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Earth-safe sex; cactus bandits; hitting the fossil jackpot; prairie dog lingo; more

The Naturalist
Ted Gilman teaches about the greatness of the outdoors.

If you see a tall, gangly man flapping his arms in the woods of Audubon Greenwich, you’ve likely stumbled upon education director Ted Gilman demonstrating to enthralled—and amused—visitors the mating dance of a nearby bird. In his 33 years at the center, he’s introduced several generations to the outdoor’s wonders, and has inspired many youngsters to pursue careers in the natural world themselves.

What do you do at the center?
I get to work with various age groups, from preschoolers to senior citizens. We have lots of school groups, and I’ll go outside and teach them about birds, insects, aquatic life, or soils. The wonder and the excitement of the little ones is fun, but it’s also great to work with youngsters who have a bit more knowledge and can share back and forth.

You’re also the go-to guy for animal questions.
When people walk in the door with a box you never know what’s going to be inside. They’ve brought in big turtles, termites, spiders. Some call because they’re trying to cope with woodpeckers pecking their house or a snake in their basement. Someone once phoned and described a bird that had hit their window that looked like a robin with a dark band around its breast. I said, I think I know what you have, but I didn’t think it was supposed to be here. It was a varied thrush, a Pacific Northwest bird that does occasionally come to the Northeast in the wintertime. It was not something I was expecting, so that was a fun surprise.

Why should kids get outside?
I want to help them know what’s in their backyard so they can find a kind of predictability in their surroundings. So they’re not thinking all the time, “Is this thing going to bite me?” And when they’re adults themselves, they’re not always saying to their kids, “Don’t touch that thing!” “Don’t pick it up!”

What do you try to instill in visitors?
I try to avoid falling into the pattern of saying that’s a dandelion, that’s a palm warbler, that’s an oak tree. I point out patterns—how that flower is a good source of pollen for bees, or that oak tree loses lots of acorns that get carried away not just by squirrels but also by blue jays and woodpeckers. And the dead leaves in the fall provide food for the larvae of aquatic insects, which in turn feed the water thrush in the springtime. I enjoy helping folks see connections in nature.

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