Shhhhhhhhhh!

We’re headed out on a field trip with the Orange County Audubon Society in the wilds of Goshen. Cellphones off, talk only in whispers, no dogs, stay on the path and stay together.

Let’s go.

“This is a very good sanctuary,” says Chris Kielczewski, an OCAS member. “It’s close to the road, easily accessible and has several places to sit and view wildlife.”

The 62-acre sanctuary is off 6 1/2 Station Road in Goshen and was purchased by the organization in 1981 with a loan of $25,000 from the National Audubon Society. The site is bounded by the Heritage Trail to the south and there is a small pond in the middle with wetlands.

“Jim (Van Gelder, field trip coordinator for the Orange County Audubon Society) is a great leader because he has tremendous knowledge, he goes slow and explains along the way,” says Chris. “And he points out the other aspects of nature like plants, insects and reptiles.”

A circular path leaves from the parking area that has three spurs. One spur goes down to the marsh for a closer look at the cattails, the second spur goes up to the bench next to the road and the third spur continues downhill to a platform for viewing birds in the trees near the lake.

Up ahead, Jim is knee deep in the grass pointing out insects, checking on snake habitats and showing off ferns to the 24 people who showed up for this field trip. He pulls out a copy of the “Fern Finder” booklet and talks about how to identify ferns.

“I get lost every time I come here,” he admits, bending over to pick up a small board meant to attract snakes. “Sorry, no one is home.”

“Wait, I hear chattering over there,” he says, standing and pointing uphill. Twenty sets of binoculars swing around as everyone focuses on a bush. In the distance, a snowy egret walks slowly along the pond’s edge and cicadas hum in the background.

“We know we are visiting wildlife in their place,” says Jody Susler, the chapter president. “Part of this is for conservation and the study of nature so there are benches to sit on for people to hang out.”

This is just one of five sanctuaries that the OCAS has stewardship over. Most are open to the public with walking paths and/or a viewing stand accessible to visit.

Melissa Peterson, the co-leader of the field trip, walks slowly, looking side-to-side pointing out golden rod, iron weed and knapweed to the group as they move along. Field trips are usually held every other month.

“Sometimes we have work parties here,” says Jody. “We try to clear out invasive species like buckthorn and we clean out the birdhouses, too.”

The OCAS also holds monthly programs at libraries throughout the county.

“And we’re always looking for new members,” Jody says.

You can learn more at https://www.orangecountyaudubonsociety.org/

John DeSanto is a freelance photojournalist. Find more of his 845LIFE stories, photos and videos at recordonline.com. Reach John at jjdesanto@gmail.com