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A Walk in the Woods

Beauty and Conservation at CT Audubon



Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation, leads a trail walk in the Sanctuary.

Photo by Abigail Ray Kozel

If you were to walk with a fellow named Milan Bull through the Connecticut Audubon’s 152-acre Wildlife Center in Fairfield on its seven miles of trails and hear the thwack-thwack-thwack of a distant woodpecker you might think to yourself, “Woodpecker must be getting food out of an old tree.” That is, until Bull in the next second announces—bird unseen–“that’s a Pileated woodpecker. And he’s not looking for food yet; he’s warning off other birds that the tree is his, for the moment at least.” Bull is director of science and conservation for the Audubon society and has dedicated himself to a knowledge of wildlife, and especially birds, ever since his father said something to him as a kid he found disturbing. 

“We were fishing one day in Milford, and a large bird flew over us. It was magnificent. My father said, that’s an Osprey, which will be extinct in your lifetime.’ ” Bull went home and found the Osprey in a bird book he had and remembered his father’s words. And indeed, his father was nearly and tragically right. Fortunately, the pesticide DDT that compromised bird eggs was banned in the United States in 1972, ten years after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. The Osprey began its comeback. Among the other beneficiaries were the Peregrine Falcon and the Bald Eagle. Now, you can see Ospreys raising their young on the Audubon’s website camera, which puts you pretty much right in their nest.

Walking through the Sanctuary today everything seems as original as Eden. The variety of wildlife is astonishing—all manner of birds, turtles, frogs, snakes, and mammals (bobcats, but not bears) live there. And rabbits. Bull gets excited about rabbits. Specifically, he is interested in the New England Cottontail, similar to “Peter” in your garden, but just a little different. These fairly rare (but not yet officially endangered) Yankee rabbits prefer the shrub and scrub that are the building materials of new forests, which are scarce. It turns out that there are birds like the Brown Thrasher and Prairie Warbler, among others, who need the same environment as this rabbit. So the existence of the rabbit is encouraging the effort for new forests and hence the improved survival chances of the birds who need that habitat. 

And as naturalists never tire of pointing out to people who seem not to mind the extinction of this or that creature, everything is connected. Birds point the way and those who live in Connecticut are acutely aware of this. Those saltwater marshes that still exist by our shoreline support hundreds of birds like the Saltmarsh Sparrow and the beautiful Clapper Rail (but you might not see one— there are only 150 of them left in Connecticut). As oceans rise, the salt marshes will disappear and so will the birds and so will...well, you get the idea. 

Nelson North is executive director of the CT’s Audubon Society. Understanding the natural world, he also knows the importance of public funding for environmental protection, both at the federal and state level, and makes the Audubon’s well-researched positions known to both Washington and Hartford. In addition, he’s always encouraging land donations like the one by Roy and Margot Larsen in the 1960s that created the current Bull Street Sanctuary. There’s another plot of Audubon land in Fairfield, Birdcaft—six acres off Unquowa Road—that also has protected land and trails. “We are always interested in contiguous parcels that could expand the sanctuaries,” he says. Everyone has a part to play. 

Many of the bridges you encounter while walking in Audubon’s forest are built by prospective Eagle Scouts and enjoyed by families and, from time to time, over 400 fourth graders from urban Bridgeport, much to their delight. The injured raptors in captivity at the site are especially popular as is Rosalind, the white rat snake in the main building, which also features a store. Store manager Jane Guenther testifies to the tremendous interest of Fairfield homeowners in maintaining “Audubons” in their own backyards. “We sell all things birding, from nesting boxes to feeders to field guides and of course, tons of birdseed. You can even buy housing for those mosquito hungry bats.” 


GET INVOLVED  The CT Audubon http://ctaudubon.orgoffers teens the opportunity to experience animal husbandry first hand with its Animal Care Program. Volunteers assist with daily feeding, habitat cleaning, and general animal care, as well as handling animals under direct supervision. Visit ctaudubon.org for an application. 

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