Wintery Wildlife at Westmorland

Westmoreland Sanctuary is a really special place. We started our morning at the Sanctuary’s museum and nature center, which is the former Presbyterian Church of Bedford Village. The 200-year old building was dismantled and reconstructed in 1973 at it’s present site. There we met up with Adam Zorn, resident naturalist and guide for the morning’s hike. Adam was patient and enthusiastic with the kids, a fountain of knowledge about the flora and fauna of the Sanctuary, and obviously passionate about his field.

We hiked about a 1-mile loop on a couple of different trails close to the nature center looking for signs of wildlife. The kids searched for tracks in the frozen mud and expanses of snow, listened in the still wind for the sounds of chickadees and titmice and tried to follow the birdsong to spot the birds in the bare branches soaring above. We also learned about the Eastern Bluebird, as the sanctuary is home to over 40 birdhouses designed to attract the birds and help grow their population.

Continuing along the trail, we saw piles of pignut hickory shells littered at the base of a tree, the remains of a meal left by a squirrel or chipmunk. As we headed toward Bechtel Lake, we learned about the hibernation habits of native turtles and about the amazing winter survival feats of frozen frogs–or the “frogsicle” as Adam amusingly told the kids. In a grove of pines, the kids found the inner cobs of pine cones littered about the forest floor having had the seeds picked off by resident red squirrels. They gathered beech tree catkins and bunches of dried wild grapes while determinedly snapping dead branches to make comfortable, kid-sized walking sticks. The large, three-toed print of a wild turkey greeted us as we arrived back at the sanctuary. We’d missed spotting it frozen into the ground as we’d started out on the trail.

The museum itself is fantastic–very comprehensive and engaging. On the first floor there are numerous live specimens, from snapping turtles and wood frogs to a mourning dove and a rabbit named Scooter–the clear favorite among our hikers. Upstairs, the museum has interactive exibits (of the unplugged sort!) about local plant and animal life, a huge display of animal specimens, and a cozy area in front of a large picture window framing Westmoreland’s bird feeder area. Sitting there for only a few minutes we saw many different species including a beautiful red-headed woodpecker (I think that’s what it was). Down below I noticed that there is an ampitheater of sorts (outdoors) assembled of log benches all around the feeding area where one can sit and watch the comings and goings of the birds from a different vantage point.

So now I have another place to add to my list of those to return to soon. I think that the evening amphibian walk in April will make my to do list for sure.

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