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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Locals Step out for National Trails Day Hike

Locals Step out for 
National Trails Day Hike:
Audubon hosts leisurely loop around sanctuary
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 6/5)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – It was a cool, still morning, with a broad range of birds flitting about feeders and grounds firm and dry – ideal conditions for a good hearty hike.

That’s just what the CT Audubon Society, at 2325 Burr Street, had planned early Saturday in celebration of the American Hiking Society’s 19th annual National Trails Day. Led by Educator Linnea McHenry, the leisurely 1.5-mile hike through the Center’s Larsen Sanctuary navigated past a wide variety of terrain.

McHenry said the hike is the first officially led one of the season and that the sanctuary offers “a lot of different habitats, including woodlands, forest areas and fields. I think the variety draws people, as well as the opportunity to see different animals,” she said.

Interning at the Audubon for the summer and assisting with the hike, Olivia Tomeo, 20, said, “I don’t have a chance to hike much at school (Bucknell University), so this is a welcome opportunity for me. I used to hike the trails here when I was little and doing summer programming. It’s nice to be back.”

Participating with her husband Steve, Karin Layton of Fairfield said the couple had a lot of hike choices for the day but that this was an easy one that would allow her to get to work that afternoon. “It’s guided, too, so you can learn something, which is nice,” she said.

Fairfielder Curtis Osborne said the excursion was something to do on a Saturday rather than sitting around or working, and gave him an opportunity to use his walking stick, binoculars and “funny hat that let’s the air through.” He added, “I have bad knees but enjoy a good periodic hike.”

One of the first stops en route was a monarch butterfly way station. “We actually tag them, on their wings,” said McHenry. “The tags have unique numbers and we send along all our data to a collection center.”

As she spoke, a broad wing hawk soared overhead. McHenry explained, “They have a medium size tail with brown bands. Some of our wild raptors like to hang out and visit our captive raptors.”

As other bird life squawked in the treetops, a family of Canadian geese paddled across Farm Pond, where a painted turtle hovered on the water’s surface.

Passing over a rise called Rock Ledge, McHenry pointed out that a lot of newt-like red efts roost there. “They crawl out of the water, live a couple of years on land, and go back in the water to morph again into a larger adult version,” she said.

At a clearing circled by trees, McHenry said, “Two barred owls live here. They’re great at camouflaging themselves. We look for signs of their droppings, which we call whitewash. People think owls are nocturnal but on a cool day like today, they’re out. They can’t digest the bones and fur of their prey, so they cough it up. You’ll find clumps here and there… oh, and here’s a vole one of them must have dropped,” she said, pointing to a furry carcass.

Further ahead, there was a vernal pool. McHenry said the feature is very important as there are few predators around and amphibians lay their eggs in it.

She also pointed out wood duck houses, though said not to bother trying to spot one. “Wood ducks are very shy and secretive,” she said. “I’ve only seen one wood duck in 12 years.”

Hikers enjoyed more sightings, including dogwoods in bloom and a pair of deep-blue colored flycatchers, before returning to the main building for a complimentary cup of Birds and Beans shade-grown coffee, a hot cap to a cool hike.

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