Felix Neck: A place for all seasons

Campers in a Nature Play area of Felix Neck. —Photo Courtesy of Mass Audubon

With the first signs of spring appearing, now is the time to get outdoors and enjoy what nature has to offer. Mass Audubon’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, located off the Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, has lots of programs coming up for families, kids, and adults.

Felix Neck’s 194 acres are open to visitors from dawn to dusk every day. “We encourage people to explore,” sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi said. “There are four miles of easily accessible trails.” The terrain includes woodlands, meadows, ponds, salt marsh, and the shoreline of Sengekontacket. Ms. Bellincampi notes that in the winter, the sanctuary gets a good number of cross-country skiers as well as hikers.

Along with a visitors’ center that features educational displays and a gift shop, Felix Neck also has Nature Play areas for kids, with things like a “stump jump,” “big branch balance beams,” forts, and other structures. “Kids now are a little too plugged in,” Ms. Bellincampi said. “What we offer is different features that engage kids to actually play and use their imagination.”

Year-round programming is a big part of the Felix Neck mission. Some of their most popular events happen at night. Coming up next at the sanctuary is a Spring Equinox party. The after-dark activities will include campfire stories, songs, and snacks. “Being at Felix Neck at night is really special,” Ms. Bellincampi said. “It’s just a really beautiful place. The stars here are amazing. We do full-moon hikes and full-moon kayaks. What we hear back is that people want to do something different. It’s almost behind the scenes. You can find out what happens at Felix Neck after dark.”

Another recurring program is the Big Moon Owl Prowl. Unfortunately, the pair of resident barn owls who were previously the stars of the show perished during the winter of 2014-15. “The Island population really got decimated last winter,” Ms. Bellincampi said. “When there’s a lot of snow, they can’t hunt.”

She estimates that there are only a few owls left on the Island, down from 20 to 30 breeding pairs. However, occasional sightings have left her hopeful for their return.

Although the barn owls are gone, the Owl Prowl is still a draw for visitors. “We start in the Discovery Room,” Ms. Bellincampi said. “We show some specimens: owl wings and skulls, and things that are really intriguing. We talk a little about why owls are so successful, how they fly silently and turn their heads all the way around.” Then the group goes exploring on the sanctuary grounds, which, given the area’s intense darkness, is only possible during a full or close to full moon. “We listen and look; see if we can find owl pellets. We don’t do this during the on-season because we get too many people. It’s kind of a special thing for Islanders.”

Felix Neck offers special group pricing for much of their programming. “What’s amazing is that we get all ages from 0 to 90 and above,” Ms. Bellincampi said.”That’s why we do a group price for a family or just a group of friends. The sanctuary is also available for nature-themed parties.”

Felix Neck offers a lot of programming for kids. Last month, the sanctuary tried out a school-vacation-week program for the first time. According to Ms. Bellincampi, it proved very successful, with 12 kids enjoying tracking, birding, hiking, craft projects, and more with a different theme for each day.

For the upcoming school vacation week (April 18 to 22), the sanctuary will once again participate in a rotating activities program, along with The FARM Institute, Sassafras Earth Education, The Trustees of Reservations, and Island Grown Schools.

There are two more sessions of the Nursery School Naturalists program remaining. Sessions feature crafts, walks, wild animal presentations, and more. Kids 3 to 5 must be accompanied by an adult. The session fee for kids is $6 for members; $9 for nonmembers, and free for accompanying adults. Registration is now open for Felix Neck’s summer Fern & Feather Natural History Day Camp, which is in its 52nd year.

There are also plenty of opportunities for adults who want to get closer to nature and take part in a variety of seasonal environmental projects. Volunteers are needed for various Citizen Science programs, including horseshoe crab spawning surveys (May and June), odonate (dragonflies and damselflies) counts, coastal waterbird protection efforts, and osprey monitoring (April through September, with training in April). “We’re asking the public to work with us,” Ms. Bellincampi said. “We’re looking for adults who want to learn more about wildlife and who want to get more involved in the protection of our environment.”

For more information, visit massaudubon.org, and look for upcoming events at Felix Neck on mvtimes.com/things-to-do.