Robert Miller: A sanctuary of woodlands, meadows, rocky outlooks
Sharp-shinned hawks are cagey, swooping in to ambush a songbird for a meal.
And ordinarily that’s how you see them — flashing by on the hunt, or high in the sky when they’re heading south in the fall.
But the big lawn at Deer Pond Farm in Sherman slopes down and away. So when a sharpie flew by last week, it was below the normal neck-craning line of sight, in plain, beautiful view.
“They’re an endangered species in Connecticut as a nesting bird, so this is undoubtedly a migrant,” said Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for the Connecticut Audubon Society. “It’s rare to see one looking downward on it.”
Bull was leading an early-morning bird walk at Deer Pond Farm last week. And while he’s gotten to know the place — an 835-acre estate that straddles the Connecticut-New York border and is the society’s newest, largest sanctuary — he’s still a bit bedazzled when he explores it.
“When I first saw it, it was winter and there was a foot of snow on the ground,” he said. “When I came back in the spring, it was even more than I expected.”
There was the day in the spring when Bull identified 19 different warbler species in one oak tree on the estate’s front lawn. There are ferns and mushrooms along the land’s 20 miles of trails that cry out for walks of their own. There’s the possibility of snowshoe walks come January.
“In the winter, when you’ve got cabin fever, it’s good to get out and learn about the cycles of the seasons,” said Cathy Hagadorn, the director of Deer Pond Farm.
The sanctuary is not yet fully open to the public. But the society has been offering regular walks there throughout the summer and fall. Go to the Connecticut Audubon’s website at http://www.ctaudubon.org to learn when upcoming walks will happen.
Rather than being a wilderness, Deer Pond Farm is the creation of Walter and Kathryn Wriston.
Walter Wriston, who died in 2005, was the former chairman and chief executive officer of Citibank. He is considered one of the greatest innovators of commercial banking in American history. Under his leadership Citibank installed automated teller machines when no other bank offered them, and got into the credit card business and interstate and international banking before the competition caught on.
President George W. Bush considered Wriston for the job of Secretary of the Treasury and in 2003 awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest American civilian accolade.
In Sherman, he innovated in a different way.
“Walter’s favorite hobby was making trails,” Bull said.
But Deer Pond’s paths aren’t hiking trails in the ordinary sense, narrow and twisting. They’re beautifully maintained wood roads; one follows the old mail coach road that ran from Sherman to Putnam, N.Y.
The Wristons also managed the forest on their property, hiring arborists to keep the woods healthy. Because it’s a hardwood forest, they created a pine plantation to add some diversity.
“The pine trees do a lot to offer wildlife protection during the winter,” Bull said.
There’s also a grove of white oak — whose acorns feed much of the forest ecosystem — that Kathryn Wriston attended to, with wires holding old boughs in the place.
“They’re some of the most valuable trees on the property,” Bull said. “Kathryn did a lot of work to protect them.”
The result is a sort of handsome woodland park. The Connecticut side is mostly woodland. The New York side has meadows and rocky overlooks as well.
“It’s sort of like the Continental Divide,” Bull said. “The Connecticut side drains into the Housatonic River. The New York side drains into the Hudson.”
Wanting to preserve the land as a whole, Kathyrn Wriston choose to give it to the Connecticut Audubon Society, with an ample endowment to keep it looking splendid. She died after a fall in 2014.
The land is now what she envisioned — a sanctuary, with different habitats for many different kinds of wildlife.
“This is a godsend,” said Karen Forbes of Sherman, who was on her third visit to the land last week. “Every time I’m here, I see something new, learn something new.”
“When you preserve land to protect birds, you protect a lot of other things as well,” Hagadorn, the sanctuary’s director, said. “So 200 years from now, people will be visiting and leaving with a smile.”
Contact Robert Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org