Where Goldfinches are Made of Real Gold
Greenwich (Google Maps location)
May 8, 2010
It’s so ridiculously rich that I cannot describe to you without sounding like I’m lying or just copying from a bad novel about blue bloods. Freaking Greenwich.
I’ll give it this: Away from the extraordinary wealth of the coastal Greenwichers, over towards the New York border, the mansions and manors are much more tasteful and people do seem to enjoy their privacy rather than the ostentatious shows on the Long Island Sound. I was out for a day of gawking and museum-going with Rob C, veteran friend of CTMQ.
We had successfully found the westernmost point in Connecticut and had navigated our way through the lifestyles of the rich and famous over to the Audubon Center, nestled deep in “country,” so to speak. I cannot imagine how much their land is worth here… Billions upon billions of dollars I’m sure. It’s nice that they have neighbors like Tommy Hilfiger to help support them.
The building itself is as beautiful as you’d expect. Faux-rustic, sure, but that’s okay in Greenwich. I imagine all the other Audubons around Connecticut are a bit jealous of these guys down here. Well, the Fairfield one is really pretty nice too… But look at this building! Freaking Greenwich.
Rob and I arrived while some meeting of birders was going on. There was a very nice spread of breakfast items that, although we never mentioned it, we both were salivating over. We both resisted the urge to snag some croissants and instead focused on the exhibits. My oh my this is a lovely Audubon Center.
The Audubon Center in Greenwich opened in 1942 as the National Audubon Society’s first environmental education center in the United States on land donated by Eleanor Clovis Reese and H. Hall Clovis. The 295-acre sanctuary has approximately seven miles of trails that lead to a hardwood forest, old fields, lake, streams and vernal ponds. Reminders of the past are the stone walks, an old apple orchard and original New England homestead buildings.
Hm. I wasn’t aware of its status as the first Audubon center in the US. That’s pretty cool… We also didn’t walk the trails because it was raining and well, because we had a full day ahead of us still.
Audubon Greenwich’s main sanctuary is the site located at 613 Riversville Road, which is comprised of 285 acres, with 7 miles of walking trails. There you will find the Kimberlin Nature Education Center building with exhibits, staff offices and classrooms. The Center contains the Hilfiger Children’s Learning Center with hands-on nature activities and interpretive natural history exhibits, the Kiernan Hall Nature Art Gallery, a Wildlife Viewing Window and honey bee hive exhibit, a Nature Gift Store: books, binoculars, birdfeeders, gifts. The Kimberlin Center is also available for event rentals and children’s parties. Audubon Greenwich is comprised of 11 other sanctuaries totaling 686 acres of woodlands, meadows, and wetlands, and 15 additional miles of hiking trails.
Remember when I mentioned Hilfiger is a neighbor? I wasn’t lying… I must admit that we didn’t happen upon the Kiernan Hall Nature Art Gallery – my guess is that Kiernan Hall was where the meeting was happening, so we never got inside. But I might as well offer up some info on it via this link.
The Center seems to focus heavily on the various hawks and raptors around Greenwich. I don’t begrudge them that – No one loves lesser-known hawks more than I do. They have a cool set of hanging birds above the entrance and a very nice display about the various species. The hawk-heavy theme continues around the entire first room: A display about Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania (I’ve been there! Several times!), and another fine one showing the hawk migration patterns in the eastern US.
The Center serves as the site for the Quaker Ridge Hawk Watch and is one of the best locations in the Northeast United States to view the fall migration of raptors. The all time record of 30,000+ broad-winged hawks counted in one day has not been matched in the region, even at Hawk Mountain, PA. Golden and Bald Eagles, Common Ravens and Black Vultures have also been spotted. Classroom and field workshops are offered to develop identification skills. A Hawk Watch Weekend Festival is held each September
Cool. There’s a random black snake and some mighty fine giant walking sticks in this initial room, as well as a fairly weak set of taxidermied animals like a coyote and a heron. They seem to be sort of afterthoughts here in Greenwich, wherein they often take center stage at some of the other Centers.
One must pass through the gift shop to get over to the Hilfiger Children’s Learning Center with hands-on nature activities and interpretive natural history exhibits.
It’s a nice space and I kind of wished Damian was with me, as there were a bunch of fun and even funny activities for kids. Their live animal displays were strangely lacking though. Just a couple painted turtles and some local freshwater fish. However, since most other Centers have plenty of animals, Greenwich seems to focus on other types of exhibits.
