Inside his own sheltered yard, surrounded by wild greenery, Gauch spreads his wings in the morning sunlight at the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary in Ellsworth.“He is sunbathing” says Grayson Richmond, president of the nonprofit organization, speaking of the black vulture. Gauch is among 16 birds, either permanently injured or abandoned and accustomed to human touch, that are protected and cared for here. The others range from tiny saw-whet Owl, Felina, to Ziggy, a large turkey vulture, with an even bigger personality.
For over 100 years, an appreciation for winged wonders has been nurtured on the property covering 200 acres. The preserve, also called Birdsacre, straddles Beckwith Hill off High Street. The wildlife refuge was once home to ornithologist Cordelia, “Cordie” Stanwood. Along with wounded birds of prey, Birdsacre features a gift shop and nature center with a 130-year-old egg collection. The exploring continues in Cordie’s mid-19th century childhood home. Visitors also can enjoy about four miles of peaceful trails once strolled by the birding legend herself.
Cordie found solace in the study of birds and nature and created the sanctuary’s winding
paths outside her white, clapboard house after a nervous breakdown at age 39. The birder went on to take thousands of photographs of her wild, feathered companions with an 1895 Kodak Eastman No. 5 camera. Since her death, first Stan Richmond and subquently his son Grayson and other family members have safeguarded to Cordie’s home, walking paths, and legacy.
Unfortunately, the Stanwood home and many of Cordie’s belongings fell victim to an act of arson in 2014. Since then, the house and its surviving contents were restored. The ornithological phographer’s original equipment, furniture, and photographic glass plates can be seen and admired on homestead tours with Grayson’s aunt, Diane Richmond Castle.
The tranquility that Cordie found in 1905 can still be enjoyed today. Birdsacre aims to provide people and children with a healing experience like that of Cordie and the raptors. Wide, easily accessible boardwalks and forest paths enable visitors to imagine themselves in Stanwood’s shoes. The trails, organized in loops of various lengths and enlivened with signs quoting from Cordie’s journals, are “a wonderful place to walk your dogs, we don’t have enough of those,” said Grayson. Canine must be leashed at all times and kept quiet around the animals’ enclosures.
Grayson enjoys building trusting relationships between himself, the rehabilitated birds, and the public.
“It is like coming to a museum or library, you have to change your behavior” to make the animals feel comfortable. Through interaction with the avian ambassadors “we learn not to shoot them” he says, “and to protect their habitats.” While people take their kids to see the birds, the real message should be the environment” he adds standing by a pond alive with the sound of bullfrogs.
Birdsacre is open for trail walks year-round during daylight hours. Donations are encouraged and can be left at the trail registry. Volunteers, from trail blazers to helpers for building projects, are always needed. Currently the nonprofit seeks to expand the parking area and roosting spaces for their birds.
“It is time people know the real Cordie,” said Castle. “She wasn’t just the crazy old lady on Beckwith Hill.”
Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary is located at 289 High St. in Ellsworth. For more info call, (207) 667- 8460, or visit, www.birdsacre.com.