Carina and Elena Schneider painted miniature wooden birdhouses with bright reds and blues.
“We’re going to put birdseed in them,” said Carina, 6, who lives in Saratoga Springs. “We’re going to make sure no squirrels get in.”
No squirrels were on the grounds of Historic Camp Saratoga on Sunday, but there were hundreds of children and adults. Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park’s annual Wildlife Festival gave visitors the chance to meet and greet nature and members of the forest fraternity.
“They learn about it in school,” said Eric Schneider, Carina and Elena’s father, about nature lessons. “It’s a lot better to actually get out in it and be surrounded by it. And just to get some fresh air.”
Margo Olson, the preserve’s executive director, was happy to see kids exploring the camp’s Delegan Pond with dip nets and planting blue lupine flowers as tiny Karner blue butterflies made some of their first spring appearances.
“This is our fourth year doing it as a spring wildlife festival,” she said. “For many years, it was a fall open house. We moved it to the spring because we wanted to be able to highlight, in part, the lupine and Karner blue butterflies.”
The festival is designed to tell people about preserve’s mission of conservation and environmental education and recreation. “We’re sharing information about the ecology of the Saratoga sandplains and we’re giving other environmental education organizations a chance to communicate to people,” Olson said.
Pat Fitzgerald, president of the Southern Adirondack Audubon Society in Glens Falls, represented one of the guest groups. She smiled as children painted their birdhouses — she said most birds would probably pass at residency, even in birdhouses furnished with seed.
“The only bird small enough to get in here is the hummingbird,” she explained. “And they like to build their own nests.”
But painting birdhouses, she added, may help kids develop an interest in birds. “And birdhouses are something you can do to help the bird,” she said.
Isabelle Cook, 7, of Lake Luzerne, decided to help the endangered Karner blue. With help from volunteer Jill Litchfield, Isabelle planted a blue lupine in a field full of purple-blue flowers.
“They’re very delicate,” Litchfield said, opening a young plant from a newspaper wrap. While she placed the plant in a small hole, Isabelle filled in the hole with soil. “As caterpillars, they eat the leaves,” Litchfield said of the butterflies’ attraction to the flowers. “As butterflies, they drink the nectar.”
By early afternoon, about 10 kids had planted lupines.
“It gives them something they want to come back and look for,” Litchfield said. “It makes them feel like they’re part of the process of saving the butterfly.”
During the late morning, Beth Bidwell, owner of Wild Things Environmental Education in Hartford, entertained about 90 people in the camp dining hall with her Eastern box turtle, a black rat snake, a red-shouldered hawk and a peregrine falcon, among others. She said rat snakes are excellent climbers, and watched as specimen in her left hand straightened out when he thought a chance to sneak into the hall’s rafters had presented itself.
Bidwell added that snakes will climb into barn hay lofts and trees; they’ll slither into birds’ nests and make dinner out of both birds and eggs. “Pretty cool, right?” she asked. “Unless you’re a bird.”
She also impressed visitors with her noble-looking peregrine falcon. When on the hunt, she said, the falcon will drop out of the sky at speeds up to 200 mph — three times faster than the quick-moving jungle cheetah can cover ground.
Like other educators, Bidwell sees great value telling people about the creatures with whom they share the planet. “You can’t protect something you don’t love,” she said. “You can’t love something you don’t know. And you can’t know something you can’t see.”
Rebecca Shirer of Albany brought her daughters Evelyn, 4, and Cora, 4 months, to the great outdoors. She wants to start the girls’ environmental educations early. “I think it’s important for them to see and appreciate the natural world,” she said. “Learn how to take care of the earth.”