Winter wonderland

Visit Felix Neck for a nature adventure.

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Winter on the Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t always mean hunkering down and catching up on your reading. The off-season is an ideal time to explore the natural beauty of the Island, and there’s no better place to begin than at the 250-acre Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. The grounds and Nature Center are open year-round, and there are a few activities and events scheduled for the remaining winter months.

“It’s a great time to explore the property,” says education coordinator Josey Kirkland. “There are four miles of trails that take you through numerous habitats, and it’s a guaranteed no hunting zone.”

The various trails offer walks through field and meadow habitats, the Sengekontacket shoreline, saltmarshes, freshwater bog and pond, pine forest and woodlands — essentially every natural habitat that the Vineyard has to offer.

Wildlife abounds at Felix Neck. Some of the critters one might see while out on a wintry walk are deer, raccoons, squirrels, and a wide variety of birds that include kingfishers and many other species of waterfowl. If you’re really lucky, you might spot an otter. However, according to sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi, that particular semi-aquatic mammal is crepuscular, meaning they are mainly active at twilight.

Another great word that Bellincampi throws out in conversation is brumation, which is the reptilian equivalent of hibernation. A walk around the freshwater pond this time of year won’t reveal any of the sanctuary’s resident turtles, because they will be brumating. However, the Nature Center has a couple of turtles on display as well as a corn snake, two frogs, and a variety of marine life in the saltwater tank.

The Nature Center is an ideal place to drop in to view exhibits, get recommendations on hikes, ask nature-related questions or just take a break from the cold. There are a number of hands-on exhibits, including the newest one focused on how animals use their senses to survive. The gift shop offers a variety of nature products and items from local companies like Chilmark Coffee Company. Right now the shop is stocked with lots of holiday ornaments and gifts.

After a snowfall, Felix Neck is a great place to explore on snowshoes or cross-country skis. As long as the Felix Neck Road is plowed, you’re welcome to take a self-guided hike or ski through the trails.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, Felix Neck hosts a Big Moon Owl Prowl. After dark, visitors will meet at the Welcome Center where they will learn about these nocturnal birds, then set out on a loop of the property looking and listening for screech owls. The staff is always on the alert for the return of barn owls to the Island, so lucky visitors may even get a glimpse of or hear a call from one of these as well.

Felix Neck is a great spot for kids to visit and learn more about the Island’s ecosystem. Two different educational opportunities will be offered this winter. The sanctuary will collaborate with the West Tisbury library in January for a program on tracking mammals. On Tuesday, Jan. 22, the one-hour program will be open to kids in kindergarten through third grade. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, kids in grades 4 through 8 are invited.

Every year, the sanctuary hosts a February Vacation Program for kids in kindergarten through grade 5. The four-day exploration and education program will feature a different winter natural phenomenon each day, including birds, water world, tracking, and something Kirkland refers to as “mammal-rama.” Kids can attend one day or sign up for the full schedule. Opening day for registration for the sanctuary’s summer Fern and Feather Day Camp is also Jan. 3.

If you’ve never visited Felix Neck before, now is the ideal time to stop in for a stroll, a chat, or just a moment of meditation. “The property is just so beautiful,” says Bellincampi. “All trails are super wide and accessible for strollers. We keep everything mowed and cleared. It’s mostly flat and some areas are wheelchair accessible.” The restrooms are open at all times.

The property is open every day from dawn to dusk, and if you’d like to enjoy nature a little later in the day, the parking lot offers wonderful views after hours. “The sunset and moonrise here are stunning,” says Bellincampi.  “There are often folks sitting in the parking lot watching the moonrise over Sengekontacket.”