It is here, over towards the large viewing windows of the birdfeeders and meadow below, one can learn more about the prettier songbirds of the area. We watched the feeders for a while and marveled at the squirrel who somehow managed to jump onto one. Rob pointed out a grackle which I noted was a “crap bird.” Rob reminded me that he lived in an apartment in Brooklyn so anything other than pigeons and crows qualify as mildly exciting.
(For the rest of us, I did see a nice redwing blackbird in the bushes below.)
There really was a lot of cool activities for kids here. Damian would have had fun for at least an hour – and that was before we entered the slightly trippy “Web of Life” exhibit.
It’s tough to really gain an appreciation for this thing through my pictures. It is a monument to creative museum exhibit construction. The rare piece that appeals to everyone between the ages of 2 and 100. There is an ample amount of educational material here explaining how “the web of life” really works. All of evolution’s buzzwords are used (ie, “diversity,” “adaptation”), but I’m not sure they actually use evolution as an explanation for the way things are which, if true, is unfortunate.
Anyway, there are plenty of bells and whistles in the room and even flashing lights for the toddler set. But the star of the show is without question the talking earthworm. His voice is slightly grating, but HE’S A TALKING EARTHWORM! That pops up out of the fake dirt and tells you all about what his role in the ecosystem is.
It’s awesome, creepy, funny and informative. I’ve been accused of the same… Rock on animatronic earthworm.
Wandering back around towards the gift shop, there are some cool displays on why having certain animals as pets is a bad idea as well as a good description of our local trees. The variety here for kids is very nice.
The Kimberlin Nature Education Center incorporates a number of “green” design features, including:
· Recycled fiberglass window frames
· Recycled plastic to construct outdoor decks
· Beams made of recycled steel
· Recycled gypsum wallboard
· Insulation made from recycled paper
· 100% wool carpeting
· Flooring, shingles, and other lumber certified to be from sources utilizing conservation forestry practices
· Cement and asphalt paving replaced with gravel or crushed stone, allowing rainwater to infiltrate and recharge groundwater
· Geothermal HVAC system
The biggest payoff is the geothermal heating and cooling system. Conventional systems heat air with electricity or by burning natural gas when outside air is coldest. Conventional summer systems cool air when it is hottest, using electrical refrigeration. These methods of cooling and heating are both expensive, and contribute to global warming.
At Audubon Greenwich, the earth heats itself and cools the building, taking advantage of the constant year round temperature (about 54 degrees) of the ground four feet or more beneath the surface. A liquid—chemically similar to antifreeze—is pumped underground into a grouping of pipes (made from recycled plastic). Liquid colder than 54 degrees is warmed, and liquid hotter than 54 degrees is cooled, both by the surrounding earth. The heated or cooled liquid (depending on the season) passes through the closed loop into the building, which it heats or cools, as needed. That precise need is determined by computer-operated controls.
The energy for changing the temperature comes from the sun-warmed earth, and it is free. The only added energy is electricity to circulate the liquid and run the heat pump.
Rob and I popped upstairs to check out the wildlife viewing platform, but it was closed due to the rain. Here’s what we’d have been able to take in, if we had super eyes and were 200 feet higher up:
Ecosystems at the sanctuary include large open fields, successional thickets, young and mature forests of mixed oak, beech, and maple, Mead Lake, shrub swamps, several vernal pools, Indian Spring Pond (human-made and present throughout the year), red maple swamps, and a small grove of hemlock trees. Also at the sanctuary are a beautiful old apple orchard, honeybee hives, wildflower meadows, a butterfly garden, and bird feeding station.
The east branch of the Byram River crosses the property and was dammed in the nineteenth century to create shallow Mead Lake, home to frogs, water snakes and turtles. You will find a boardwalk and two bird blinds on the Lake Loop Trail. Noteworthy wildlife at the Center includes river otter, muskrats, wood ducks, white-tailed deer, coyotes, flying squirrels, nesting bluebirds, wild turkeys, bats, and a wide spectrum of reptiles, amphibians and birds.
Seasonal highlights include the late winter movement of spotted salamanders to their breeding pond, spring warbler migration, late summer meadow insects and the nocturnal fall migration of the saw-whet owl.
Greenwich is probably considered the crown jewel of Connecticut’s Audubon Centers. And I can’t really disagree with that, but each and every one has its own unique charms and worthwhile qualities.
Even if Tommy Hilfiger doesn’t live next door in a 50 million dollar summer house. Freaking Greenwich.
Hours: 9-5 Mon-Sat; 12-5 Sundays
Food & Drink? Not much out here other than the free breakfast, if we were feeling greedy
You’ll like it if: The idea of a hep cat talking earthworm appeals to you
You won’t like it if: You’re a developer wanting the land to build 100 million dollar mansions
Freebies: Tons of brochures!
For the Curious: