and ponds. A branch of the Byram River crossing the property has been dammed to create shallow Mead Lake, home to frogs, water snakes and turtles, viewed best from a boardwalk and two bird blinds on the Lake Loop Trail. Wildlife that may be spotted at the center includes river otter, muskrats, wood ducks, white-tailed deer, coyotes, flying squirrels, nesting bluebirds, wild turkeys, bats, a wide spectrum of reptiles and amphibians and dozens of types of birds. The Kimberlin Nature Education Center houses a Nature Art Gallery, store, a Children's Learning Center with hands-on nature activities and natural history exhibits, and a wildlife observation window.
Spring programs at the center include birdhouse-building workshops for families, spring migration bird walks, wildflower walks, tree ID walks, and turtle talks. International Migratory Bird Day will be celebrated on May 14 with an early morning walk to search for spring arrivals followed by a hearty home-cooked breakfast and special talks and family events during the day. The Center is located on 613 Riversville Road in Greenwich, 203-869-5272, http://greenwich.audubon.org.
Connecticut Audubon Society's Centers in Fairfield
Mabel Osgood Wright, a pioneer in the American Conservation Movement and founder of the Connecticut Audubon Society, established the Connecticut Audubon Society's Birdcraft Museum in Fairfield in 1914. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, this small and intimate natural history museum with its adjacent private songbird sanctuary (the oldest in the U.S.) presents changing nature exhibits, informative talks and opportunities for interesting walks. Over 120 bird species have been spotted here.
Birdcraft Pond teems with painted turtles, tree swallows, many duck species, visiting black-crowned night herons and many other song bird species, all easily viewed from the museums' unique Teaching Bridge and Pavilion. The museum also offers dioramas of Connecticut wildlife at the turn of the 20th century, a Four Seasons Room exploring bird diversity, a honeybee hive, the Frederick T. Bedford Collection of African Animals, changing exhibits and hands-on children's activities.
Birdcraft is also home to a Bird Banding station that operates weekdays April 1 to Memorial Day and again in the fall. Birdcraft is located on 314 Unquowa Road, Fairfield, CT 203-259-0416, www.ctaudubon.org.
The Connecticut Audubon Society's Center at Fairfield was added in the historic Greenfield Hill section in 1971, adjoining the 155-acre Roy and Margot Larsen Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary, open dawn to dusk year-round, features rolling woodlands, meadows, streams, marshes and ponds with raised boardwalks and bridges that allow access to a variety of habitats. Seven miles of trails are found on the property along with an observation platform and an Algonquian wigwam replica. Farm Pond behind the building is a great place for spotting frogs, turtles and ducks. The Birds of Prey Compound is home to a variety of owls and hawks, two peregrine falcons, a turkey vulture and other raptors. A butterfly garden is a favorite feature from late spring through summer. The Center at Fairfield is located on 2325 Burr Street, 203-259-6305 ext. 109; www.ctaudubon.org.
Sharon Audubon Center
The largest property operated by the National Audubon Society in Western Connecticut covers over 1147 acres, has been connecting people with nature for over forty years. Consisting of the Sharon Audubon Center and Emily Winthrop Miles Wildlife Sanctuary, the property encompasses mixed forest, meadows, wetlands, ponds and streams, seen over eleven miles of scenic hiking trails, a boardwalk and several observation decks. The Visitor Center includes a Natural History Museum and Exhibit Room, live animals and displays, a Children's Adventure Center, and a research library.
A unique feature here is a shelter that is currently home to 22 non-releasable birds (16 different species), with injuries that prevent them from surviving in the wild. The residents include bald eagles, great horned owls, broad winged hawks and ring necked doves, all now receiving loving care. The shelter is also home to reptiles, many once pets who were no longer able to be cared for at home. Sharon Audubon is located on 325 Cornwall Bridge Rd. (Rte. 4), 860- 364-0520; www.sharon.audubon.org.
Audubon Center at Bent of the River, Southbury
The newest Audubon Center, Bent of the River is on 660 scenic acres in Southbury, on the banks of the Pomperaug River, near the historic village of South Britain. It is both an outdoor sanctuary where people can connect with nature on 15 miles of walking trails and an environmental education center where young and old can find enlightening programs. The land was donated to the National Audubon Society in 1993 and held as a limited access nature sanctuary through 2000. Now it is open daily from dawn to dusk with a growing program. Over 175 avian species have been recorded in these peaceful environs. Birds such as prairie, blue-wing, and worm-eating warblers, woodcock, and wood thrush are relatively common in the shrubby meadows and interior forests. Bent of the River is located on 185 East Flat Hill Road, 203-264-5098; http://bentoftheriver.audubon.org.