South Fork Natural History Museum
We seem to be having a run of grey, cold, damp days here on the East End. It is the perfect weather to visit a museum. Having recently enjoyed the Parrish, I looked for another engaging venue for a Sunday afternoon visit. Enter SoFo, which is shorthand for the South Fork Natural History Museum, in Bridgehampton, NY. This gem has been in its present location, on the 377 Bridgehampton / Sag Harbor Turnpike since 2005. Once the home of the Bridgehampton Winery, today a full range of exhibits, live specimens, and a touch-tank await you.
Two Floors – No Waiting
I arrived to find a quiet museum. Nature educator Tyler greeted me and helped me fill out the paperwork for a family membership. In the morning hours, families with kids enjoyed the site, but now I had the place to myself. Tyler gave me a personal tour, and there was much to see and learn. This is a kid-friendly museum with lots of opportunities to open doors and drawers, peep through sight-holes, sniff scents, and touch live sea animals. I couldn’t help remembering how much I loved the Museum of Natural History during my youth.
If Tyler and his colleagues are busy, the museum offers self-guided tours in a flip-book style. Color coded and linked to symbols on the floors, they are easy to use.
Upper Floor at SOFO – Birds, Mammals, Amphibians, Fish…
The upper floor contains exhibits covering our local avian and mammalian friends, with several composite habitat displays. These displays are half diorama, and half water-world, containing live fish, frogs, turtles, and the like. This approach makes it easy to understand habitats, food sources, and migratory habits of the inhabitants. There are allso wall-mounted displays that give visitors chance to learn, for example, about which birds migrate, which winter here, and why. See a drawer or door in the display area? Pull it open and have a look. This is a hands-on museum experience. The following photo galleries show you a bit of what is here, but there is much more to see, touch, and enjoy.
Wait, there is more on the upper floor… from birds to foxes…
The upper floor also features a deck with binoculars available for viewing the 1200 acres that once formed the winery’s vineyards. On the cold snowy day I visited, the inside of the museum was far more appealing.
In better outdoor weather, there are marked trails and exhibits that will interest budding naturalists. I did tramp around after the visit and found this butterfly garden, awaiting the return of the butterflies.
Lower Floor at SOFO – Reptiles, Amphibians, and Sea Creatures
Our East End is surrounded by water, and the lower floor of SOFO features many of the creatures that inhabit our aquatic ecosystem. Best of all, these creatures are alive and visible in tanks and in the touch tank.
What is a touch tank? You guessed it, a large semi-circular tank at kid-height, full of crabs, mussels, snails, and other amazing little creatures. I enjoyed picking up crabs and touching the sea anemones and sea urchins. Don’t worry… these are not the sharp, painful urchins found in the Caribbean. Have a look at some lower floor exhibits in the galleries following.
The Burrfish, pictured above, is a beautiful relation of the local blowfish and the Japanese Fugu. I watch him use his sharp teeth to crush and eat a snail. The burrfish has a young Tautog as his tank companion. As neither fish eats other fish, they make good companions.
Here are some more lower floor companions. Each is an amazing little creature, waiting for you.
Much more, too
I’ve given you a picture of some of the exhibits, but there is much more to the museum. There are moon-lit hikes, lectures, movies, forest walks, birding, beach walks, drawing classes, and many activities designed especially for young visitors. This weekend there is a movie presentation by Panthera, the organization that works to protect wild cats. Despite the high winds and blowing snow, we will be there.
The 2015 Long Island Winterfest will launch on February 21, and we’ll be there. What about you?Stay tuned, and until then, enjoy your trip around town.