Not far from downtown Gardner, Mass., is a modest, little-known wildlife sanctuary that has rewarded me with something interesting every time I visit.

The 772-acre Lake Wampanoag Sanctuary is owned by the Mass. Audubon Society, and is located at the end of Raymond Street, not far from the campus of Mount Wachusett Community College. Much of it is old farmland, so there are plenty of upland meadows, but also some extensive forested swampland. A few well-marked trails loop through the area.

I’ve heard moose have been spotted there. I’ve seen their tracks. I’ve also heard there are bear and bobcat, as well.

I didn’t see any of the big stuff the other day when I went. I was treated to a hermit thrush perched on a hemlock branch just above my head. He didn’t seem the least perturbed by my presence, ignored me, and kept up his quiet song. I was the one who eventually moved on.

The fields are full of wildflowers, great for attracting butterflies. There were a few monarchs fluttering around. I would have expected more considering the abundance of milkweed.

Most surprising was nearly a dozen wood-nymphs fluttering around under an old apple tree at the edge of a field. I had never seen them grouped like that. And they were all quite determined to stay right there, despite my presence.

Finally, I came across what looked like some kind of dwarf white pine, in the middle of one of the fields. It had the standard five needles, but it was just a small mound, less than a foot tall. I’ve never seen one around here.

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